A very special father’s day Washington Post column put forth the idea that violence against women would drop if women simply married their children’s biological father. The answer has been there all along, Married Dads! (With a niftyScreenshot 2014-06-12 18.38.31 byline: The data show that #yesallwomen would be safer with fewer boyfriends around their kids).

While it is true that children are more likely to be abused when there is a non biologic (i.e, genetically unrelated) male in the house, it’s a little more complex than genetics staying the fist. There are of course some situations that might be linked with violence that lead to a non bioligically related male living in the house, such as financial desperation, drug abuse, and of course fear. Fear of the kid’s dad, fear of being alone or unloved, fear of the neighborhood crime, or fear of what the guy might do to you if you don’t agree to live together.

The whole marrying-your child’s father to prevent violence against women also makes a great leap of faith that the guy is A) worth marrying and B) wants to get married and C) won’t be violent himself (married men do actually commit domestic violence and child abuse, a point briefly mentioned and then quickly dismissed by the Washington Post piece). And then there is a very important research point neglected by the marriage manifesto, that no one has ever randomized couples to pregnancy followed by marriage or just donating sperm and moving on. It is the height of simplification to assume that marriage to the children’s father is the solution to violence in the home. There are so many complex social, financial, and safety decisions that go into marriage you can’t begin to tease things apart. One HUGE confounder is that women might be more likely to marry a stable, loving, safe man than a jerkwad.

But all this discussion about confounders and marriage and boyfriends is an entirely unnecessary exercise and not where we should be dedicating our research dollars. Why? The data show that #yesallwomen would be safer if no man ever hit them.

Yes, we should study and educate about the risk factors that seem to indicate when violence might be more likely to occur, but telling women to marry their child’s father is so misogynistic I don’t even know where to begin. We shouldn’t be educating women to get married, we should be educating young men that violence is never acceptable.

Why is it a woman’s responsibility to stop men beating? 

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  1. The Post article also makes a revealing counterpoint to the column by George Will you discussed in your last post. Even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that Will’s points are valid (rather than being the collection of inumerate lies that they actually are), it’s interesting that his column did not have a headline like “Hey, men. Don’t want to be accused of rape? Stop hitting on women.” Boys will be boys, the thinking goes, I guess. But, girls, keep your libidos in check if you know what’s good for you.

  2. HI, Jen. I don’t know if you remember me, but I was a couple years ahead of you at U of Manitoba med school. This is a fantastic blog.

    I bit of googling reveals that W. Bradford Wilcox, one of the authors on this article, was also one of the reviewers of the infamous Mark Regnerus study on gay parents. This was produced to order for anti-gay organizations to use as evidence in court to argue against gay marriage (And we all know how well that has worked out for them!)

    So it seems Wilcox is well-acquainted with how to massage the data so it seems to support the conclusion you wish to make…..

  3. If I were a woman, this crap would burn a hole through my brain. Unbelievable. I’m a man, and I can’t stand the obtuseness of this. Somehow, the solution to male violence is always something the woman isn’t doing or should be doing. It’s never the guy; it’s always the person who’s just gotten beaten up or raped. F**k George Will. He’s blown past his sell-by date.

  4. I strongly suspect you’re right about the real meaning of the married dads are better. This sort of thing makes me think of the old joke about the computer concluding stair safety could be improved by removing the top and bottom stairs.

    However, I think you’re not quite so accurate with the second part–women get a lot of blame for domestic violence because they keep going back to their abusers. When someone won’t help themselves there’s little society can to do help them.

    1. @Anonymous June 12, 2014, 8:26 pm:

      Women get a lot of blame for domestic violence because they keep going back to their abusers. When someone won’t help themselves there’s little society can to do help them.

      That’s still blaming the victim. It also ignores the many women who do try to free themselves from an abusive relationship, only to discover that society actively works against their efforts.

      Here is Getting Out and Staying Out: Issues Surrounding a Woman’s Ability to Remain Out of an Abusive Relationship, from Canada. Some extracts:

      A woman’s personal safety may be in jeopardy after leaving and, in fact, abuse may escalate at this time (Campbell, 1992, 1998). An increased risk of stalking, threats, bullying, property damage, and homicide have been documented as a result of the woman leaving (Campbell, 1992, 1998; Kirkwood, 1993).

      Negative responses from social agencies have also been identified as barriers to leaving abusive partners (Moss, Pitula, Campbell, & Halstead, 1997). In many cases, there may be more institutional support for women to remain in the relationship rather than to leave. For example, restraining orders that are not enforced, delayed court dates, and lack of child support are commonly cited as deterrents to leaving an abusive relationship (Moss, Pitula, Campbell, & Halstead; Ulrich, 1991, 1998).

      Half of the women in the study did not label their situations as abusive until someone pointed it out to them. For many, the abuse was unlike typical media portrayals of violence against women, but included psychological and financial forms of abuse. Inaccurate representations of abuse had shaped the women’s beliefs about what they thought “real” woman abuse was. When media and family members inaccurately defined woman abuse as only “physical” in nature, the women often felt isolated and lonely. Several of the participants believed that the treatment received from their ex-partners was a common and accepted feature of male/female interactions. Two of the youngest participants in the study described their feelings of helplessness and isolation. These women stated that they did not know where to go for help because they did not see themselves as “battered” women. Because they were not married and did not have children, they felt that resources, such as shelters, were not intended for them. They described encounters with friends and family members who did not take their situations seriously or affirm their experiences because they did not fit the predominant stereotype of “the battered wife”.

      Here is Staying/Leaving: Barriers to Ending Violent Relationships, from Australia. Some extracts:

      Research shows that women are at higher risk of partner violence following separation. In their comparative study of lethal and non-lethal domestic violence, British researchers Dobash and Dobash (2009, p. 16) found that separation was an especially significant risk factor for homicide.

      Women may also be concerned for the safety of their children and other loved ones. In Humphreys and Thiara’s (2003, p. 200) study of post-separation violence, 18% of women reported threats to other family members.

      Long waiting lists for public housing and the high cost of rental in many parts of the country present few housing options for lower income women who leave their home to escape violence, particularly those with children (Braaf & Barrett Meyering 2011).

      Both of these documents are copiously referenced. Before disagreeing with the factual accuracy of any statements quoted above, download the linked PDF, look up the citation in its reference section, then find and read the whole source paper.

      In summary, if you don’t like hearing about people returning to abusive relationships, do your part to change society so that victims receive the support they need and deserve.

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