The New York Times and Sara Shoener, Part 2: It Gets Worse

June 27, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Bad as Sara Shoener’s piece in the New York Times is, it’s actually considerably worse than I described in my previous piece. Apparently, for Shoener, it’s not enough to ignore virtually all the actual science on domestic violence and substitute for it a few anecdotes by women who said their partners were abusive. Shoener’s a graduate of Columbia University and you’d think someone there might have taught her that, while personal stories can be intriguing and moving, while they can stimulate thought that leads to scientific investigation, by themselves they are utterly useless. Without a body of data to which to compare them, they tell us nothing about anything in the world at large. It’s a simple concept, but one that escaped both Shoener and the editors at the Times.

Those individual anecdotes become even more pointless when the person reporting them is as ideologically driven as is Shoener. That ideology drives her to go out of her way to avoid any facts that don’t agree with it and, in the case of Shoener and her anti-dad narrative, that’s most of them. Her topic is domestic violence, but she simply ignores decades of research on the issue and never even pauses to ask the male partners of her interviewees for their side of the story.

If that’s not bad enough, she seems to assume things to be self-evident that aren’t true and vice versa. She just can’t seem to get much right.

Many [of the women she interviewed] had internalized a public narrative that equated marriage with success. Women experiencing domestic abuse are told by our culture that being a good mother means marrying the father of her children and supporting a relationship between them. According to a 2010 Pew report, 69 percent of Americans say single mothers without male partners to help raise their children are bad for society, and 61 percent agree that a child needs a mother and a father to grow up happily.

Hmm, “a public narrative that equated marriage with success.” That’s funny, I’ve been reading and writing about marriage, children, fathers, mothers, divorce, etc. since the late 1990s and I swear I’ve never seen a word about marriage equaling success. Yes, there are plenty of messages in pop culture showing men and women thrilled at the prospect of marriage, madly in love with their partners, etc. But of course, much as Shoener would doubtless like to deny the fact, those are true and accurate images. I suppose it makes her sad to hear it, but men and women really do love each other; they really do commit their lives to each other; they really do support each other financially, emotionally and spiritually.

But I’ve never seen a word to suggest that any of that constitutes success.

Far more important though is the fact, obvious to all except Shoener, in addition to those images of happy lovers, come a lot of other images that aren’t quite so cheerful or uplifting. I mean, how many movies, television shows, advertisements, books, magazine and newspaper articles have to depict men as ogres and marriage as a dangerous snare and delusion for women for Shoener to get the message? We’ve been seeing those for decades now and a lot of people are rightly angry about them. Shoener? She’s never heard of such a thing.

More important still is the fact that, if we’re so hot for marriage and dual-parenting, why do we do so much to thwart them? After all, it’s fair to say that the salient achievement of family courts is the separation of fathers from children. They do that in many ways, chief among them the denial of custody, the meager visitation, the refusal to enforce visitation, the greenlighting of move-aways, the blithe acceptance of paternity fraud, the savaging of child support debtors, the removal of fathers by CPS agencies and adoption laws. The list goes on, but Shoener’s never heard of any of it. She believes we’re dead set on forcing helpless, battered women into marriage that she’ll never open her eyes to what fathers face in divorce court every day.

Nor will she notice the fact that, over the past half-century, the trend hasn’t exactly been toward marriage and intact families. In 1960, the rate of unmarried childbearing in the U.S. was about 6%; today it’s seven times that. The divorce rate today is almost twice what it was then. One third of the children of divorce never see their fathers, while one-third of all children live without them. Half of U.S. children will see their parents divorce before they reach age 18 and half of those (25% of all children) will experience a second divorce.

All of that and far more constitutes public policy that daily militates against marriage and children raised in two-parent families. As such, it should be music to the ears of someone like Shoener, the sole purpose of whose article appears to be more of the same. I guess all the ways we undermine fathers and children just aren’t enough for some people.

And speaking of children, Shoener manages to admit, buried deep in her very last paragraph, that “children who enjoy the support of two adults fare better on average than those who do not, and parents with loving partners often benefit from greater emotional and economic security.” But her entire article demonstrates nothing if not that she simply doesn’t grasp what that means. What it means is that we should be doing everything in our power to instill in adults and children an understanding of the benefits of marriage and two-parent childcare.

Does Shoener know that some 46% of single mothers with child custody live in poverty? Does she understand how that injures children emotionally and psychologically if not physically? Does she know that those kids are many times more likely to be physically or sexually abused than are children who live with both their biological parents? Does she know that they do worse in school, are more likely to drop out, abuse drugs and alcohol, commit crimes and go to prison? Does she know that the impacts of fatherlessness extend far into adulthood where we find children from mother-only homes doing less will in both their careers and their love lives than other kids? Apparently not, or maybe her anti-father ideology displaces everything else, including the well-being of children.

Not all partnerships are star-crossed. Sadly, many need to be dissolved, but when we do so, we need to do our best to keep both parents in their children’s lives. Far too much scrupulous social science demonstrates the value of both parents to children to be questioned by a new college graduate’s conversations with a few women in DV shelters.

Remarkably, Shoener believes that her take on marriage and children is simply self-evident. Look at the last two sentences of her paragraph quoted above. She states that the culture attempts to get women to marry and remain with the fathers of their children and that a Pew survey shows strong support among Americans for dual parenting. She says both with an air of incredulity; how could they be so foolish?

If she wants the truth, those Americans are a lot smarter and better informed than she is. The simple fact is that children, parents and society generally do far better when parents stay married and raise their kids. That fact is not undone by the few adults who are so violent and dysfunctional that they truly are better off apart. Criminal and civil laws need to deal with those people and do their best to fashion a parenting arrangement for their kids that does as little damage as possible. But the rule of both marriage and divorce should be equal parenting. The exception, i.e. some other arrangement, should be reserved for the, well, exceptional.

And of course exceptional is precisely what those cases of DV Shoener’s so worried about are. Earlier this year, the State of Nebraska published its study of 10 years’ worth of child custody cases. What should be of interest to Shoener and everyone in the DV industry is the fact that, in only 5.4% of cases was any form of domestic violence even alleged. And in only 6.2% of cases was any form of child abuse claimed. The study didn’t gather data on how many of those allegations were substantiated, but even if all of them were, the inescapable fact is that domestic violence and child abuse are rare enough to play virtually no role in setting social policy on parenting.

I’m sure that’s a big disappointment to Shoener. Like decades of anti-father radicals before her, she prefers marriage and childrearing to be violent and untenable. If that were true, it would help to separate women from men and fathers from their children, outcomes we’ve already come a long way toward achieving, but not far enough for Shoener.

I’m all for free speech. For one thing, nonsense like Shoener’s demonstrates, if nothing else, how threadbare are the arguments of the anti-dad crowd. I mean seriously, this is what they come up with? If they had real arguments for keeping mothers out of marriage and fathers away from children, don’t you suppose they’d make them?

But in truth, sometimes public discourse gets so bad it seems we ought to place some form of regulations on newspapers that require their articles to contain at least a smidgen of fact, truth, logic or something. I’m all for differing opinions and the robust clash of ideas, but tell me, what purpose does intentional stupidity serve?

Throughout history, laws and customs have punished certain offenders against the common good by humiliation. The pillory, the stocks, being forced to ride a donkey seated backwards through the town while being pelted with fruit are examples of the genre. Allow me to recommend a double exhibition of just that. Admittedly Sara Shoener and whatever Times editor said “yes” to her disgraceful article have already humiliated themselves, but maybe We the People can do better.


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