It’s been an exciting week for The Washington Post. Hot on the heels of George Will’s proclamation that being a sexual assault survivor is now a “coveted status” on college campuses, they’ve published a piece arguing that the real answer to violence against women is actually more weddings. Though the headline has since been changed, the piece was originally published under the inflammatory title of “One way to end violence against women? Stop taking lovers and get married,” which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the academic rigor of this pseudointellectual rant.
At first glance, it may seem as though authors W. Bradford Wilcox and Robin Fretwell Wilson might be on to something. Their piece cites numerous studies about the benefits of marriage, correlating lower rates of violence to growing up in a married home. But much like campaigns that claim to fight poverty by encouraging marriage among low-income couples, Wilcox and Wilson make the mistake of confusing correlation with causation. Marriage may indeed be correlated with better outcomes for women, but it’s not because marriage is a magic wand that transforms men into responsible providers who respect women. More than likely, it’s because men who choose to marry these days are more responsible, committed partners who are less likely to commit acts of violence against women.
Wilcox and Wilson’s argument is so flawed, it’s near impossible to even attempt to take them seriously (and deeply shameful that The Washington Post, in fact, did). Over the past four decades, marriage rates in the US have steeply declined, resulting in an all time low last summer. If marriage is the panacea that these writers presume, we’d presumably have seen a corresponding rise in violence against women, with women far less safe than ever before. And yet – thanks, largely, to the same feminist activism behind #yesallwomen and the decline in marriage – there have actually been significant decreases in violence against women during that 40 year period.
Marrying women off won’t magically make them safer. But promoting the radical idea that women are people too has a proven track record of saving lives – even the lives of single women who happily enjoy an unending stream of lovers.