Last week I read an obituary for Martin D. Ginsburg, the husband of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Several things struck me about this obituary; first, he was referred to as a “Supreme Court Spouse”. How many men are known for their wives, let alone referred to as the spouse of an important woman in the title of their own obituary?
But more striking is the kind of man Mr. Ginsburg was. Justice Ginsburg described her husband as “the only young man I dated who cared that I had a brain.” Early in the marriage, Mr. Ginsburg took over the cooking responsibilities when it became apparent that Justice Ginsburg had no interest in it.
The foundation of their relationship, they both said, was mutual respect and equality — and a willingness to share domestic duties.
Both Justice Ginsburg and Mr. Ginsburg made significant sacrifices in their personal and professional lives to accommodate the dreams of the other. Along with the two influential careers they both had, they raised two children and were happily married for 56 years.
Mr. Ginsburg said he was proud of his wife’s accomplishments and had no regrets about the compromises they made for each other.
“I have been supportive of my wife since the beginning of time, and she has been supportive of me,” Mr. Ginsburg told the Times in 1993. “It’s not sacrifice; it’s family.”
Reading this obituary made me hopeful; it’s proof that it is possible for both partners to to fulfill their individual dreams and still have a happy and functional home life. But it also made me a little sad that this kind of relationship seems so radical in the Mormon world-view and that LDS men like Martin Ginsburg seem so rare. I truly believe that if any culture should be producing men like Martin Ginsburg, it should be the Mormons.
I say this for a couple of reasons. Mormons are upwardly mobile people. Education and self-reliance are middle class virtues that our leaders emphasize on a frequent basis. As a result, a majority of the American membership fall somewhere within in this socio-economic class. LDS men are likely to pick careers in business or law because these professions allow for the support of a family.
More importantly, however, is the emphasis on family that is so integral to our religion and culture. The general authorities are constantly encouraging men to take an active role in their families. In the last two decades the rhetoric has changed to allow for the blurring of gender role lines. Mormon men are now told to do housework and change diapers, they are told that there is no domestic duty that is below them. And, of course, there is all that equal partnership rhetoric.
So this brings me back to my question, why aren’t there more Mormon men like Martin D. Ginsburg? Our culture is similar to the culture of the 1950′s that he came of age in. It’s not a question of socio-economic background since many Mormon men come from this same background. And if anything, Mormon men have an advantage in the equal partnership thing because of the directive placed on them by leaders of the church.
Can it be that the spiritual patriarchy that our religion practices is much more difficult to un-socialize than the secular patriarchy that Mr. Ginsburg would have grown up with in the 1940′s and 50′s? Does our schizophrenic emphasis on male presiding and priesthood power negate the good of the equal partnership rhetoric?
I do think patriarchy is the culprit here but I’m not sure we can place the blame solely on the men of the church. When I was thinking about this problem I asked mr. mraynes why he thought there weren’t more Mormon Martin Ginsburgs? His response, there are plenty of Mormon men like Mr. Ginsburg, they just haven’t been encouraged to bloom by their wives.
mr. mraynes is a great example of this phenomenon. He grew up in a home and a church environment where equal partnership was combined with benevolent patriarchy. In fact, the patriarchy was so subtle that he didn’t even recognize its existence until I came along. Had I been a more traditional woman, one who wanted a husband to provide and preside, that is exactly the kind of man he would have been. But I am not a traditional woman and I have demanded full equality. Our marriage looks a lot like the Ginsburg marriage and mr. mraynes has been perfectly willing to sacrifice so that we could achieve this. He believes, as Mr. Ginsburg believed, that “it’s not sacrifice; it’s family.”
I think mr. mraynes is probably right, most Mormon men would step up if their wives expressed a desire to pursue their interests outside of the home and emphasized the need to equally share domestic responsibilities. This leaves us, however, with the bleak reality that Mormon women have no use for men like Martin Ginsburg.