The world first took note of Barbara Dafoe Whitehead when she published her provocative article "Dan Quayle Was Right" in the Atlantic Monthly in 1993. The piece did more than defend the former vice president's so-called Murphy Brown Speech, which criticized popular culture's idealization of the self-sufficient single parent; it reoriented the public discussion on family, divorce, and out-of-wedlock births. It also set the stage for Whitehead's recent book, The Divorce Culture (Knopf). A Catholic and mother of three, Whitehead holds a Ph.D. in American social history from the University of Chicago and lives with her husband in Amherst, Massachusetts. She talked with Christianity Today's Kevin D. Miller.
In your book you speak of "expressive divorce." What do you mean by that?
While divorce is hardly new, the idea that it carries positive psychological benefits is. "Expressive divorce" is the notion that divorce is an instrument for self-development, self-actualization, self-expression—that it is a way to be a new and better me. It also carries with it a kind of ethical imperative. That is, one is obligated to pursue divorce if it seems to promise greater personal happiness, and that obligation comes before other obligations in the marital commitment.
And there has been another change. The sense that adults are emotionally resourceful and resilient and, therefore, have the responsibility to protect children from loss has given way to the idea that adults are emotionally vulnerable and weak and that children need to do the best they can to survive the losses. This dramatic conceptual shift occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s and was part of what I call the psychological revolution. That revolution changed the definition ...1
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