June 11, 2014

The Washington Post Has the Answer to Violence Against Women:
and it's amazing just how much they missed the point

The Washington Post made waves last week with an op-ed by George Will where Mr. Will discussed the problem with "survivor privilege" on college campuses. In the context of the larger conversation we've been having nationally about sexual assault on campuses, it was incredibly misinformed and built on a considerable number of underlying misconceptions about rape.

But, apparently, the Post isn't done trolling us just yet. Another op-ed ran yesterday, titled "One way to end violence against women? Married dads."

In the piece, W. Bradford Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson assert that:
The bottom line is this: Married women are notably safer than their unmarried peers, and girls raised in a home with their married father are markedly less likely to be abused or assaulted than children living without their own father.
Unfortunately, Wilcox and Wilson miss a very key fact: No women should not live in fear of their partners...because their partners should be raised to believe that violence against other humans is wrong.

Period. Full stop.

What we have here is an amazing case of victim-blaming. You see, you hussies, your children would be safe and sound if only you would stay with the biological father of your children.

We could throw out the statistics that 1 in 6 currently married women report abuse or that 1 in 2 previously married women report violence, but it doesn't matter. You should all know better.

Here's a short list of the problems that I, personally, find with this piece.

The authors don't consider other factors.

Mate selection is influenced by a wide variety of circumstances. Financial security, education levels, family histories--so much goes into it. These factors also have corresponding relevance to levels of domestic violence. Without taking any of that into account, how can you say that the marital status is the primary factor? That status itself came about because of so many others.

One also has to ask: Why are men in these situations more violent? What factors go into that violence?

Correlation does not equal causation.

This is particularly blatant when you are looking at this sentiment:
The bottom line is that married women are less likely to be raped, assaulted, or robbed than their unmarried peers.
While the statistics bear out that the authors are factually accurate, one has to wonder why they didn't consider the nuances of this situation. Are these women in danger because they aren't married, or are there circumstances in their life that explain both why they are not married and why they are more likely to be victims of crimes?

The idea gives rise to cyclical thinking.

The authors state that:
For women, part of the story is about what social scientists call a “selection effect,” namely, women in healthy, safe relationships are more likely to select into marriage, and women in unhealthy, unsafe relationships often lack the power to demand marriage or the desire to marry. Of course, women in high conflict marriages are more likely to select into divorce.
"Women in healthy, safe relationships are more likely to select into marriage"--this implies that the healthy, safe part was in place before the marriage. Of course if a woman feels safe in a relationship that's well, she's probably going to be more willing to marry if that's something that's important to her.

The real question is, how can the authors present marriage as a solution to domestic violence when they, themselves, provide evidence that being secure and safe often come before marriage anyway?

Men shouldn't need marriage to settle them down.

The authors go on to say:
But marriage also seems to cause men to behave better. 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. 
Why is this acceptable? Why are men not expected to prove themselves to be pillars of the community prior to "settling down"? I can't wrap my mind around the idea that women should be willing to marry so that men are willing to behave well.

My husband's behavior is not my responsibility. It's his. It's the result of his choices, not mine. I didn't marry him to change that behavior. I married him because he already showed qualities that I, personally, valued in a mate. For a short list, he was attentive, was sensitive, was strong when I needed him to be, showed himself to be a good father, had a great sense of humor, and had an ass that looked FANTASTIC in a pair of jeans. He showed himself to be financially secure and able to maintain a household. He kept a budget. He was smart and fun to talk to. All of these were qualities that I was looking for at that point. None of them were qualities that he developed after we were together, let alone after we were married.

Women shouldn't need men to protect them.

Women shouldn't need protection, because we should each be willing to respect the people around us, regardless of their gender. The authors contend that:
To be sure, it doesn’t take a viewing of “The Burning Bed” or “Safe Haven”to realize that married men can and do abuse or assault their wives or daughters. Marriage is no panacea when it comes to male violence. But married fathers are much less likely to resort to violence than men who are not tied by marriage or biology to a female. And, most fundamentally, for the girls and women in their lives, married fathers provide direct protection by watching out for the physical welfare of their wives and daughters, and indirect protection by increasing the odds they live in safe homes and are not exposed to men likely to pose a threat.
No man should have these expectations on his shoulder. What happens, then, if your wife or children are injured? Is that a blow to your own masculinity? That's a terrible position to put someone in.

Rather, it should be the desire of every parent, regardless of gender, to make sure that their children are growing up in a safe, happy, healthy environment--the absolute best that parent can provide.

Furthermore, women should be able to exist without requiring protection. We should be able to walk down the street and not worry about being raped, robbed or murdered. We should be able to date, and even live with partners, without the fear of being abused. These are basic human courtesies.

Saying women need to be married is focusing on the wrong data.

Instead of trying to prescribe marriage to treat domestic violence, there are some definite things we can be focusing on.

For one, we need to look at providing support for mothers, so that they don't feel like they will need a second income to provide for their families. Reducing their dependence on men in turn reduces the amount of violence they potentially face, because they will be able to walk away without financial repercussions.

We also need to look at why men in this situations are more prone to violence. Addressing that violence where it is will be key to making sure women are safe wherever they are, and whoever they are with.

What we don't need to do is shut the conversation down by saying women need to "take fewer lovers" and "marry their baby daddies", which is what the original headline on this piece said. Marriage is not the answer to domestic violence, although men are most certainly part of that answer.

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