Thursday, September 3, 2009

Article: "Separated Fathers and the Father's Rights Movement"

I have very mixed feelings about what is generally called the Father's Rights Movement, which is related to the Men's Rights Movement.

Given my journeys through feminist theory, it probably comes as no surprise to anyone here that I believe that humans have made gender a category that is much more deterministic than it really is. Historically, "man" has been the human norm and is often contrasted with "woman," its weaker "opposite." Many implications follow from that one assumption. Thus, I am incredibly intrigued by the phenomenon of large groups of men who believe some variation of the theme that it is men as a class, rather than women, who are oppressed by... society, women, feminists, and/or men(?).

It has been my experience, via interactions with adherents of these movements and in reading their writings and internet discussions, that some (many? most?) of these men are (a) very bitter about a divorce, (b) very angry about having to pay child support, and/or (c) anxious about the progress that women as a class have made over the years and thus possessive of a reactionary hatred for all things feminist.

At the same time, I can acknowledge that the justice system is unfair to men in that it often does grant custody to a biological mother. In our society, many still assume that women are the natural caretakers for children. And so, perhaps ironically, the same assumption that hinders the professional lives of women becomes an injustice to the personal lives of men. Two people going through a divorce, so focused on their own pain, anger, and hurt, often act like large children themselves. Accordingly, through the legal system, they sometimes use their actual children as tools to "get back at" their spouse. That a formal institution like a court takes the "side" of one spouse over another can breed an enormous amount of resentment.

Father's Rights/Mens' Rights groups, from what I've observed, often feed right into that anger and resentment. Upon visiting various forums, I am often left wondering how those sites are truly helping anyone. Ultimately, I am left unconvinced that many of these folks give a hoot about women or equality and, instead, want to take back some of their lost Male Privilege using the sword of Victimhood. I know of one forum, which will go unnamed here, that claims to be opposed to the (alleged) feminist-induced hatred of men, but whose members regularly and quite literally opine upon the general "cuntiness" of all women.

Over the years, I have come to question the value of venting. We all have our moments, sure. But we should never forget that they are moments of self-indulgence that can be a real hindrance to dealing with emotions in a healthy and grown-up way. I don't think it helps anyone, especially the angry person, to remain and continue reinforcing hostile and hateful sentiments.

Over at XY Online, I came across an article called "Separated Fathers and the Father's Rights Movement," by Michael Flood, which offers a critique of father's rights groups. In it, he writes:

"[T]here is also some evidence that fathers’ rights groups constrain the healing processes of separated fathers. Fathers’ rights groups position men and fathers as victims, downplaying any sense of men’s or non-custodial parents’ agency, making analogies with oppressed groups...and painting their opponents as possessing enormous power....Ideas of ‘a damaged masculinity and unappreciated fatherhood’ become central to their identities."

To add to this, I will admit that I used to become very angry reading some of the anti-woman, anti-feminist sentiment expressed by men who frequent some of these forums. Now, however, I see that many of these men are hurting. Unfortunately, the "masculinity" that society has offered men has failed them. Being hurt, being sad, having any semblance of awareness of what's going on inside, makes a man a sissy, a wuss, and perhaps worst of all, woman-like. Indeed, I'm sure many men would mock this very paragraph. That's just how some doods roll. Indeed, Flood notes that "[t]raditional constructions of masculinity encourage men to be stoic and emotionally inexpressive and to avoid and denigrate stereotypically feminine qualities which leave a person open and vulnerable to others such as love and compassion." And so instead of dealing with their hurt like human beings, men often deal with it the only way they have learned how. By being angry.

Furthermore, while father's rights groups express a concern with respect to formal equality, Flood observes that "they neglect the issue of actual shared parenting" suggesting that they want the status of equality, but not the substance of what that equality actually entails- caretaking and a true division of labor. Along those lines, while many feminists advocate for breaking down divisions based on gender, many father's rights advocates "typically insist on rigid gender codes within the family and the re-establishment of paternal authority."

Flood's article, in all, is an interesting and critical look at a movement that perhaps can more accurately be defined as part of that larger anxious backlash against the breakdown of traditional gender roles. It is clear that, when children are involved, a more positive response to divorce than what the father's rights movement offers men is necessary. Women, men, and children deserve a father's rights movement that is respectful of true gender equality.

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