A woman’s “greatest fear in life” is losing a man’s support, and they desire nothing more than to marry “a man who worships me and whom I worship.” At least, that’s what Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) said in 1997 in a column published by the Harvard Crimson:
I have been asking women two questions. My first question was “What is your greatest fear in life?” Uniformity characterized the responses. (Yes, these are actual responses from Cliffies; I did not fabricate them.) “Watching my husband walk out on me.” “Losing my lover.” “Getting a divorce.”
My second question was very similar: “What is your deepest hope in life?” Again, the responses were uniform. “Finding and holding onto the love of my life.” “Being a good wife and mother.” “Marrying a man who worships me and whom I worship.”
My sample is admittedly small and perhaps unrepresentative. If it is representative-I tend to think it is-then maybe men can unlock the secret to a woman’s heart and soul.
“Cliffies” in this context refers to Radcliffe College, an elite women’s college that began to merge with Harvard in the 1960s. So Cotton is claiming that women at one of the the most famous and selective universities in the world live in terror of someday finding themselves without a man.
The remainder of his column envisions a struggle between Christian right groups like the Promise Keepers, a men’s organization that rose to prominence in the 1990s, and “feminists,” who he criticizes for wanting the right to seek a divorce. As an alternative to this scourge of couples who have the legal right to end unhappy marriages, Cotton points to so-called “covenant marriage.”
Covenant marriage is an arrangement, originally proposed by former Louisiana state Rep. Tony Perkins (R), that allows couples to effectively sign away their right to a no-fault divorce. Couples who sign up for this relationship, Cotton explains, “can divorce only with fault, defined as abandonment, physical abuse, adultery or conviction of a capital crime.” So a couple that is merely miserable together must remain married. Forever.
In the sixteen years since Cotton wrote his column, covenant marriage hasn’t exactly taken off. Just three states, Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona, have some form of covenant marriage law. In Perkins’ home state of Louisiana, fewer than 5 percent of couples opt for a covenant marriage. (Perkins now leads the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group which believes that gay people harm “society at large” and that unmarried people should be punished if they have sex.)
Yet, despite covenant marriage’s failure to thrive, Cotton viewed such efforts to force couples to remain together as America’s great hope. “Few men,” he wrote in 1997, see the danger presented by divorce — and “women are quite lucky to hook” one of these men. Ultimately, Cotton concluded, women must “defend these men against feminism.”