How can we help the talented writer Rachel Cusk to overcome the extraordinary hurt she has suffered as a consequence of losing her family and, far more importantly, her feminist identity? Mrs Cusk has been explaining, at some length, and repeatedly, to like-minded souls at the Guardian the anguish occasioned by the apparent disappearance of this latter possession. She first detailed, over what seemed to be many, many thousands of words, how she felt now that her marriage had come to an end. She left her husband because she was tired of him, it seems, and her children now shuttle back and forth between the two domiciles — one familiar to them, where Mrs Cusk lives (natch), and the new one where her evicted husband resides. She then did a question-and-answer session with the same newspaper to clear up any lingering doubts about the matter. I am almost certain that more is to follow, because Mrs Cusk has a book to flog.
According to the writer, her husband believes she has treated him ‘monstrously’. We have to take her word for that, because the former Mr Cusk, or whatever he is called, has not committed his feelings to print. Nor, I suspect, will he do so: it is simply not what men do. This may be because they are shallow or emotionally constipated, unable to articulate their feelings properly. Or it may be because in every such case the man is the transgressor and doesn’t have a leg to stand on, so wisely keeps schtum.
Or possibly it might be because men would feel embarrassed divesting themselves of such mimsy, self-important, self-justifying emetic drivel — even for the delectation of literally scores of readers as progressive and understanding as those of the Guardian. One of the three, then.
Mrs Cusk’s existential despair, it is plain to see, is not so much occasioned by the separation, as by the effect that this separation has had upon something incredibly dear and important to her. No, no, you fool, not the bloody kids — I’m talking about her ideological commitment to feminism. You see, what happened was this: Mr Cusk gave up his job as a lawyer in order to support his wife’s writing career by bringing up the children full-time. So he stayed at home while she went tappity-tap-tap-tap on her computer turning out sharp and brilliant works of fiction about how bloody awful men are, the bastards. However, now that she has decided she doesn’t want to sleep with her husband any more she is absolutely outraged that he should believe he has the right to continue bringing up the children — and even more outraged, aghast in fact, that the courts will require her to support him financially. How on earth can that possibly have happened! What is the world coming to, you couldn’t make it up, etc etc.
In fact, her husband didn’t even demand sole custody of the children, he simply suggested it would be fair if the two parents shared the duties. Not on your nelly, said Rachel, fuming: ‘They’re my children, they belong to me,’ she told him. However, she admitted to the Guardian: ‘Once I would have criticised such a sentiment severely, but of certain parts of life there can be no foreknowledge.’ Ha, no kidding, love — no matter how pretentiously you might put it.
Still, we do get an explanation for the terrible conflicting emotions she has had to grapple with. The reason she wanted her husband to stay at home to bring up the kids: she had ‘evolved on a diet of male values’. Her father was very male, you see, and transmitted those values down to her, just like you might expect the reactionary pig would do. So here’s the thing: she acted the way she acted because of men. Men made her do it. Men made her have a career and not worry about the kids too much, until the separation — when she suddenly decided she wanted it all. Sheesh, what’s a girl to do.
You have to admit, though, there is indeed sexism at work in the judicial processes. Let us imagine that the roles were reversed and Rachel was a man (rather than a women, or a ‘self-hating transvestite’, as she puts it in one of the more excruciating moments of hysterical self-pity in her book), and Mr Cusk a woman, rather than a man who clearly tried in every possible way to be — what’s that word again? — ‘progressive’ and support his wife. Pretty much without question, without much in the way of discussion, Rachel-the-man would be forced to cede the family home, immediately.
That has not happened in this case, so far as I can gather. She is still in situ, tappity-tap-tap-tapping away about how beastly everything is. And then, pretty much without question, Rachel-the-man would be forced to cede total custody of the children to Mr-Cusk-the-woman. I do not give a monkey’s that the family courts will argue that technically this is not always so: in practice, it pretty much always is. And again, pretty much without question, Rachel-the-man would be forced to pay a hell of a lot more to her former spouse than she is paying right now because of the extra dosh she’d have to fork out to support the children. So, as a consequence of the sexism in the judicial system, Mrs Cusk is a hell of a lot better off now than if she had been a man. Of that there is no possible question.
And yet still she is outraged, furious, at the way she has been treated. She is, I would gently contend, a self-obsessed, self-pitying idiot. When your long-held ideology comes into conflict with how things actually are, the most appropriate course of action is to bite the bullet and admit you got it all terribly, terribly wrong — and that it’s nobody’s fault but your own.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated February 25, 2012