Brooks the Communist (?) but Never the Feminist
David Brooks' op-ed today is about the economics of marriage. Specifically, it is about his upset over couples maintaining separate checking accounts. A quote from To Have and to Hold, for Richer for Poorer:
"But some of the people quoted in Shellenbarger's article seem unaware that there may be a distinction between the individualistic ethos of the market and the communal ethos of the home. A Texas woman celebrated her family's separate accounts, remarking, "It's so freeing to be your own person, and not feel like someone is looking over your shoulder." It's not clear whether she's talking about a marriage or a real estate partnership.
I went to the local bookstore and was startled to see how many personal finance gurus insist on separate accounts. 'If you're part of a couple, maintain separate accounts - yours, mine and ours,' writes Glinda Bridgforth in 'Girl, Get Your Money Straight.'
'Each partner needs his or her own money,' writes the best-selling guru David Bach. 'Regardless of whether or not you both work, each of you should maintain your own checking and credit card accounts.' Bach says he doesn't need or want to know every detail of how his wife spends her money: 'It's none of my business.'"
Notice whose finances are targeted as being "separate"? Once again, sociological wannabe Brooks fails to locate marriage in a historical context. Women were once the legal property of their husbands. After that (and at the same time), property they brought to the marriage was legally then their husbands. All the while (in families where the man could afford a wife to stay home), men continued to earn money and women were at the mercy of their husbands economically.
So really what Brooks laments is a new formation of family economics that seems to be more empowering for women (most likely middle class women, as poorer families are still going to have to pool all their resources to get by). He calls this individualistic rather than communal. He reveals a patriarchal bias of family, which has meant historically that the wife is supposed to sacrifice her property for the commune the husband controls.
It's amusing to hear Brooks espouse communal values. But using this rhetorical device, he is trying to justify a status quo that has hampered women's ability to be self-sufficient and not dependent on her husband. This has kept many women not only in unhappy, unhealthy marriages but also psychologically and physically damaging relationships as well.
So the economics of marriage do matter. Does he forget the divorce rate? So sisters, make sure you are taking care of yourself.