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First Wives Club
by Warren Farrell

Thelma and Louise Exhale
1996 San Diego, CA - When men say, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scored," it's called sexism. When one-third of all moviegoers in America cheer as three scorned women and a daughter collude to "vaporize" their men, to "make them not just suffer, but make them suffer over and over again," to wipe out their businesses and rob their homes, to "destroy them, then declare world peace," it is called Hollywood comedy.

The First Wives Club uses upper-middle-class white women just as Waiting to Exhale used upper-middle-class black women and Thelma and Louise used middle-class white women to symbolize the plight of all women whose dream of being swept away was swept away. All of these women felt justified in destroying the lives of the men by whom they felt rejected, and destroying a few men in general just to make a broader point.

The First Wives Club might be called the Betty Broderick Club, art imitating the real life of the La Jolla socialite who shot and killer her ex-husband and his younger second wife as they slept in their bed. Just as The First Wives Club is art receiving media support, so Broderick's crime (for which she is serving time in prison) received the real-life support of feminists, first wives and the media.

The problem is, failed marriages hurt both sexes. For each 40-year-old wife turned in for two 20s, there is a 40-year-old husband caught between a sexless marriage and his moral scruples, or a husband desperately seeking understanding for his fears of being disposable if he isn't an adequate success.

For every rejected wife, there is a rejected husband
For each first wife left with inadequate income, there is a dad driving a cab 70 hours a week or collecting garbage in the hope that his children can have a better life, that his wife can have a home more pleasant than his garbage truck. When such a husband then is criticized for working late, and one day comes home to a note saying his wife has left and taken their children, his life feels meaningless and the women's crisis centers do not invite his call.

For each single mother who is juggling children, a job and unpaid child support, there is a single dad who has seen his marriage become alimony payments, his home become his ex-wife's home but his mortgage payments, their children become child-support checks for children who have been psychologically turned against him.

For each woman faced with a deadbeat dad, there is a desperate dad, desperate to love his children, but told that if he comes any closer, she will accuse him of being a child molester or a wife beater.

For each first wife who loses income, there is a second wife who gains income; for each first husband who loses his home and his children, there is a second wife who struggles with a man who has a depleted bank account and a broken heart, or there is a woman who rejects that man because of his depleted bank account or his broken heart.

For a quarter of a century, women have been articulating their version of rejection and men have been putting their heads in the sand, hoping the bullets would miss. We have not had a battle of the sexes, but a war in which only one side has shown up. The solution lies not in the formation of First Wives clubs colluding with a man-hating daughter to "vaporize" dad as the country cheers, but in all of us learning to walk a mile in each others' moccasins even as we are seeking empathy for our own pain.

Warren Farrell is the San Diego based author of Why Men Are the Way They Are and The Myth of Male Power, and he is a former member of the board of directors of the National Organization for Women in New York City. Reprinted with permission, L.A. Times.


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