I was enraged by a recent opinion piece published by The Washington Post. My thoughts are on fire. The article originally titled, "One way to end violence against women? Stop taking lovers and get married" is written by W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, and Robin Fretwell Wilson, Director of the program in Family Law at the University of Illinois. The duo opines that women who are married, and who come from homes in which their married fathers were present in their lives, are less likely to be the victims of abuse and sexual violence.
Ignoring the prevalence of “marital” rape and incest, and ignoring the fact that so many instances of marital and familial sexual violence go unreported, Wilcox and Wilson use handy graphs and statistical data to back up their claims. One big one? “Never-married women are nearly four times more likely to be victims of violent crime, compared to married women.” Wilson and Wilcox also make sure to drive home the recent relevance of their claim, responding to the #yesallwomen twitter campaign, itself a response to the horrific and misogynist shooting at UCSB:
“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.”
The op-ed is thinly disguised propaganda supporting two-parent, heterosexual, married households as a deterrent for gender-based violence, perpetrated on women, by men. As such, it reiterates the tired notion that women are inherently (that is to say, biologically, "naturally") victims of masculinity, and the only deterrent to that is masculinity itself. This line of reasoning is reminiscent of those tweets on the #yesallwomen tag that call into question the act of utilizing a 'pretend' boyfriend or husband to avoid unwanted sexual or romantic advances from other men: namely, the idea that men respect other men, more than they respect our own agency as women. And this is why tags like #yesallwomen exist to begin with. The patriarchy, as a system and construct, may seem to be a huge and obvious thing to those of us under its boot, yet it tends to work insidiously. Upholding the idea that men can stop gender-based violence, not by calling out the violence and sexism amongst their half of the population, but by enacting violence-as-defense, Wilson and Wilcox thus place the ball in a male-occupied and controlled court. The idea that marriage or parenthood are panaceas to all society’s ills are particularly problematic when taken to their extreme conclusions.
Wilson and Wilcox’s answer for gender-based violence on women, perpetrated by men? Other men. The “good” ones, the ones who will protect us! Much like the NRA activists who petition for more access to guns, in order to protect us from those mad men wielding assault rifles, Wilson and Wilcox make a strong case: if you’re a woman who’s had violence perpetrated against you, well, you should have been married, you should have grown up in a stable, two-parent home. That would have helped you! There’s implicit victim and slut-shaming here, of course. The Washington Post probably received an onslaught of angry tweets, emails and comments, and rushed to edit the piece….by changing its name. The title now reads, in a somewhat less slut-shaming way: "One way to end violence against women? Married dads."
This sort of drivel is irresponsible and better left to parody news sources like The Onion.
As for my rage? Much of it rests on the false idea the writers put forth that I, and other women, those unmarried women, the ones who don’t come from two-family homes, are incomplete in some way. I hadn't realized I needed a man to protect me from other men. I thought I needed men, as a whole, to not be abusers and rapists. If I'm unsafe around one half of the population, it's not because I'm lacking a father or a husband. It's because I am surrounded by the implicit and structural violence of patriarchy, acting on me every day.
Shakti Castro is a Blogs Editor for Warscapes.
Image via Marie Claire.