THANK GOODNESS THERE WAS NO CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT DEFINING ME AS CHATTEL   8 comments

I have offered you the story of my marriage in a previous blog. Now let me tell you about my divorce from Lou Affinito after 20 years of marriage and two children. Lou eventually married a lovely lady – a devout Roman Catholic – who was the perfect wife for him. Their marriage lasted some 35 years, terminated only by Lou’s death. And I went on being happily single, supported by my own income, the result of a career which gave me (still gives me) great joy.

It was 1976. I was free – I mean literally free – because the traditional – even Biblical – marriage defining wives as chattel had not been written into our constitution, though remnants of the attitude remained. The same brave women who survived ridicule and torture to gain the right to vote also worked to earn for women the right to their children. As long as wives were chattel, so were their children. Yes, chattel, property.

My mother was a young married woman with her first child when she was granted her voting rights. Not because the constitution was amended to limit her freedom, but because it was amended to guarantee her freedom.

Don’t misunderstand; the church did its best to enforce its limitations on women through the rule of law. There were remnants of the attitude in 1976. In some places, for example, married women could still not receive a library card in their own name.

The idea of women owning their own homes was seen by some as a bit ludicrous, if not disgusting. The first Real Estate agent I worked with showed me a series of very sorry examples of houses. When I told him I was looking for something nicer, he told me this was the best I could expect as a woman looking to purchase on my own. Fortunately he was a bit of a dinosaur. Women were just discovering Real Estate as an occupation that fit their needs and at which they excelled. With the help of a very patient lady I eventually found the right place for me.

Most of the stores to which I applied were willing to give me credit accounts in my own name. The one exception I remember was J.C. Penney which insisted I had to remain under my husband’s name. In all the years since, I have bought only one item at J.C. Penney. By the way, as far as I recall, there were no general credit cards like Visa and American Express.

Knowing the importance of the church to Lou, I offered to cooperate with him in the process of getting an annulment. After a few years he did request my help. The archdiocese, recognizing that I was not a Catholic, sent me a very courteous letter asking whether I’d be wiling to cooperate. They assured me that an annulment would in no way affect the legitimacy of our children. Even the church understood the difference between church law and civil law. Someday I may share the story publicly. Anyway, Lou was granted the annulment.

Have I made my point? The same Biblical references that define what some people are calling traditional marriage also defined women as chattel. I even made it part of the fictional story of Mrs. Job. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if that definition had been written into our constitution.

There is one story you might find interesting. It makes no point except to amuse. In 1982 when I was buying a different home (with the help of the same lovely Real Estate Lady) the potential lender required a copy of my divorce decree. With perfect confidence I headed to my locked, fireproof file. I couldn’t find it. Searching under “D” for divorce, and “D” for decree, then under “M” for marriage, I came up empty handed. So, in somewhat of a panic, I called City Hall for a copy. They reported there was no such decree on file. Was I sure about where I’d been living when I got divorced? Yes, I was. Then on the other end of the phone I heard, “Oh, I think I just saw it. Let me look.” Back she came to report that it was in a drawer of materials about to be discarded. It was never filed. “Oh, I giggled, does that mean Lou is a bigamist?” No, it didn’t mean that, but Lou and I each had to contact our lawyers to get them to finish their job.

Well, maybe there is a point in that last story. Might it be called “Much ado about nothing?” Well, not really. My mortgage loan depended on that piece of paper.

8 responses to “THANK GOODNESS THERE WAS NO CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT DEFINING ME AS CHATTEL

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  1. Hi Mona, I loved this one! Dar Chiles

  2. this story makes you wonder if a marriage is ever truly over? us women have come a long ways, but there are still certain areas, it is best to have a man present, such as a car lot

    • I used to advise my students to study cars and car care. When that happens, and it still is difficult for women to buy, then I agree that it’s good to have a man with you just because the salespeople may still be harboring old prejudices. I am hopeful about the younger generation though, both male and female.

      And I am glad the constitution didn’t define me as my husband’s possession.

  3. Amen.

  4. Thanks, Laura. I appreciate the intense emotion behind your “Amen.”

  5. Very nice blog post. I like it!!

  6. Thanks, Raani, for reading and commenting.

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