To the Regular Readers of This Column:
Please do not be alarmed that Rumpole is not writing this week. Hilda hasn't murdered him - yet. His absence, perhaps due in part to overindulgence in Pommeroy's Ordinary Red, also springs from my having convinced him that it is high time his readership were exposed to a less patriarchal view of the questions he addresses here. Then too, he has permitted Claude Erskine Brown to write here as a guest on more than one occasion. It was not difficult for me to persuade Rumpole that I could perform the task at hand much better than Claude. I suppose Rumpole must have thought that I had far too many more important things to do, what with running the Sisterhood of Radical Lawyers and all that, but what I always say is that, if the personal is political, then the political is personal, and so here I am.
L1: Do you know, LW1, that until the very end of the letter, I thought you were a man? Your unnecessary emphasis on your husband's co-worker being female, when you called her She in the next clause, made it appear that there was an unusual emphasis on her being a woman. My original assumption was therefore that you were a male couple, hence the emphasis. We are, after all, soon to have full marriage for same-sex couples soon (Americans already have such marriages in several states), and most of the couples in civil partnerships I meet when I do Legal Aid work in support of Gay and Lesbian Rights (they really ought to include Bisexuals as well; such exclusion is highly patriarchal and divisive) call their spouses their husband or wife. But then just at the end you mention his sleeping with another woman, and that settles the question.
I am a little surprised that you ask which of the pair to believe. For one thing, even when she commits the unpardonable act of trying to steal your man, another woman is much less likely to be telling you a lie than any man, of course, because patriarchy. I'm sorry that this was how you had to learn that you didn't really have a good marriage after all, but better now than later. After all, as the wisest character in Shirley Valentine (Jane, of course) tells us, All Men Are Potential Rapists (even the Pope). And it is hard to see why you could think that the answer to your question makes any difference. You know he's a cheater and can't be trusted, and it only matters how many times if it will affect your divorce settlement. That might depend on where you got married. To be absolutely honest, which of course I am, being a woman, I don't think I've done a divorce since Singleton v Singleton. If you had consulted me before you'd married, I'd have advised you to make him sign a prenuptial agreement giving you 90% of his assets if you ever split up. I should not advise any woman to marry a man without getting him to sign such an agreement. There are people who say it's not romantic, but they're just misogynists. Why shouldn't a man sign it? After all, as long as he remains faithful and doesn't give his more deserving wife any reason to want to divorce him, it won't cost him a penny. And if he refuses to sign, it's proof positive that he's already thinking of cheating, and who wants to marry that?
L2: Now, Rumpole tells me that he often makes literary references in his answers, and this letter makes me think of Oscar Wilde, who, even though he was a man, wrote some clever things. Rumpole, of course, being just a teensy bit homophobic, like almost all heterosexual men, does not often quote Oscar Wilde, but at least it makes it go down easier to be quoting a man at all. Wilde once said that there are only two trageides in life, not getting what you want, and getting it.
LW2, you appear to have gotten what you want. You say you have always appreciated your friend's directness and pragmatism. And here she has just given you a remarkable example of the qualities you so appreciate about her. I agree that it is possible for such a gesture to be intended badly and to be hurtful, but don't think that's the case here - after all, it's not as though it were a man not inviting your father to a wedding, or your mother not being invited. And men don't really appreciate weddings, anyway. In my opinion, most weddings would be far better off without them. I'm sure it's not as if your father would want to go, if he were alive, that is.
You say your friend is direct and pragmatic. Well, what can be more direct and pragmatic than this? You and your mother can't possibly object unless she would have RSVP'd that both your parents would attend, when clearly that isn't going to be the case. Your father would have to go on the list of those planning to att end, which means that your friend would have had to include him in her seating plans, and that, in case you never happen to have gotten married, can be an absolute nightmare. So many women, who, after all, are often marrying mere men, need the consolation of having nice, even numbers at all the tables, and a guest who accepts an invitation only to die before the event is a major headache. And as long as your father is on the list, then your friend can't decently invite someone who would make a nice couple with your mother once she's a widow. And that would not feel quite nice if your friend were penciling in a replacement guest. It's just not at all the same thing.
Yes, your friend ought to have apologized for hurting your and your mother's feelings. But you made a mistake confronting a bride-to-be over the telephone. One never knows what madness might be engulfing her during the call. Correct procedure is to take her to lunch and then take her to task when she's far removed from disturbing influences and can give you her proper attention. Of course, if you really want to end the friendship, then it would be silly to try to stop you. But the Prudecutor, as Rumpole calls her, frequently advises people to give a bride the benefit of the doubt in questionable cases, and I have worked with Rumpole long enough to find it suspicious that she considers this to be a clear case of a friendship-ending insult? Don't burn your bridges, LW2, because after a long dose of burying your head in the sand next to your mother's, you'll probably be in the mood for some of your friend's direct pragmatism before too much longer.
L3: Your parents (who appear to have acquired their fiscal brains from Sir Walter Elliot) have just provided you with a classic example of Ageism. They are bad people. They denied you your agency in choice of university and then turned around and billed you after cheating you out of the opportunity to take the bill into account in agreeing to attend the uni you did when a poly probably would have done just as well. They probably dislike your choice of career, although good for you for going into public service. Now, once again, they are attempting to deny you your agency in trying to force you to travel with them and pay a ruinous amount in expences. Cut them out of your life once and for all. You are far better off without ageists of this ilk around you.
L4: And we finish by going from Ageism to Ableism. You ought to check your privilege, LW4, and be aware that the T in TAB and TAM stands for Temporarily. But sadly, prejudice and discrimination against the non-TAB and non-TAM have been on the increase. Why, in the States, I've heard that there are people who are actually trying to establish that the Presidency and other major political offices not be open to those who are non-TAB or non-TAM. Perhaps they realize that they can hardly be trusted to choose such office holders in open elections, but I don't know why the idea should scare them. After all, we've been quite content with non-TAB and non-TAM elected officials at the highest levels for ages, and it hasn't done us irreparable harm.
However, a woman has the right not to be bothered by a man in her own home. This is something that your non-TAM neighbour can appreciate to at least a partial degree if he is able to be out and about by himself without supervision. (Perhaps he ought to be supervised at all times, but it does not appear from L4 that this is the case.) It probably behooves you to involve his mother in establishing a comfortable relationship - after all, as All Men Are Potential Rapists (see LW1), it should entirely be the woman's prerogative to select the degree of acquaintance with which she is comfortable.
Well, all, I hope that this was a satisfacotry first attemtp. I may appear again in future, when I hope I shall have more time, instead of having to rush to a meeting about Claude Erskine Brown. You'd think that by now he wouldn't be given any more female pupils...
L. Probert, S.R.L.