This is a guest post by Rivka Cohen.
In a recent article titled “One way to end violence against women? Married dads,” some well-meaning (?) writers covered the story of a recent study that found that women’s safety from physical violence correlates with being married. These writers came to what they felt were the obvious conclusions: to keep safe, women should stop having so many boyfriends (#heteronormativemuch) and settle down with a nice hunk of marriage material. The way they presented it, these writers were simply stating the hard facts of life. However, “politically incorrect” is not the worst thing that can be said about the way they interpreted these studies. Try just “incorrect.”
Why? That’s easy. People, repeat after me: “correlation is not causation.”
An alternate explanation of these findings is that men who are not assholes are more likely to get married. Therefore, it’s possible that women who are married are more likely to be in a relationship with a man who is not an asshole, and are (perhaps due to that reason, perhaps due to others, because these studies are CORRELATIONAL so anyone’s theory goes) at decreased threat of physical violence.
For another possibility, women who have experienced physical or sexual violence from a man might be less likely to desire to legally and financially tie themselves to one through marriage. This might cause them to be less likely to choose to marry. Women who have not been married might then have a higher likelihood of having been the victims of violence — but *not* because being not-married puts them at risk.
The point is, when the numbers are correlational, as they are in these studies, our conclusions about them are a story. We can tell whatever story we want. The authors of this op-ed have decided to tell a story in which the best way for “a female” to live in this world violence-free is for her to tie herself to a man for protection. In my story, women are capable of keeping ourselves safe, such as by learning self-defense, taking assertiveness courses, and learning how to set and maintain healthy emotional and physical boundaries. In my story, men are sufficiently capable of self control to choose to not hurt the women and girls in their lives, even in the absence of a biological or marital relationship to them.
The numbers support either story. However, in my story, women are powerful and men are good people who do not need to be a woman’s father or husband to choose to treat her with respect. I like my story better.