Eat, Pray, Love presented another instance of a now familiar trope in film: The Woman Being Liberated by Divorce. In fact, Slate did a Slate-version of a Seriously Random List on that very topic (they use slideshows — it’s classier!), running down a list of movies where a woman or women are liberated by divorce, films such as Under the Tuscan Sun. Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, First Wives Club, Waiting to Exhale, and An Unmarried Woman (I might also add one of my favorite films of the last decade, Waitress). I have nothing against the trope, mind you, although the movies that exploit it tend not to be very good. In most instances, it’s cut and dry: The women in these movies leave verbally or physically abusive assholes, adulterers, or all around shitty dudes. I did have something of a problem with Eat, Pray, Love from a narrative standpoint, mostly because there was no explanation provided for why she left her husband. However, I have since been apprised that Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir provides some much needed context that the movie did not, context that the film really could’ve benefited from in trying to make the protagonist more sympathetic, instead of a woman who basically left her very loving husband because she was bored.
All the same, I very much believe in the emancipatory powers of divorce: If you’re in a shitty marriage, you should get out of it. Wedding vows are importantly, but they can be nullified by adultery, abuse, neglect, constant criticism, lousy or no sex, or even annoyance or irritation that rises to a certain level. I understand that.
But here’s what rubs me the wrong way, and it may not be a popular sentiment on this particular site, but here it is all the same: Why don’t men get the liberated by divorce movies? There are plenty of movies that focus on the divorced male protagonist, but he’s always the wounded soul searching for the healing powers of love (see Javier Bardem in Eat, Pray, Love). Why do men always have to be the bad guys or the sad sacks? Where’s our fucking enlightenment? Our liberation? Bad relationships happen to everyone; not just women. I understand the empowerment aspects of leaving an asshole husband or boyfriend. That’s why I generally like this trope: Because, even as a dude, I can empathize with many of the women who leave bad relationships.
Look: I understand the inequality of the sexes. I beat on that feminist drum so much around here that people start to wear earmuffs. And while women have come a long way from the “Mad Men,” era, you know what? So have men. We’re not all walking hard-ons demanding a chicken in every pot and a barefoot woman in every kitchen anymore. Yes, a lot of those redneck troglodytes still exist, but there are a lot of guys, like myself, who do all the cooking, the making of the kid’s lunches, the vacuuming, and cleaning, and ironing, and who are equal partners in the child rearing department, too. And we still carry out the goddamn trash and fix the kitchen sink (well, not me, personally, but I will call the plumber).
But here’s the big secret about all those progressive men that Hollywood doesn’t want you to know about: Men sometimes end up in relationships with shitty women, too. And sometimes, every great once in a while, when a guy gets out of a relationship with an awful woman, it feels good. Liberating, even. I know. Scandalous, isn’t it? I was married once before. Briefly. In another life. In another city. In another time. I’ll spare you the details, but I will say this: Leaving it was liberating as hell. Gaining one’s independence, getting out from under daily insults, and finding yourself again, so to speak, is not the exclusive purview of women. It can be just as satisfying for a man.
The difference, I suppose, is that we usually don’t travel around the world to discover ourselves: We just find a good dive bar and hibernate there for about a year. It’s not as glamorous as Italy, perhaps, but there’s a lot of answers to be found while you’re stumbling home by yourself half an hour after last call. Call it our nightly meditation.
Just ignore the drunk dials.