Trigger warning: Domestic violence, rape.
One day last year, I got involved in a furious Facebook debate on a friend’s page about marriage. The debate started off being about same-sex marriage, and quickly slipped to a discussion of how marriage is a patriarchal institution. My friend whose page it was on is a married man in his thirties. His view was that, traditionally, the purpose of marriage was to protect women during the vulnerable time of pregnancy and childcare. This view was being attacked by myself and three other women. His wife was one of them. I was engaged at the time, and the other women were (and are) all married – happily so, as far as I am aware.
Why are they arguing so vehemently against marriage, something that they are supposedly enjoying? I asked myself. Why am I arguing against it, when I am excitedly planning my own wedding?
The idea that marriage protects women and their children is bullshit, we argued. Some people don’t ever have children, so where does that leave your theory? Traditionally, what protection did marriage give women against abusive husbands? What protection did it give to women who had no legal rights over their children?
For people in Australia who want to marry someone of the opposite (legal) sex, marriage is an institution locked from the inside. But for many women in dangerous situations, today and throughout history, the institution of marriage is a prison with no escape. I started to wonder why I was so keen to join such an institution.
To be clear: My partner is not abusive and never would be. However, I started to suspect a society-wide logic that instructs women to avoid walking through parks at night, but encourages women to join in marriage and long-term partnerships, when the risk of being attacked by an intimate partner is so much higher than that of being attacked by a stranger in a park. Wasn’t that very poor risk management? I mused. Why do people get so excited about pregnancy announcements, when the research shows that during pregnancy a controlling man is likely to assault his partner for the first time, or increase his assault of her?
These unpleasant musings led to a conversation with The Pilot that was uncomfortable, as you can imagine. “What have I done to make you think this?” he asked, flabbergasted and hurt. “It’s not you,” I said. “It’s the statistics.”
What actually are the statistics? I wondered. I did some research. For all the information on the percentage of women who have been physically abused and/or raped*, which is shockingly high, it is hard to find out what percentage of men are perpetrators. I suspect that this has to do with the fact that these matters are reported as something that happens to women, rather than something that men do and are therefore responsible for**. I could only find one article addressing the issue, and its research wasn’t cited. The article reported that 11.9% of men have thrown something with the intention of hurting their partner and 7.9% had raped their partner. For the sake of simplicity, I averaged that 10% of men are physically abusive (this doesn’t count emotional, spiritual, financial, social abuse, and all other controlling behaviour, even though those things do count).
Even though 10% is shockingly high, it is not 100%, which is how my skewed perspective had started to see the world. The odds were stacked against my fiancé being abusive. Also, he is a non-violent and gentle person. I saw that I was not making a foolish decision. This allowed me to see the positives of marriage: What it is meant to be, rather than the twisted perversion that it can become.
Some time after I had processed these issues, my friend who had originally been attacked for his views on marriage asked me, “How do you reconcile getting married with being a feminist?”
The short answer is: marriage to me has the meaning that God imbued in it, not the sinful and broken distortion of the patriarchy.
The long answer (an extension of this response) will form my next blog post: “Fear of Marriage: Part 2).
*Rape does count as physical abuse but in the research these were reported separately.
**Even writing this, it was difficult to write about physical abuse in the active voice “a controlling man is more likely to assault” rather than “a women is more likely to be assaulted”, which is how it was reported in the research.