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Men’s Rights: Not as ridiculous as it sounds

March 14th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in Divorce 'n' Custody  |  13 Comments

It’s fairly easy to dismiss the men’s rights movement (so-called) as a bunch of angry middle-aged men in kilts who couldn’t afford the sports car when the midlife crisis hit (hear me, Nathan?). How can one really argue that men are an aggrieved population within society that needs a movement to protect its rights?

Which is why I read articles like this one, from the Good Men Project, entitled “How Feminists Get the Men’s Movement Wrong,” with a fair amount of skepticism:

Men’s rights and feminism are not incompatible aims. I’ve seen wrestling programs defunded as a result of Title IX, have heard feminist professors attack anthropologists not for unsound research but for the “dangerous implications” of their findings, and I’ve seen bad decisions in family court make a good father weep. And none of this made me any less thankful for Lily Ledbetter, or less outraged by the proposal to defund Planned Parenthood.
Gender politics is not a subscription service. You don’t just pick a team to root for and then disregard arguments from every other angle. If our interest is equality, we must also examine issues where the paradigm is counterintuitive or unclear.

All fair, but again, not entirely compelling. But here comes the part where I’m a hypocrite: I have had my own moment when I felt that I was discriminated against as a man, and it was in this context that much of the men’s rights movement functions: the divorce and family courts.

During the period of open confrontation between my ex-wife and me, there was significant tension over how our shared custody was going to work. It was never outright war, exactly, but there were times when I thought we might end up in front of a judge fighting for custody.

In New York, and perhaps other places (I’ve only been divorced in one state so far), there is no such thing as joint custody in a contested divorce. If you can’t resolve issues on your own, a judge will do it for you—by awarding full custody to one parent. This makes custody disputes a very high-stakes game, one in which women have a tremendous advantage.

Now, this is a blog, so of course I’ve done liitle research on the outcomes of contesting custody with young children in New York. I leave those efforts to paid reporters. But I do know this: my attorney always told me that no matter what happened I would have to compromise with JP’s mother, because if we went to court I would lose.

Judges, she said, rarely award custody to men when children are in the “tender years,” that is, under 5. Our merits as parents were irrelevant. If we went to court I would lose. (The tender years doctrine, as it is known, supposedly no longer exists, as it’s a fairly obvious instance of gender discrimination; but I’ve yet to meet a divorce attorney who believes it’s really no longer a factor.)

Again, I’m not entirely making the argument that men are in a truly disadvantaged position, or at least not all men: I’ve read that 80 percent of custody cases are resolved without dispute and with custody awarded to the mother. That is, eight times out of ten the man thinks it’s best for his children to be with the mother rather than with him.

Fortunately, in my case, I didn’t end up in that 80 percent, and I never tested the tender years doctrine. My ex and I made an arrangement in JP’s best interest. But I often think about what could have happened. Which I guess makes me an advocate for men’s rights after all.


  1. Lisa Duggan says:

    March 14th, 2011at 2:25 pm(#)

    Thanks to the parenting magazine I published from 06-08 I have many friends who are Dads, some SAH, all actively involved in the lives of their children. Some of these men have partners who, quite frankly, treat them like shit. These women belittle their husbands, yell at them, use their anger against them, suffer severe mood swings and do nothing to address their problems or have any insight into the damage they do their husbands or children with their emotional volatility. And these men, my friends, for a variety of reasons but especially because they have young kids and are loathe to visit divorce on them, take the abuse. They “wait out” the anger. They just shut their mouths, and do what their wives want so “I can just have some peace.”
    I say to each of them: if you were a female friend, I would tell you to get help or get out. There is a HUGE taboo in our culture against admitting that men can be, and are regularly, emotionally abused by their partners. It seems that only violence is counted as harm. These men long for kindness and respect, consistency and love – what every human being deserves.
    I’ve seen a lot of women, very smart, well-educated, who think it’s okay to treat their husbands this way. They believe men either (a) don’t have feelings or (b) are ‘tough’ and therefore not harmed by anger.
    I counsel my male friends that they deserve good treatment, and that’s all I can do. I take my female friends to task for holding a double standard when it comes to how they treat men. And I have become much, much more aware of the way I treat my husband – apologizing when I’ve been curt, listening to his needs and desires, and showing that I recognize that he HAS feelings, about everything, and that I regard his feelings to be as important as mine.

  2. Victor says:

    March 14th, 2011at 5:16 pm(#)

    Thank you, Lisa.

  3. Don Saxton says:

    March 14th, 2011at 6:55 pm(#)

    “…eight times out of ten…” had no choice at all. Men have been raising children since the first campfire. Why would 80 percent of men be so different than you?

  4. Cool Dad says:

    March 15th, 2011at 9:24 am(#)

    At the risk of sounding like comment spam, all I have to say is thanks. This is a side of family life that I haven’t witnessed firsthand, but obviously is part of American culture. I’m glad to have read your thoughts on it.

  5. dadwagon says:

    March 15th, 2011at 9:26 am(#)

    Cool Dad: we love nothing better than comment spam, especially when it’s complimentary, so feel free to send more! Thanks for the read–Theodore.

  6. Perfect Dad says:

    March 15th, 2011at 5:52 pm(#)

    Thanks for that comment Lisa, very refreshing to hear from a woman! My wife is wonderful (as am I!) and we have a great relationship, but I know many women who believe that men are the only ones who can do any wrong in a family or in a relationship.

  7. Tom Matlack says:

    March 16th, 2011at 2:25 pm(#)

    Great post. In my experience, the dad usually does get screwed in divorce. Always good to hear about one that didn’t.

    I wrote about this topic just last week at Good Men Project, too: http://bit.ly/dadsindivorce

  8. Conor Neill says:

    March 19th, 2011at 8:24 am(#)

    I am divorced and have 50-50 custody of our 4 year old daughter. This is virtually unheard of in Spain. I was lucky that my ex-wife and I could agree on this without touching the legal system… but I was very aware that her decision is what counts. Any judge here would automatically give custody + family home to the woman as they still assume that man works and woman cares for kids and will need income support. I am lucky.

  9. Nathan says:

    March 19th, 2011at 6:57 pm(#)

    This is definitely a problem in Europe: my uncle lost custody of his kids, even though his wife walked away from the marriage. He was victimized twice, basically. Lastima.

  10. Sam says:

    March 29th, 2011at 8:14 pm(#)

    As a feminist, I completely agree. Feminism is about gender equality and not about giving preference to one sex or gender. In many facets of parenting men are disadvantaged in comparison to their female counterparts which, in turn, disadvantages women anyway. Not only in divorce courts where their parenting skills are seen as secondary but also in the workplace and other institutions where men are not given near as much consideration as involved parents. This system (frustratingly) seems to continue to reaffirm sexist gender norms which only serves to limit choices for both males and females.

  11. Porky D says:

    June 19th, 2011at 1:55 am(#)

    “How can one really argue that men are an aggrieved population”

    To run for office Obama had to sign up for the draft, Hillary Clinton did not. And that is merely the start of it.


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