Fleming_03-1992
Perspective

Marriage—the Real Right to Privacy

The 150-year-old crusade for women's rights in America has, in the different phases of its history, devoted its energies to diverse causes. In the decades before and after the War Between the States, the principal cause was the right of married women to control their own property. In the early 20th century, the cause was suffrage, and in more recent years it has been abortion—and equal pay for equal work. However, during most of this period, divorce laws were always an important item on the feminists' agenda. The strict regulation of divorce was, they argued, one of patriarchy's most powerful weapons, and only when women were freed of this legal terror, could they truly be free.

One of their first important successes was a change in custody practices. The redefinition of men's and women's social spheres in the 19th century had led to the new conception of woman as an exclusively nurturing and affectionate creature, and by the 20th century children, who had been in former times uniformly given to their father's custody in eases of divorce, were now routinely being given to their mothers.

The culmination of the feminist divorce program were the no-fault divorce laws enacted throughout the United States in the 1960's and 70's, and the success or failure of the women's movement stands or falls with our interpretation of such legal and political changes. In recent years pragmatic...

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