Unintended Insights

June 12, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sometimes it’s hard to be a conservative, supporting a status quo that’s not working, at least not for large numbers of people.

Brad Wilcox’s latest defense-of-marriage op-ed, “One way to end violence against women? Married dads” (here), carried the seeds of its own destruction (or at least deconstruction).  It’s not just that Wilcox failed to control for things like age, social class, and time trend. The trouble was that while the article was, on its surface, a sermon on how marriage makes women safer, the subtext was a damning critique of the gender status quo. Wilcox did not make that critique explicit, nor did he intend the article to be a feminist document. Just the opposite: “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.”

But by pointing out the relative safety of married women, Wilcox was also calling attention to the dangers faced every day by unmarried women. The karaoke track Wilcox wanted was “Stand By Your Man” – clear support for the benefits of marriage. But what he wound up singing was “Stand By Your Man . . . Or Else.”

This focus on threat was not accidental. The op-ed begins with the UC Santa Barbara shootings and the “millions of girls and women [who] have been abused, assaulted, or raped by men, and even more females fear that they will be subject to such an attack.” You could hardly blame his critics for homing in on the “Or Else.”

Wilcox moved on to laud “some other men [who] are more likely to protect women, directly and indirectly, from the threat of male violence: married biological fathers.” [Emphasis in the original.] It’s almost as though in response to Sandy Hook or other school shootings he had written an op-ed extolling the safety of home schooling.  It may be true, but “Home school your child . . . or else” ignores the way most parents think about the problem and its possible solutions.

It’s risky to point out dangers and then tell people to seek individual solutions. Urging those on the short end of the stick to keep holding on to it may work, but it may also lead them to the sociological insight that the problems are in the system. In the early years of this blog (here) I used “Stand By Your Man” as an example. National Review had put it among “the  50 greatest conservative rock songs.”*  Yet despite the song’s ostensible support for the status quo, it is also telling women what a crummy deal marriage is for them.  Imagine a Saudi version that began the same way – “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman” – and went on to list problems like jealous co-wives, no driving, no going outside alone or clothed in anything but a black tent, and so on.  The resounding refrain of “Stand by your man” might ring a bit hollow.

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* The song is not rock; it’s pure country. If you are unfamiliar with this Tammy Wynette classic, you can hear and see her lip-sync it here.

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