Why do we always blame the woman?
“Since he met her, he’s never been the same!” I’ll bet you’ve heard that said at least once in your life, if not many, many times. Man meets woman. Woman changes man. Woman gets blamed for man not being the same any more. “He doesn’t want to be with his mates now he’s with her,” say friends who feel left behind. “She’s turned him against us.” Behind these cries of pain and rejection lies a horrible sexist assumption: if a man changes, the woman must be to blame. As the character Sky Masterson says in the musical Guys and Dolls, “Why is it the minute you dolls get a guy that you like, you take him right in for alterations?” The lyrics to the lead song in the musical is all about men changing to please their women:
When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky
You can bet that he’s doing it for some doll.
Always the assumption that HE is doing it for HER. Hence the tonne of abuse heaped on Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. She’s the Yoko Ono of our time. She took Prince Harry away from us! Whatever he does, whatever he says, however he dresses even, all down to her.
It was way back in 1968 that Beatle John Lennon hooked up with Yoko Ono and she was blamed for The Beatles breaking up two years later. So deeply embedded in our culture is this view that it’s become a shorthand for a wife instructing her husband. During the general election in December 2019 aides of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn referred to his wife Laura Alvarez as Yoko because they felt she was interfering in the campaign. The source for this is the just-published book Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn by Times journalists Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire in which they interviewed many people who worked in Corbyn’s office. Corbyn was renowned for surrounding himself with young people. So chances are those aides won’t have remembered Yoko Ono allegedly breaking up The Beatles. They might not even have been born then. But so deep is the assumption that Yoko Ono was to blame for The Beatles breaking up that it’s a well-recognised shorthand for a pushy woman who forces her man to do as she says.
Well where is the man in all this? Why the assumption that men always do what their women bid them to? Don’t men have any agency of their own? It isn’t just sexist about women; it’s equally as sexist about men. It assumes they are the weaker sex and a woman determined to change him will succeed.
While this reduces men to snivelling little boys who obediently do what their wives tell them, it also absolves them of any blame. Hence, back to the Royal Family, Wallis Simpson gets the blame for the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936. She took him away from us was the feeling at the time. Not helped by the Queen Mother referring to Simpson as “That Woman!” She even went so far as to blame her for her husband George VI’s premature death from cancer in 1952. Did she ever refer to Edward as “That Man!” Did she ever blame him? Seems her hatred went entirely towards Simpson. It must be her fault. It must be the woman’s fault. He was fine till he met her.
It helped the vitriol that Wallis Simpson was a foreigner. Likewise Yoko Ono and Meghan Markle. Two prejudices for the price of one! Misogyny and xenophobia. Bit of racism too with Ono and Markle as they are women of colour. They never stood a chance. Nor did Linda McCartney, another American. Like Yoko she too bagged a Beatle and took our Paul away and turned him into a vegetarian.
When Charles and Diana’s marriage broke down the blame fell onto the shoulders of Charles’s lover Camilla, now Duchess of Cornwall. She had bread rolls thrown at her outside Waitrose after the so-called “Camillagate” tapes of a mobile phone conversation between them were released in 1993 with Charles professing his love for her. No one, so far as I am aware, threw a bread roll at Charles. Why would they when there’s a woman you can blame. When the couple married in 2005 Camilla was concerned there might be booing at the wedding. Booing aimed at her of course. He left beautiful Diana for much plainer Camilla. So she must’ve had some kind of weird hold on him, so Diana fans reckoned. In fact, Charles loves Camilla very deeply and probably always has. If anyone is to blame for what turned out to be a sham marriage to Diana, surely it’s him not Camilla?
No one can ever know for sure what goes on inside a marriage. Only the two people in it. The assumption that Meghan had led our Harry astray and filled his mind with all sorts of Californian mumbo jumbo is not only sexist and misoygnist, but it assumes Prince Harry has no mind of his own and simply does what he’s told. How do we know that it wasn’t all his idea to get out of the UK and away from the press he and his brother, Prince William, still blame for the early death of their mother, Princess Diana in 1997? Maybe he always wanted a new life? Maybe Edward VIII did too? Perhaps John Lennon was longing to leave The Beatles and Yoko was his transport away from something that had become stifling and claustrophobic?
When a guy gives up going to football with his mates and does the weekly shop with the missus instead or spends his weekends doing DIY, maybe it’s because he simply grew out of going to games or got fed up of it and wanted a new life? Maybe some wives would be quite happy for their husbands to go to football games, or continue playing in bands, as it gives them some time to themselves? Stop blaming the woman! It’s just as likely, maybe more so, that it’s his decision to move on in life.
Terms such as “pussy whipped” and “hen pecked” go right to the heart of a misoygnist culture that has to find a nasty putdown for a strong woman with a mind of her own. Why did Harry fall for Meghan, Charles for Camilla, Paul for Linda, John for Yoko and Edward for Wallis? Could it be they wanted strong women rather than compliant ones? Maybe that’s the true secret of these lasting relationships. So shouldn’t we applaud the men for their choices rather than assume they are weak-willed puppies doing what their woman tells them to?
It may seem like harmless fun to blame Meghan for taking Harry away and most of us love a bit of gossip. And it’s easy pickings for a columnist looking for someone to attack. No one ever went broke using women as targets for their most polished poisonous attacks. But it doesn’t just harm Meghan who in any case probably dismisses it if she bothers to read any at all. No the real harm is done to all women, which is why we should stop indulging in it.
Photo credit: BBC News