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Marriage Movement at the Crossroads
August 31, 2005
by Carey Roberts

The Marriage Movement recently got hit with some dispiriting news. The U.S. Census Bureau just released a report showing that for the first time, American single-adult households now outnumber traditional Ozzie and Harriet families.

The Census Bureau report comes along at the same time of new evidence that fatherhood still continues under attack. Just view the promos for NBC's latest reality show, "Meet Mister Mom." Or read the loony opinion handed down last week by the California Supreme Court which concludes, "We perceive no reason why both parents of a child cannot be women."

Now persons from both sides of the aisle are insisting that if we hope to save families, we need to rally around fathers.

On the Right, critiques of how government welfare programs worsen the plight of fathers have appeared in the American Conservative, National Review Online, and elsewhere. Eagle Forum head Phyllis Schlafly has penned several hard-hitting commentaries. And just last week Rachel Alexander, co-editor of the Intellectual Conservative website, released a column with the provocative title, "Child Custody: Where Men Hit a Glass Ceiling."

On the Left, former Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton spoke at last summer's legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, urging them to pay far more attention to the plight of young urban black men. And earlier this month Washington Post columnist William Raspberry devoted his weekly column to the issue, complaining that "Fatherless families are America's single largest source of poverty."

But there is one voice that is conspicuously absent in the campaign to save fatherhood - the Marriage Movement. Sadly and inexplicably, the Marriage Movement has largely turned its back on men.

Yes, there are a few exceptions, such as last year's excellent report from the Rutgers National Marriage Project which probed why many men are reluctant to marry. And some marriage enrichment programs like the Secrets of Married Men are sympathetic to the challenges faced by guys.

But there is a segment of the Marriage Movement that is all too quick to lapse into the habit of pigeon-holing and reviling men. Those images focus on two salacious gender stereotypes: men as abusers and sexual predators.

The findings from social science research are as consistent as they are incontrovertible: women are just as likely to engage in domestic violence as men, and men suffer one-third of all DV-related injuries.

But some marriage advocates blissfully ignore that fact. The webpage of one well-known marriage group, SmartMarriages.com, features a section on domestic violence. The section features a report with the tabloid title, "MEN EXPLODE: A Special Report on Men and Rage."

Likewise, a report from a major conservative think tank concludes, "Marriage dramatically reduces the risk that mothers will suffer from domestic abuse."

That statement misleads. A reasonable conclusion would have read, "Marriage dramatically reduces the risk that both mothers and fathers will suffer from domestic abuse."

Another persistent stereotype is the male as the ever-lurking sexual predator. A quick run to the local mall reveals hordes of scantily-clad young females who are aggressively advertising their sexual charms. But when the subject turns to cohabitation, marriage advocates feel compelled to fall back on the old motif of male aggressors who ravish innocent virgins.

For example, University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite published an article on "The Negative Effects of Cohabitation." But the article's summary mentions only the negative impact on women. Does Dr. Waite really believe that in the case of an unexpected pregnancy, 18 years of child support payments is a mere trifling matter to the dad?

What is more regrettable is that some in the Marriage Movement are openly dismissive of men and fathers.

One such leader has written columns that resemble a radical feminist manifesto more than a thoughtful reflection on how to shore up the faltering family. Another has repeatedly - and incorrectly -- claimed that the main cause of fatherlessness is paternal "abandonment."

There is no more important cause in America today than strengthening traditional families. And as the advocates are quick to point out, marriage consists of the union of one man and one woman.

But if the Marriage Movement intends to reverse the disquieting trends from the recent Census Bureau report, it will need to start paying attention to the legitimate concerns of single men, husbands, and fathers.

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