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Translated from French by John Fleming
Escape of the Couple
If this is not the social point of view, the couple no longer exists. Man and woman live for himself and herself, and for humanity, but not for the other. But society still imposes the notions of marriage and the family, that which demands the cohabitation of the two sexes. There is the possibility of escaping this cohabitation; it is a delight for an American man or woman to meet their sex, their own clan. It is the goal of all the clubs: Create an escape from married life.
The American female clubs are the most numerous, the richest and the most free. There the women rediscover collective life and the memories of good times in the boarding school or the dormitory of the university. At 40, as at 15 or 20, they dream of pillow fights, exchanging curlers and clown-like parades in skirts, traps and garter belts.
I spent two days in a sorority, of which I have horrifying memories. I was robbed however of the security of experience. I was made to pass as a friend to a single cousin, while my husband had a similar experience in a neighboring fraternity. During the seven years passed on another occasion in an austere pension, I never suffered such promiscuity as I did during those two days. Nothing else was part of me, not even myself. My suitcase was looted. Someone tried on my bras, another put butter in my jars of crème, a third tried to change her suspender belt for mine, while a fourth arranged my head to try to set my hair. The greatest indecency was messing with my shower like they do in the military.
On the other side, among the men, the same thing prevailed. It was worse than the army. We happily resumed the married life, for there atleast each of us commanded our own cosmetics or shaving cream, our stockings or socks.
In the U.S. collectivity reigns over the couple. The woman prefers to devote her leisure to her friends (the girls), with whom she will go shopping, take part in a spectacle, or drink tea, rather than to her husband, with whom she will take part in certain activities (the theater, cinema). She has a constant need to be “between women,” on every occasion, even the unexpected. That is why her hairstyle is no longer a matter for coiffeurs but for clubs of women. The neighborhood girls unite at a fixed date, now at the home of one, now at the home of the other, to have their hair styled, dyed and permed. Each carries her portable material (curlers, dryers and products “to do at home”), and also cakes and sweets to pass the time agreeably.
The Husband’s Work
If the married life still does not make for amiability and a fair division of tasks, American husbands remain satisfied. But the wife encroaches on the husband’s domain more and more. In proportion as she wins terrain in the professional world, she unloads on her husband the household tasks. The sad history of the American man, draped in plastic flowers, messing with clothespins and struggling with a casserole and diapers, is not a myth but a social reality.
These domestic activities do not seem to do harm to men’s profession, as the man remains in general the family’s main breadwinner. In effect the woman’s salary (when there is a salary, and not unpaid work in a club, charity or cause) is in general inferior to that of the men, despite what you may believe. This comes during a social repartition within the class of working women. In the U.S. the course of work is continuing, but descending. After the couples who assume half of the financial responsibility of the poor spouses, come single women, for whom earnings constitute an important resource.
Then they do it for fun, but accept voluntarily positions without much future or responsibility, like simple amusements (in fashion or the arts, for example); finally relatively few women have high posts. American “housewives” are more numerous than you would think, particularly in the bourgeoisie, and they completely lack servants. She being the one who incurs the family’s expenses, the woman can hardly (other than through her husband) afford to assume the household responsibilities, even if she is in a personal career, where the success of the clubs offer the advantages of a professional life (contacts, relations, a supply of outside culture, the choice of a say in things, exteriorization of tastes and sympathies), without inflicting boredom (attendance, demanding hours and responsibilities, submission to certain conditions and principles).
In any case, whether she herself works or not, the wife follows very closely the work of her husband. She watches the increase of his salary and nourishes an ambition that is often stronger than his own. Sometimes she engages in intrigue next to her superiors, whom she often has the occasion to meet at cocktail parties. It is she who makes certain decisions, like accepting a position in another state, another city, larger or smaller, warmer or colder. Like the boss, the employee is indissociable from his spouse. In the first contacts, the employment investigator, in charge of the recruitment of executives, or the boss demand to make the acquaintance of the wife, and sometimes makes the decision to employ--or not to.
Certain schools, preparing men for a career, instruct likewise their wife. Thus the “business schools,” which enroll men of all ages desiring to perfect the supreme art of “big business,” create evening courses for the wives. The teachers certify their students in the mysteries of investment of capital or the science of fashionable conversation. The place of the wives has become so great in the professional life of the husbands that they sometimes ask if they themselves are in some ways part of their success--or their failure.
Without Passion or Drama
This devouring behavior of the female American in relation to her male is perhaps the cause of a general chilling of the temperature of love in the country, but is it an evil? A look at the statistics again proves the contrary. The lukewarm love is the cause of many divorces, but few dramas. Divorce is considered a healthy remedy, a simple operation, necessary and without danger. The consequences are not grave, for generous alimony assures the security of the woman and the children. Moreover, a divorced woman remarries and easily takes up a position again in society.
As for the dramas of love, which fills in France a page of news items, they are rare in the U.S. For there to be drama, one supposes an upsurge of extreme passion, but American love does not make for passion.
Search for the drama of love, for the ménages a trios, abandoned fiancées, desperate girl-mothers, furious jealousy, infanticide by fathers--you will not find them in American society, where love is tame and tamed for a long time, where the girls are not mothers until they want to be, and where the households are for two, even if they are not always the same two. Love, like the waters of the sky and the earth, no longer creates disaster; its destructive power has been channeled for the good of the country and in the sole aim of reproduction of the species.
The American woman has taken up the cause of legitimacy of love, where she has everything to win (respect, comfort, security)--or everything to lose (love itself, its thrill and its pain).
Faced with the same problem, which little by little will be posed in France, what will the French woman choose to do?
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