Tom Cotton In 1997: Women's 'Greatest Fear' Is Men Leaving Them

08/09/2013 01:48 pm ET | Updated Aug 13, 2013

If the Republican Party is trying to connect with female voters, Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton may not be the one to help them do it.

Cotton, a freshman congressman who is running for Senate in 2014, warned feminists in a 1997 article for the Harvard Crimson that no-fault divorce will backfire on them by enabling their husbands to leave them for trophy wives.

"Feminists say no fault divorce was a large hurdle on the path to female liberation," Cotton wrote. "They apparently don't consult the deepest hopes or greatest fears of young women."

Cotton, who is unmarried, wrote that he surveyed several women -- whom he referred to as "Cliffies," or female students at Radcliffe -- and they all told him the same thing: that their "greatest fear" in life was to be left by their husbands, and their "deepest hope" was to be "a good wife and mother." To that end, he says, feminists should stop trying to make it easier to get divorced.

"If men have easy access to divorce, many will choose it thoughtlessly," he wrote. "They may not gain true happiness with their new trophy wives, but they certainly will not slide into the material indigence and emotional misery that awaits most divorced women."

Cotton tried to make the case for "covenant marriages," in which people can only divorce in cases where there's fault, "defined as abandonment, physical abuse, adultery or conviction of a capital crime."

The National Organization for Women denounced covenant marriage in 1997 when Louisiana became the first state to create it as a legal category, arguing that it was intended to trap women in bad marriages and re-establish patriarchy. But Cotton wrote that women should support the policy in order to restrain men from leaving, so that they will stay and "fulfill women's deepest hopes."

"[Men] can learn that personal happiness comes from the desire to devote and sacrifice oneself to one's beloved," he wrote. "A few men can see this by themselves, and women are quite lucky to hook them. Ordinary women must not only defend these men against feminism, but also demand that all other men accept the lifelong nature of marriage. If not, one-half of all women who marry see their ‘greatest fear’ come true."

Laws allowing no-fault divorce across the country were considered a victory for women's rights in the 1970s. A 2003 Stanford Business School study found states that passed no-fault divorce laws saw a 20 percent reduction in female suicide after 20 years and a 33 percent reduction in domestic violence and murder against women.

Cotton's campaign did not immediately comment on whether the congressman stands by the article, but Cotton remains a staunch social conservative. He opposes abortion rights, equal pay for women, marriage equality and women in combat, and he voted against every version of the Violence Against Women Act that has come up since he took office.

Cotton is challenging Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), the lone Democratic senator in an increasingly Republican state. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) began personally fundraising for Pryor this week, writing in an email to supporters that Cotton is "recklessly anti-woman."

CORRECTION: This article previously cited a 2004 Stanford Business School study on no-fault divorce. The study was published in 2003.

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