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Working Wives, Working Husbands, and Divorce

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Diana Landen: Do we still have a double standard when it comes to marriage and work?  When Jesse James cheated on Sandra Bullock, people were quick to blame her successful career. Why aren't we saying the same thing about Al and Tipper Gore?

Al and Tipper Gore
Remember the deadly "Curse of the Best-Actress Oscar"? We read about all the Oscar-winning actresses who have gotten divorced, along with the suggestion that men can't take a wife who is more successful than they are. And what about the "Sandra Bullock Trade"? That's what the New York Times called winning an Academy Award, but losing your husband. According to columnist David Brooks, Sandra Bullock got a rotten deal.

It gets worse. Writer Bonnie Fuller's male friends told her the cheating was Sandra Bullock's fault for working so hard. "Men need sex," said one. "You can't leave a horny guy like Jesse James alone for months at a time; he'll get up to no good." Said another, "[Sandra] was probably so engrossed in her career ... Jesse felt neglected." And one expert suggested that Jesse James "may have felt emasculated about [Sandra] being this super-famous, award-winning actress. [Cheating] was his unconscious way of hurting her because he's jealous of her."

What are people saying about Al and Tipper Gore's divorcing after 40 years? Mostly, we're just sad and bewildered. Ten years ago, Al Gore said he'd loved Tipper with his whole heart since his senior prom. What happened? We keep asking if Al cheated on his wife, as if we can't believe in any other explanation. Sally Quinn actually suggested that the split happened because Al Gore never got over his loss in the 2000 Presidential election.

Experts fall back on platitudes: People grow apart; they don't evolve together; they don't have shared interests after the children grow up. Columnists argue over whether or not it's possible for anyone to stay married. Oddly, Rush Limbaugh was one of the few pundits to suggest that there could have been something wrong in the marriage before the divorce. Of course, he goes on to some strange theory that Tipper Gore was just waiting for Al Gore to get rich before she divorced him.

What about Al Gore's career? There are a few suggestions that he was busy traveling all the time. (One commenter raised the question politely in an online discussion at the Washington Post.) But there is no deadly "Curse of the Nobel Peace Prize," no "Al Gore Trade." Nobody is suggesting that Tipper Gore felt neglected, sexually frustrated and jealous of her husband's success. 

The crazy thing is, work probably had nothing to do with Sandra Bullock's divorce, but it might have had something to do with Al Gore's. Jesse James already had two divorces under his belt. He cheated on his former wives, and he is alleged to have had four mistresses while he was married to Sandra Bullock. Jesse James cheated because he was Jesse James. If Sandra Bullock had quit her job when she married him, she still would have ended up divorced, but she wouldn't have won an Oscar.

What about working husband Al Gore? According to the Washington Post, when Al was in Congress, Tipper didn't like being left in Washington every weekend while her husband went back to work in the district. Al hadn't consulted Tipper when he decided to run for Congress, and she was furious when he told her he was going to run for President back in 1987. Tipper joked that Al actually had more time for his family when he was Vice President. What about after he officially left politics? In the past ten years, Al Gore has worked hard, traveled away from home and won both an Academy Award and a Nobel Peace Prize.

We can't know why the Gores are separating, but why the double standard? Why do we blame a woman's career if her marriage falls apart, but not a man's? Why make women afraid to succeed? On the other hand, maybe it would be good for some men to hear that working too hard might mean losing the love of your life.


next: 10 Reasons to Watch 'Twist of Kate'
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