And now, for the week in ridiculous.
A headline in the Washington Post reads, without a hint of irony: “One way to end violence against women? Married dads.”
When the #YesAllWomen hashtag took off on Twitter in response to the UC-Santa Barbara shooting, women took to their keyboards to share their experience with violence. In a Department of Justice report done on the prevalence, incidence and consequences of violence against women, “51.9 percent of surveyed women [said] they were physically assaulted as a child by an adult caretaker and/or as an adult by any type of attacker.” Twenty-two percent of surveyed women reported that they’d been physically assaulted “by a current or former spouse, cohabiting partner, boyfriend or girlfriend, or date in their lifetime.”
The headline does what social media headlines are designed to do: pique interest, slightly infuriate, mislead just enough to get you to click the link and find the nuance. The piece goes on to emphasize its thesis:
“This social media outpouring makes it clear that some men pose a real threat to the physical and psychic welfare of women and girls. But obscured in the public conversation about the violence against women is the fact that some other men are more likely to protect women, directly and indirectly, from the threat of male violence: married biological fathers.”
What’s dangerous here, if it’s not already clear, is the emphasis that the piece puts on marriage as a safe haven for women and girls. Nevermind that the institution of marriage was never actually designed to favor women, only men and their quest for wealth-building. While ignoring this fact, the authors of this piece also suggest that husbands and fathers are are not perpetrators of abuse, even though they are among the worst offenders in domestic violence situations, terrorizing families and at times giving women and their children literally nowhere else to go.
To assume that women are safer because of marriage is to buy into the idea that a man cannot rape his wife. It is to ignore the 20 percent of all marriages where “couples slap, shove, hit, or otherwise assault each other,” according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. It also means forgetting that domestic violence among battered wives is significantly underreported.
“Marriage also seems to cause men to behave better,” the piece contends. “That’s because men tend to settle down after they marry, to be more attentive to the expectations of friends and kin, to be more faithful, and to be more committed to their partners — factors that minimize the risk of violence.”
It is a fallacy to promote marriage as if it were a rehabilitative catch-all for domestic violence prevention and women’s wellness. Sure, married women might be “safer,” but they are not safer, but they are not safer because they are married. This thesis flirts with the idea that partnered, unmarried women are somehow deviant. After all, the original click-bait headline read:
Use of the word “lovers” implies, of course, a level of sexual promiscuity — particularly among unmarried, but coupled, women. Shaming women for sex, chastising them for being unmarried is as old as marriage itself, but no less effective in driving home the point that married women are valued more (and apparently, worth protecting more, if this line of reasoning is to be followed) than non-married women. It reinforces the Disney dreams that a White Knight and a marriage proposal will save women from the dark forces.
What a chilling thing that a well-respected major news outlet confuses correlation with causation, while managing to sex shame all in one fell swoop. If we want to talk about making the world safe for women, we could start by changing the narratives about what marriage is about in the modern world, who it serves, and why women need to be a protected class.
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