Politicians will tell you there are certain things in America that you just can't oppose. You can't be against mom or apple pie or jobs. You can't be against good schools or clean air or low crime rates.
You might expect to find marriage on the list. But as President Bush has learned ever since he floated a modest initiative to promote marriage among poor Americans, some people – ones who don't think the words "wedded" and "bliss" belong within 100 miles of each other – are willing to trash society's most venerable institution.
The president wants to spend $300 million to help poor couples understand what goes into the making of a successful marriage. And he's smoked out a contingent of hard-core feminists whose beef goes far beyond his proposal to the point of opposing the traditional family structure itself.
The ravages of bitter poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, poor education, desolate neighborhoods and bleak lives wrought by too many Americans growing up in single-parent households seems to have escaped them. When they look at marriage, they don't see that the wives, husbands and kids involved live happier, healthier, longer lives, that kids learn more and avoid out-of-wedlock births, chemical addictions and crime in far greater numbers. They see oppression, misery and slavery.
It sounds unbelievable, I know. But my colleagues at the Heritage Foundation just released a paper that shows how far some feminists have fallen from the movement's noble beginnings as an advocate for fairness in the home and the workplace – which most of us would see as worthwhile goals – to claiming that the only path to happiness for women is to resist marriage and eschew the traditional family model.
The shift began in the late 1960s. Typical of the new breed of feminist was Marlene Dixon, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, who declared in 1969: "The institution of marriage is the chief vehicle for the perpetuation of the oppression of women; it is through the role of wife that the subjugation of women is maintained. In a very real way, the role of wife has been the genesis of women's rebellion throughout history."
That same year, author Kate Millett wrote Sexual Politics, which maintained that "[wives'] chattel status continues in their loss of name, their obligation to adopt the husband's domicile and the general legal assumption that marriage involves an exchange of the female's domestic service and [sexual] consortium in return for financial support."
Give them full marks for bluntness. But you don't have to be June Cleaver to realize that feminists such as Dixon and Millet harbor an animus that seems almost pathological.
Even after the Age of Aquarius was well behind us, feminist opposition to marriage continued. By 1990, for example, the group Radical Women was claiming the traditional family was "founded on the open or concealed domestic slavery of the wife." (Wait until my husband sees that one.)
Today, the voices of radical feminism cloak their opposition in different terms. The Center for Women Policy Studies says President Bush's proposal is not "an appropriate public policy strategy – if our goal is truly to put a dent in women's and children's poverty." Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization of Women, says, "Marrying women off to get them out of poverty is not only backward, it is insulting to women."
But their economic arguments don't hold water. More than 80 percent of those who spend more than half their childhoods in poverty live in never-married or broken households. Children who grow up in single-parent households are seven times more likely to live in poverty, and six times more likely to go on welfare themselves than those whose parents are married and living together.
As for this being "insulting to women," that doesn't wash either. Not when even most unwed parents say they want to marry their partner. Not when survey after survey reveals that married women are happier and healthier than their single counterparts. Or when other surveys turn up largely the same responses from their husbands and children.
Men and women will continue to marry, of course, the claims and wishes of radical feminists notwithstanding. The question is: Should they simply mate like animals, or should they accept the responsibility of shaping the young lives they bring into the world together, as God intended?
That's all President Bush is aiming for with his proposal – to nudge things in the right direction. Who could oppose that?