No, 'Washington Post,' I Don't Need to be Married to be Safer, and My Untraditional Family Proves It
In 6th grade, a few months after I enrolled in a new school, I invited a female classmate over for a sleepover at my dad's house. But the sleepover never happened. Instead, my classmate's mom called and left a voicemail for my dad saying, in the plainest of terms, that she "didn't feel comfortable” with the idea of two young girls sleeping at a single man's house. My dad responded by laughing it off, acquiescing to her demands, and driving my friend home before dinnertime after an afternoon hangout. Still, good-humored as he was, my dad fielded an extremely hurtful comment, particularly considering he was recovering from the divorce of his second wife and felt inadequate enough.
The thwarted sleepover was years ago, but it seems as though stereotypes and assumptions surrounding single parents still persist. On Tuesday, the Washington Post published an article by two sociology professors that analyzed data showing "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." The article’s headline originally read, "One way to end violence against women? Stop taking lovers and get married. The data shows that #yesallwomen would be safer hitched to their baby daddies." Within 20 minutes, it was changed to the slightly more benign, "One way to end violence against women? Married dads. The data shows that #yesallwomen would be safer with fewer boyfriends around their kids."
Leaving aside how horrifyingly offensive the implications of the first headline are (women experience violence because they are sluts who need to settle down?), the revised one doesn't make much sense. But it accurately reflects how the article conflates #YesAllWomen — a campaign about everyday sexism and misogyny against women — with sexual abuse of young boys and girls by household members. The authors even divert into the effects nontraditional households can have on instances of physical abuse of children. Now unmarried women are sluts and bad parents! You’re not just endangering yourself, but your kid too!
But the Washington Post article is just the latest facepalm moment in the discussion of violence against women. In recent months, a string of journalists from reputable news organizations have taken on the subject of rape culture by throwing data against the wall to see what sticks—and using frightening clickbait headlines to promote it. (Don't even get us started on George Wills' most recent column.) The Post's article, however, is particularly disturbing — it is written by professors who educate college-aged men and women. It uses flashy data to pronounce causation between two serious, broad topics — marriage and violence — that are only somewhat correlated at best, and insists that women need a protective man, whether a father or husband, to keep them from being assaulted. And must we reference this?
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.
Ugh. It concludes by advising:
So, women: If you’re the product of a good marriage, and feel safer as a consequence, lift a glass to dear old dad this Sunday.
I did not grow up as the product of a good marriage, and I have no idea how having married parents would make me feel safer. I am fortunate enough to have never experienced violence, but the two women I know who are survivors of sexual and domestic assault are the "products" (how clinical a term) of their parents' loving, lasting marriages. Somehow, their traditional upbringing didn't stop their perpetrators (who are thankfully no longer in their lives) from raping and beating them.
I did, however, grow up with both a father (see: above) and a stepfather who love me and who taught me how to be independent, severely disproving the Washington Post's claim that "unrelated males are less likely to have sustained interaction with children of the family when dad has a day-in-day-out presence in the home." As a product of what these authors would probably call a “broken home,” I know more about what I am looking for in a marriage — and, equally as important, what I’m not looking for. And I am so grateful for that.
I wish I could go back in time and tell my dad to ignore that stupid woman and that I don't care if he is married or not. But for this Father's Day, I'll just lift a glass to a dear old dad who dropped everything to come fix my flat tire when I called at midnight, waited in line with me at the Harry Potter releases, screamed louder and danced harder than anyone else at my graduation, and who, without knowing it, taught me that relationships and marriage are never, ever a prerequisite to happiness. Much less safety.