A sentimental continuation of coverture

Most of us have observed the baffling refusal of women to take responsibility for mistakes, or for outright shitty behavior. More accurately said, we’ve all observed women’s tendency to impute responsibility for their transgressions to others; especially to men. Thousands of people recognize the tendency; they discuss it, make jokes about it, suffer it in their marriages, and every single day you can read hundreds of new anecdotes demonstrating it in action. In short, it’s definitely a thing.

Where the hell does does this behavior originate?

Some might view it as a genetic tendency, that women’s refusal to take responsibility arises from a genetic peculiarity. Or perhaps we might garner a pretzel-shaped argument from an Evolutionary Psychologist suggesting that women’s shirking of responsibility is a necessary sexual or survival strategy. Unfortunately such hypotheses do little more than mirror the usual traditionalist attempts at absolving women of responsibility.

For this article I’m going to pose a simpler, culturally rooted explanation: coverture. 

The doctrine of coverture, in its most basic definition, dictates that husbands are to take responsibility for wives’ wellbeing, and also to suffer proxy punishment for her social and legal transgressions – all responsibility rests with the husband whether he likes it or not.

As a social policy, the doctrine of coverture began to develop from approximately the 11th century, gaining currency throughout the British Isles from where it was imported to the wider world via English colonies. Douglas Galbi summarises the intent of coverture as follows:

Coverture was the idea that husband and wife are one under law. More specifically, coverture assigned to the husband responsibility and punishment under law for his wife’s criminal acts. Coverture also protected women from mass imprisonment for debt in early modern England…

Coverture was among a range of institutions and ideas that generated highly disproportionate imprisonment of men. Legal history conventionally interprets coverture as a legal concept oppressing women. Coverture oppressed women in the same way that men-only Selective Service registration oppresses women today…

Coverture has been badly misunderstood in legal history. Coverture assigned to husbands responsibility for their wives’ criminal acts and their wives’ debts. Coverture increased the criminalization of men… Anti-men bias in invoking coverture is a general rhetorical pattern built upon deep structures of gynocentrism.1

According to the Oxford Dictionary, coverture originally referred to anything used as a cover, such as a shelter, the lid of a cup or dish, the cover of a book, or the cover of a bed, and is synonymous with the general and collective sense of ‘covering.’

In its wider sense, the purpose of a coverture is described as any device used to provide protection, shelter, or adornment. Interestingly, it can also mean to conceal as in a veil or disguise used to foster covert conduct or to deceive. In the latter sense coverture “covers a multitude of sins,” thereby offering a pretense, a justification, and a defense for egregious conduct.

The social doctrine of coverture saw that men “covered” for women’s sins in exchange for the husband’s supposed privilege of authority; a privilege we could justifiably read as a poisoned chalice when one considers the number of men that went to the gallows in place of their wives.

Fast forward to the 19th century when coverture laws were still in place, and the advent of feminism was beginning. Feminists hit upon a plan to remove the “male authority” facet of the coverture doctrine, but to retain the “male responsibility for women’s wrongdoing” aspect of it. In effect they split coverture down the middle, trashing one half of the doctrine and continuing to preserve the other.  As E. B. Bax observed:

“For it is a significant and amusing fact that no mention is ever made by the advocate of women’s claims of the privileges which have always been accorded the “weaker sex.” These privileges are quietly pocketed as a matter of course, without any sort of acknowledgment, much less any suggestion of surrender.”
Some Heterodox Notes on the Women Question (1887)

“This public opinion regards it as axiomatic that women are capable of everything men are capable of, that they ought to have full responsibility in all honourable and lucrative functions and callings. There is only one thing for which unlimited allowance ought to be made on the ground of their otherwise non-existent womanly inferiority, and that is their own criminal or tortious acts! In a word, they are not to be held responsible, in the sense that men are, for their own actions when these entail unpleasant consequences for themselves. On the contrary, the obloquy and, where possible, the penalty for the wrong-doing is to be shifted on to the nearest wretched man with whom they have consorted.”
Why I Am an Anti-Suffragist (1909)

“To men all duties and no rights, to women all rights and no duties, is the basic principle underlying Modern Feminism, Suffragism, and the bastard chivalry it is so fond of invoking.”
The Fraud of Feminism, Chapter VII: The Psychology of the Movement (1913)

Further to Bax’s claim that the penalty for women’s wrongdoing got shifted onto the nearest wretched man, we appear to have come in the 21st century to not only maintaining, but amplifying the blame game in an effort to retain the “dignity, esteem, and reputation” of today’s women — a blame game that has its unbroken root in the tradition of coverture.

If the theory of ongoing-coverture satisfies the baffling question of why women shirk responsibility, then we at least have an answer. Women want to maintain the historical tradition of having their transgressions excised, hidden and covered by men, while they go about securing the gynocentric utopia they have been so effective at building.

Maintenance of sentimental coverture rightly belongs to gynocentrism theory. For how could gynocentrism survive if women took more responsibility, if they were more accountable for their acts? Quite simply gynocentrism couldn’t survive on that basis, particularly if their aim is one of fairness and equality which can only be achieved by truly emancipating women and holding them responsible for their actions.

So as a working model lets add sentimental coverture as one of 5 pillars of a gynocentric temple, which would look something like this: Pillar-1. Chivalry, 2. Courtly/romantic love, 3. Gender narcissism, 4. Coverture, and lastly 5. Power-seeking (via the long march through the institutions of power, this strategy being evident for centuries before Marxism was dreamed up, as for example in the writing of Christine De Pizan and her ‘City of Ladies’).

In summary, this article posits that coverture has survived long beyond its historical use in law, becoming a social custom divested of its original legal framework. Whatever the merits of its original purpose, the sentimental continuation of coverture provides an enduring custom encouraging women’s shirking of personal responsibility – this thanks in no small part to the activism of the feminist movement which postures as progressive, but turns out to be the same as it ever was.

References:

[1] Galbi, Douglass, Coverture, Domestic Violence & Criminalization of Men (2015)