"Equal Partners" Requires Equal Understanding & Equal Responsibility
by Joseph Maiello and Trev Martin
This article was written in response to that of Karen Lapprand, "Do men really want to be equal partners? ", Times Colonist, July 10, 1997. Karen wrote her piece after attending a presentation on June 14th at the Universityof Victoria by the Victoria Men's Centre entitled "What Happens When Fathers Are Missing And How To Get Them Back?". The two eminent speakers that evening were Senator Anne C. Cools and Dr. Warren Farrell, Ph.D., author of the book "The Myth of Male Power".
Senator Cools spoke from her lifetime of experience as a social and political activist, feminist and politician. Dr. Farrell speaks with unique authority on gender issues. He is the only man ever elected three times to the board of the National Organization for Women and he advocated for the women's movement for decades. He is the only person to be a guest speaker for both the Council on Women's Issues and the Council on Men's Issues, organized by Governor Pete Wilson of California. Both speak clearly and with balance about gender issues,including the crisis in fatherhood. Both are deeply committed to the equality men and women and to deepening all of our understanding of the perspective of both genders.
First, I want to recognize Karen for being willing to attend the presentation,even though she says hesitantly, "I thought I might learn something". I also want to applaud the fact that, as a feminist, she is not so ideologically-driven that she cannot see that children need a father, that children raised without fathers suffer demonstrably, that two effective and committed parents are better than one, that children would prefer to be raised by both parents, that men's traditional role as family provider has worked against men on custody issues and that for fathers to live without the children they love must be excruciatingly lonely. As obvious as these truths are, extremists in the feminist camp would deny all of this, despite the evidence of statistics and what we feel in the heart.
However, it strikes those of us who were there and then read Karen's article that, in many cases, she did not hear what was being said, that the reality of a different gender perspective escaped her, and that an opportunity to increase her understanding about the issues was, for the most part, missed. The point to be taken is that it would have been better to report on what actually took place, than to publish someone's reaction to what they saw and felt. Articulating a man's perspective is not exclusive to men, but requires understanding of the perspective which is simply lacking. We are all guilty, at times, of selective hearing, blocking out that of which we are afraid and seeing through the lens of our bias.
Let us travel through 12 excerpts from her article. The objective here is not to be critical or nit-picking about details, but to show how understanding is needed.
(1) "What I do take issue with is the pronouncement that men want to be equal parents"
In the past, women were bound by rigid roles as homemaker, housewife and child-minder. Men were bound by rigid roles as provider, protector, disciplinarian and handyman. There were good parts and bad parts to each role and to their rigidity. This was functional in Stage I because it took care of our survival needs. Our parents, grandparents, .... life of obligations (Stage I) contributed to us having rights and options in our recent Stage II, as Dr. Farrell so articulated in his book. However, women have been freed and encouraged to explore new options outside the home, while men are not as free and encouraged to explore new options inside the home. In the interest of equality and balance, this needs to be.
(2) "Since my divorce, I have spoken to countless divorced and married women about their experience with their partners."
If Karen had spoken to countless divorced and married women AND MEN, she might have been in a better position to make judgements on the marital experience for both genders. Those studies that show that married men are the most happy are skewed by the numbers of those couples who grew up with and are satisfied with maintaining more traditional roles and by the fact that men are socialized to not express their frustration and unhappiness. A better indicator would be to look at what is happening today in terms of marriage or relationship commitment. The single largest problem that women who desire the security of a committed relationship with a man face today is that men are extremely reluctant to commit. For many men, the most volatile method to lose their children, their home and assets is through marraige. Commitment between two people has become, and the laws have assisted in it's contribution, a potentially hostile environment. If married life was so great for men, wouldn't they be rushing to the alter? It used to be when a man owned a house he welcomed marraige; today it's more like he's reluctant to get married for fear he'll lose what he worked all those years for.
(3)"..just about all of the women had this complaint about their partners: the men did not do their 50 per cent share of housework and looking after the children, even if their wives were working outside the home."
Men have been traditionally responsible for doing the dangerous and dirty tasks. So it remains largely the domain of men to fix the plumbing, maintain the landscaping, do renovations to the house, fix and wash the car, cut and handle the firewood and shovel the snow. With more women working outside the home, it appears that women do two jobs and men do one. In reality, her obligation decreased inside the home and increased outside. The June 1991 "Journal of Economic Literature" (Vol 29, #2, page 477) compared the hours of the average woman and man both inside and outside the home which amounted to 56 hours for her and 61 hours for him. Studies of working wives tell but half the truth and at the very least mislead. They are women-as-victim studies. They make women angry and increase the divorce rate, which deepens the anger, which increases ...
(4) "You say you want joint custody, equal rights to parenting. Where was your joint commitment to parenting while in the marriage?"
Just exactly what does joint commitment to parenting in marriage have to do with joint custody and equal rights to parenting after marraige? Joint custody and equal parenting has to do with doing what is in the best interest of the children, by co-operating with the other parent and ensuring that the child's right to continued love, nurturing and guidance from both parents is preserved and encouraged. Karen's linkage of parenting in the marriage to custody and parenting arrangements after marriage is typical of a punitive, self-serving attitude which can only be destructive. Besides, equal-parenting is a just place to start and it respects the fundamental principles of equality.
(5) "How about tackling the issue of commitment and custody not in hindsight, as too many divorced dads seem to do, but before the marital dysfunction sets in?"
Suggesting that custody issues be tackled before marital breakdown is too absurd for comment. If Karen could see past her own ideas of commitment and include them with her partner's ideas of commitment in all facets of the relationship, this would contribute to better understanding that would reduce the divorce rate. One example would be his financial commitment to parenting coincides with her domestic commitment to parenting. Instead, she focuses on the power that she enjoys as a woman with custody and says that it is only right that she have that, given that men do not live up to her expectations. Now, women often do not live up to men's expectations either. Does that justify men abusing power over other things? Of course it doesn't. Again, Karen continues to carry over the issues of the marriage into parenting after marriage.
(6) "There might be fewer divorces if more men realised that parenting is not just enjoying the good times with your child and walking away when times get tough."
Is this not just blaming men for marital breakdown and more vengeful motivation for controlling behaviour afterwards? Women are as much to blame for divorce as men are. We all have unrealistic expectations and are not understanding enough of the other's perspective and needs. As Dr. Farrell states, "I have never had someone come up to me and say 'I am getting a divorce. My partner understands me' ". Men walk away from their children after marriage most often because they are shut out of parenting by custodial mothers. They walk away because of the pain of their loss and separation from their children. They walk away because they know, despite the implicit messages from the mother, that they are caring, nurturing and loving fathers.
(7) "But the kind of talk I heard that evening...reinforces age-old stereotypes: women are parasites, women don't work, fathers bring home the butter. It presented women as living comfortably off the labour of men (who, as we know, slave away for no self-serving purpose.)"
Surely, Karen was somewhere else that evening! The whole presentation of the evening was about bringing equality and balance into family relationships. The two presenters were life-long equalists. Neither they, nor most of those present, are interested in re-establishing traditional roles. Rather, the opposite is true. They were calling on women to abandon their negative and sexist stereotypes of men and to accept men on equal terms in the family, as a reasonable balance to men accepting women on equal terms in the workplace. She missed the whole point!
Men and women should have equal opportunity and responsibility in all areas of family life. During marriage, this means freeing both partners from confining roles and stereotypes and finding the balance appropriate to each relationship. After marriage, this means enabling and promoting shared, co-operative parenting, on as close to a 50/50 basis as possible, and providing the opportunity and expectation for both partners to share equally in the ongoing financial responsibility of children. (One insightful judge ruled for the children to remain in the house and for the parents, who were divorcing, to vacate the house. The parents will, on a rotational basis, live with their children and contribute the same financial percentage to the household. The spouses were divorcing each other and not their children, and, no parent will be allowed to use their children as a meal-ticket.)
At present, the virtual automatic granting of custody of children to women and the frequent denial to men of parenting opportunity is promoting the very stereotypes that Karen says she opposes. Women are turned into beggars and men into wallets. If affirmative action in the workplace has any validity, affirmative action in the home has just as much. And, on the issue of "self-serving", women have been and are self-serving as much as men, much of what is done in the best interests of children is self-serving to women and destructive to children and fathers.
Regarding "labour of men", lets take a look: The "Jobs Rated Almanac" ranked 250 jobs from best to worst based on a combination of salary, stress, work environment, outlook, security and physical demands. They found that 24 of the 25 worst jobs were 95-100% male jobs. The 25th job with about half women was professional dancer. Every day, almost as many men are killed at work as were killed during the average day in Vietnam (that is 18 men a day in the US). Source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Canadian job-caused deaths in 1993 cost 31 female and 727 male lives. Source: Statistics Canada.
For men, there are, in essence, three male-only drafts: the draft of men to all the wars; the draft of Everyman to unpaid bodyguard; the draft of men to all the hazardous jobs or "death" professions. Just as women provide a womb to create the children, men often provide a financial womb to support the children. As a Nova Scotian friend of mine said, "You don't go to school hoping to land a career as a coal-miner".
(8) "Nor did it encourage the men in that audience to look at themselves and consider for one moment what they might have done to get themselves in the emotionally starved position they are in today."
On the contrary, men were encouraged to consider carefully before committing themselves to a relationship. They need to think through their life-goals and choose women as partners who support them in those goals. Men who charge blindly into relationships with women who are willing to abuse them emotionally are just as needful of a change of direction as men or women who are dependent on physically abusive partners. Women who emotionally abuse men before or after divorce need to look hard and long at themselves. Denial to children or fathers of a parenting relationship is emotional abuse.
(9) "If men are tired of living outside of home life and really want 'in' as they say they do to enjoy the full range of emotional rewards, they're going to have to take their head out of the sand and put their money where their mouth is."
Not only do women initiate divorce much more frequently than men, it is the present inequality of power in family law which allows women to divorce children from their fathers. If we had equal parenting after divorce or enforcement of access, the emotional deprivation that divorced fathers suffer would end. Despite portrayals to the contrary, the vast majority of fathers are already putting "their money where their mouth is" by responsibly contributing to the support of their families during marriage and continuing to support their children and their ex's afterwards. All of society will pay for generations for divorce laws and family courts wielded as weapons of politically correct father persecution.
(10) "Getting after 'deadbeat' dads and have them pay their fair share of what it costs to financially raise two children. Too many men childishly take their anger out on their ex-wives by withholding support..."
Karen reinforces the false stereotype of "deadbeat dads". Divorce often places both parents in difficult financial circumstances. Studies of the minority who do not make their payments reveal that the overwhelming reason is that their parenting is obstructed or denied. Women who "fight like enraged grizzly bears to keep their kids out of dad's hands", as columnist Karen Selick said in a recent article, are being just as childish and deserving of the deadbeat label. Most fathers do not deserve the epithet of "deadbeat dads" and it is obnoxious to continue repeating it. In fact, percentage-wise, there are more mothers who do not pay child support then are fathers. Many fathers continue to pay their support despite being denied the opportunity to parent their children by their ex-wives. The laws support this abuse of our children by having a Family Maintenance Enforcement Program without the balance of a Family Access Enforcement Program.
The "Family" is the most efficient arrangement. It satisfies our basic human needs of food, intimacy and shelter. If, for women, the issue is always about the money, fathers could share the custody or have full custody thereby giving women the opportunity to advance career-wise and financially.
(11) "...working to stop male domestic violence..."
Again, Karen reinforces a false stereotype by addressing only male domestic violence. Contrary to the standard feminist and media portrayals, women are not excluded from committing a wide range of violence, including domestic violence. Neither are men more violent by nature than women. Women's groups, media and men bear a part in suppresing and not vocalizing female violence. For decades the data has been available but not highlighted equally. The greater need is for women to come to terms with their own violent nature and counter the deception of themselves and society. Given the depth of deception on this issue, it would be more appropriate for Karen to be working to stop female violence by first challenging it's attitude. It has become acceptable amongst women for violence against men to be ignored, excused, trivialized, advocated and tolerated. Senator Cools stated that female violence is the most concealed of crimes and that with the Karla Homolkas, the Lorena Bobbitts and the Susan Smiths it is coming to full light. Any honest examination of history will show that brutality and mass homocide are not passions biologically exclusive to men. All ages have been horrified by female torturers and multiple murderers of men, women and children. The past half century contains adequate slaughter committed by females: Aileen Wuornos, Dorothea Puente, Laure Dann (USA), Rosetta Cutolo (Italy), Beverley Allitt, Myra Hindley (UK), and the Nazi 'Beasts of Belsen'.
- of the 495 couples in the 1985 National Family Violence Survey: 25.9% of the cases the husband was the only violent partner, 25.5% of the cases the wife was the only violent partner, 48.6% of the cases both were violent.
- 1994 US Department of Justice analysed 10,000 cases of family murders: 44.5% of the victims were female, 55.5% of the victims were male. Of parents who kill their children mothers kill more than fathers.
- Statistics Canada reports on "Homicide in Canada" annually in "Juristat". Reports were commissioned on violence against women and men. Yet, governments and the media continue their one-sided campaign of violence against women.
(12) "How many men now...are taking time out of their careers to be full-time dads?"
There is a trend towards men shifting their investment away from career and towards their families. This should be recognized, enabled and encouraged. One way is for women to be more willing to carry more of the provider responsibility in order to free men to give some of it up. Most important of all, is the effort that all of us need to make to end sexist stereotypes and change family laws which socialize men into believing the lie that they are worthy of respect only as nurturers of money and not as nurturers of love. If fathers are treated as wallets, how do we expect them to see themselves as nurturers first and providers second? If the issue is really the best interests of the children, why is the focus always on the money and not on promoting, encouraging and enabling fathers to be more involved with their children, both during and after marriage? Bringing equality and balance into family law by supporting the children's right to shared parenting would say to men and children that fathers and mothers are equal parents. Children are very perceptive. They see their father's pain and their father's treatment by a system that devalues men. The boys, on becoming men, will know better than engage themselves in a similar situation to that of their father. Men and women of good conscience should be insisting that gender equality, rather than the advancement of the group rights of women, be the foundation for progressive men's and women's movements and a Ministry of Gender Equality.
This response to Karen's article is not motivated by any ill-will. Her article, blaming men, not only lacks accountability for women, but, it's sexist theme is sad. Her experiences of marriage and divorce, together with the lens through which she filters her experience, drives her to the conclusions she reaches. The feelings she describes will resonate with many women. However, it is imperative that her underlying assumptions be challenged and the lens she and many women see through be examined. Men have a view point that is seldom heard. However, women are no more prone than men to seeing only one side or interpreting their experience through an unclear lens. We all need to listen better, with our hearts and minds, and be challenged to find solutions. An exellent method is to start with our young; by having a Faculty of Gender Studies in lieu of a Faculty of Women's Studies. And, where this is not possible, to add a Faculty of Men's Studies, thus, receiving equal funding. (History is no more men's studies as Home Economics is women's studies).
To study women in isolation of men bears no rationale. When this happens, as is currently the case, blaming men is one of the results. When a group is singled out as a culprit history should have taught us to raise a warning sign. The language is similiar to that used by the Nazis in the 1930s. The Jews were to blame for most everything. Today, men are to blame for the lot: men cause wars, etc. The vast majority of world leaders are men and whether it's a male or female leader, the results are the same, they both send men to war. Women bear no collective responsiblity for their passive or enthusiatic support for wars. Nor are women guilty for the wars begun by female heads of state, such as: Margerat Thatcher, Isabel Peron, Jiang Quing, T'ze hse, Christina Vasa, Catherine II, Boadicea, Cleopatra VII, Hatsheput and others. Men also bear no collective guilt for the slaughters perpetrated by governments which conscripted them into battle. The lives of women and men are intimately woven together and harm to either sex must be suffered by the other. Anti-male hatred causes grief to most wives, lovers, daughters, sisters and mothers. They care deeply about the men who are inseparable from their daily lives. Sexism, bias and bigotry is to be opposed wherever found. Respect for the rights of all human beings requires that all women and men speak out against expressions and acts of hatred.
Victoria Men's Centre
VMC, Box 8082, Victoria B.C. V8W 3R7 -- Phone: 370-4MEN (370-4636) --- E-Mail: email@example.com