Are divorce parties just another excuse to throw a party? A Hallmark created celebration? Or just another example of celebrity excess? Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how a divorce party may be an opportunity for a couple to transition into their future roles as ex-husband and ex-wife.
The arrival of a wedding invitation may be exciting, but not out of the ordinary. The arrival of a divorce party invitation, well, that’s another story.
This summer—during the height of wedding season—Jack White, of the rock band the White Stripes, and his model-wife Karen Elson invited close friends and family to a party to celebrate both their 6th wedding anniversary and upcoming divorce.
Don’t believe me? Check out the invitation here.
Why on earth would a couple choose to celebrate both their wedding anniversary and divorce at the same party? While it may be difficult to wrap our head around celebrating these two events at the same party, let’s focus on the divorce part of the event.
It would be very easy brush off a divorce party as just the kind of thing that celebrities do, but there are divorce party planners and divorce party suppliers. Even Hallmark offers cards recognizing the newly divorced. We may never know which came first—the business supporting divorce parties or divorce parties themselves, so let’s get back to my main focus:
Why would anyone want to celebrate their divorce—especially together?
Divorce like marriage denotes a change in a person’s achieved status. Status refers to the honor or prestige attached to a position in society and can be achieved or ascribed. An achieved status is just what it sounds like: something one achieves, like graduating from high school. An ascribed status is something we are born with, such as race or something that occurs naturally, such as aging.
Marriage transforms statuses, men into husbands and women into wives, which is something that is seen as an achievement and to be celebrated. American women are still likely to take on the Mrs. title and change their last name denoting their new status and roles as wives. In other words, marriage is seen as transformative and something to be celebrated.
Divorce, however, turns men into ex-husbands and women into ex-wives. This change in status could be seen by the individual as achieved (if they wanted the divorce) or ascribed (if they did not want the divorce). Divorce could even be something in-between because a person may wish to remain married, but not under the current circumstances. Even if individuals in the former couple want to celebrate their divorce, to do so together is somewhat perplexing. Or is it?
In the case of Karen Elson and Jack White, it appears that they intend to remain close and continue raising their children together. Elson and White are doing divorce differently, but perhaps in the future more couples will see divorce as something to celebrate together as well. Perhaps they view a happy divorce as a way to continue a happy parenting relationship even if their marital relationship has ended.
Another issue in a divorce is what sociologists call role exit. If statuses are the titles we hold, then roles are the behaviors expected of a person with a given status. So as a husband Jack White may have been expected to be monogamous, a romantic partner, and confidant.[1. I emphasize the may have been in this sentence. Who knows what Mr. White and Ms. Elson set out as their marital expectations.] Now that they are divorced there is work that each will have to do to inform everyone of their new status and communicate to the world that they will be behaving differently. When we leave a status behind, the work we have to do to change society’s view of us is a key part of role exit.
What does this mean for us non-celebrity types? It’s possible that divorce parties are a result of changes in marital patterns. Couples today are getting married for the first time at an older age than in the past, they are more likely to cohabitate prior to marriage (or instead of marriage0, and con tray to popular belief, they are less likely to get divorced.
Perhaps divorcing couples (especially those with children), are attempting to have a “good” divorce to limit the negative consequences divorces can cause to children. How divorce happens, impacts children differently. A divorce that is rather peaceful is going to harm children less (if at all) than a divorce that pits parent against parent. High parental conflict—married or not—is not good for children. Having a divorce party, especially when children are involved, reaffirms the couple’s commitment to the children while ending their commitment to each other. In this way, the divorce may be reframed as positive event and helps solidify the goals of the divorcing couple for the family overall.
Of course, a cynic might consider divorce parties just a result of good marketing. Perhaps no one ever considered a divorce party until they learned of businesses catering to celebrating divorce. So it really could just be Hallmark’s fault.
Now the most important question of all: Do I get the wedding gift I gave a divorcing couple back at their divorce party?
- Why might divorcing couples decide to have a party to celebrate their divorce?
- What are the implications of divorce parties on society? To families?
- How has divorce impacted your life? Do you think a divorce party would have made things better, worse, or the same? Explain.
- There are plenty of negative examples of divorce in popular culture. Can you find any positive portrayals of divorce in popular culture? How does it differ from negative portrayals?
Deer hunters are an often misunderstood and even vilified subculture. This reaction provides an illustration of culture shock. When we come across a new culture we can either judge it with our own beliefs and values (Sociologists call this ethnocentrism) or we can understand a new culture using the beliefs and values of the culture we are observing (we call this cultural relativism. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores the subculture of deer hunting from a cultural relativist perspective.
In my neck of the woods, deer season (aka shotgun season) is fast approaching. Around here, people schedule weddings around deer season. In other parts of the country, people schedule weddings around college football. Deer hunters make up a subculture that is typically vilified and often misunderstood by outsiders. This reaction provides an illustration of culture shock.
Culture shock refers to the reaction we tend to experience when encountering a culture different from our own. All of us have a tendency to judge foreign cultures based on our own understanding of the world. Sociologists call this ethnocentrism because we are judging other cultures with our own values as though they were superior or morally right. However, we could look at new cultures and judge them based on their own values and moral structures. This would allow us to see other cultures as they see themselves; a process sociologists call cultural relativism. After all, who are we to judge?
In my home town, deer hunting is considered important enough that students can get excused absences to go hunt. When I was in high school, I actually skipped school to deer hunt. Ok, I only officially skipped school once and it was because I didn’t realize that if I had obtained approval by a certain date, deer hunting would be an excused absence. The next year, I had a preapproved excused absence.
But why skip school to hunt in the first place? What do people get out of deer hunting? I mean, I don’t have to hunt in order to eat, so why bother hunting? Let’s explore this subculture in more detail and find out how deer hunting is intertwined with social bonding, competition, and food….
Have you ever heard of a sundown town? Have you ever wondered about the racial diversity in your hometown? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how her hometown lacked racial diversity by design, not chance.
When I was growing up, I had been told that there used to be sign on the edge of town that essentially told African Americans they were unwelcome after sundown. It made sense to me because there were no Black people living in my town of 6,000. There was very little racial diversity. But I still didn’t have any confirmation that my home town really had such a sign or was what is called a sundown town.
Then I found the book, Sundown Towns. I was browsing the book store at the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meetings in Montreal and saw the cover. I picked it up and reviewed the table of contents. And then I opened the index. There was not one but several pages where my hometown was mentioned. Here was confirmation that the the sign more than likely existed. I bought the book and came back during the scheduled time the author, James Loewen was to be at the booth. He signed my book and I told him where I was from. We talked for a few minutes and then I moved on and read the book in my spare time over the next year….
Pregnant teenagers are currently a focus of popular media, yet teen pregnancy is at historic lows. Stephanie Medley-Rath explores why teen pregnancy is such a popular plot line in our entertainment, when the reality is so different?
Pregnant teens have long fascinated me ever since I was a teenager. I had a difficult time understanding why anyone would choose to or accidentally become pregnant as a teenager. Of course, growing up the projectory of my life was always “once you graduate high school, then you go to college.” A baby as a teenager would have severely interfered with my plans of dorm-living and keg parties (and that pesky thing known as getting my degree). Though teen pregnancy was far from epidemic in my high school, it wasn’t exactly shocking. Today, the teen pregnancy rate is at a historic low.
Go read that last sentence. Teenage pregnancy rates are declining, not increasing.
Soap operas give us something to bond over, help us feel better about our own lives, and reaffirm the boundaries of deviance. Stephanie Medley-Rath explores the sociological value of soap operas and wonders what will fill the void left after their cancellation.
I grew up watching All My Children. My mom watched All My Children from the beginning and even when she re-entered the workforce as a school teacher, she would set the VCR to record some of the episodes. We watched every day during summer vacation. My dad even watched with us sometimes.
I haven’t watched the show with any regularity since moving out of my parent’s house. Eventually, I stopped watching completely and so did my mom. When I heard that the show was to be cancelled, I decided to watch one last summer as the show is to end this month. I set my DVR, but gave up watching about half-way through the first recording.
Government food guidelines communicate American values in addition to educating us about healthful eating. Comparing the imagery the government uses to communicate its food guidelines shows us how our values have changed overtime and also stayed the same.
How do you decide what to eat?
- Patriotic duty
What? Patriotic duty? Check out the U.S. government’s food guidelines from 1941-1945:
First, look at the center. “U.S. Needs Us Strong. Eat the Basic 7 Every Day.” So, follow the U.S. guidelines out of patriotic duty. Here we can see how patriotism is something highly valued to the point that our government uses it to get us to eat the “Basic 7”. The image suggests that we have the all-American (read White) family with mom, dad, son, and daughter at the center as well. These guidelines are also promising freedom of sorts. Look at the bottom of the poster: “in addition to the basic 7…eat any other foods you want.” Evidently we heard the last part of the message instead of the first part if the obesity rate is any indication (that’s a topic for another day)….
I took my daughter to the park for playgroup. She decides to swing. I cringe knowing what she is going to say when swinging: “Weeeee…Fly like an Angry Bird!” Oh no, she said it. I’ve now been outed as a bad mom who lets her toddler play Angry Birds. What happened instead was that the mom next me said, oh, my son loves that game, too! A sense of relief overcame both of us….