Staff Columnist

The real crisis facing American marriages is sexism

Eleven couples were married on Valentine's Day, Thursday, February 14, 2013, in a ceremony at the Mall of America Ice Ca
Eleven couples were married on Valentine’s Day, Thursday, February 14, 2013, in a ceremony at the Mall of America Ice Castle, in Bloomington. (Brian Peterson/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT)

Nothing heightens romance in a marriage like a little swindle. The Iowa Capital Dispatch reported this week that the faith-based nonprofit Healthy Relationships Iowa is spending $4.2 million dollars of taxpayer money to host workshops and seminars to promote “traditional marriage.”

To be clear, “traditional marriage” in this sense is the God-appointed relationship between a man and a woman’s exasperation that the man won’t clean one toilet.

The nonprofit behind Healthy Relationships Iowa is the Iowa Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which is run by one man and his wife, Daryl and Suellen VanderWilt of West Des Moines. The investigation into the nonprofit by Clark Kauffmann showed each relationship workshop costs $750 to set up and very few people attend. Most attendees are bribed with a $50 Walmart card, those who register for the classes rarely show up.

If our government was actually interested in strengthening American marriage, instead of funding a grift, it would work empower women by funding Planned Parenthood and mandating that employers provide paid parental leave for both parents. In lieu of that, men, put down the gender stereotypes and pick up a vacuum.

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And then there is the money. In 2017, the nonprofit reported that it gave $120,000 to a parent company for expenses. But when pressed for details, VanderWilt told the Capital Dispatch that the money was for him and his wife who work full time on the nonprofit. That conflicts with what the nonprofit reported to the IRS that he works 16 hours a week and she works eight, all without pay.

There are other irregularities as well Kauffman writes, “Between 2010 and 2017, the center reported six loans between VanderWilt and the charity, totaling $107,125.” VanderWilt says that is money owed to him by the charity for fronting the purchase of 190 iPads and other expenses. There is also the $8,000 given from the nonprofit to a Christian church planting nonprofit International Cooperating Ministries (ICM). VanderWilt explained, “…the federal grant was used to pay a salary to himself and his wife, and he then returned $8,000 of that money to the charity so it could pass the money on to ICM in the form of a donation.”

The use of taxpayer money at Healthy Relationships Iowa is in an unhealthy relationship with the U.S. Constitution. The Establishment Clause of the Constitution prevents faith-based organizations from using tax dollars and government grants to support “inherently religious” activities.

But beyond the business of shady finances and some extramarital business with the Constitution. It would be easy to miss the real harm that the charity does.

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The charity’s seminars and classes trade in on harmful gendered stereotypes. For example, one video for a seminar hypes a fictional product called “Hearitol” which enables men to finally hear their wives’ endless nagging. Hilarious! Men don’t listen to their wives’ shrill voices. Beyond reinforcing stereotypes and making marriage about being a functioning human, it misses the real problem in marriage. Men don’t need to listen more, they need to clean a freaking shower.

The real problem within American marriages is sexism. Even now in 2020, women do all the work. With the majority of couples working full-time, women are still more likely to care for children and do household chores. Men are slowly beginning to fill the gap, but it’s not fast enough. Also, studies show men feel like they do more household work than they actually do. Men today might celebrate women working and achieving their dreams, but they still aren’t willing to fill the gap in emotional, physical and domestic labor. Saying “women are better at it” is a cop-out. It’s not supported by science. And it’s just another way of saying “get back in the kitchen.” Same old sexism, different catch phrase.

And when a relationship is in crisis, the labor of fixing it falls to the women — they are the ones who schedule couples therapy and classes, they are the ones who make sure the date nights get scheduled and the babysitter is booked and the kid’s pajamas are laid out. When a friend of mine told her pastor that she was having trouble in her relationship he gave her a pamphlet that encouraged her to “put on lipstick” and have dinner ready for her husband. There was no pamphlet for the husband.

That’s the point. Women are always doing the work. We fill out the forms, buy the gifts, hire the sitters, wipe the counters. If there is a problem in marriage it’s this. But our government sees these problems and instead of fixing the child care gap or funding access to quality health care, they dump money into a religious grift.

The charity’s existence and it’s funding by the state is predicated on the false notion that American marriage is actually failing and 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce. The truth is, divorce rates are at their lowest levels in 40 years. Because as it turns out, out giving women jobs, economic freedom, access to health care, abortion, and birth control, means fewer of them get into disastrous marriages. Additionally, divorce is not the crisis scenario that requires $4.2 million of taxpayer dollars to avoid. A 2003 review of all the studies examining the long-term risks associated with children of divorce found most of the studies that said divorce was harmful to children were based on flawed methodology and “…the current consensus in the social science literature is that the majority of children whose parents divorced are not distinguishable from their peers whose parents remained married.” If it’s personal happiness, well, a 2013 UK study found that divorced women were significantly happier after their divorce. No, the real crisis for religious nonprofits and the GOP is that more women are empowered with choice. Shuttling couples into classes that reinforce gendered stereotypes is about making women do more labor, not less. It’s about removing their power and trapping them in bad situations, rather than removing the barriers that keep them from accessing equality.

If our government was actually interested in strengthening American marriage, instead of funding a grift, it would work to empower women by funding Planned Parenthood and mandating that employers provide paid parental leave for both parents. In lieu of that, men, put down the gender stereotypes and pick up a vacuum.

lyz.lenz@thegazette.com; (319) 368-8513

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