When Should Feminists Support Men’s Rights?
At first glance, feminism and men’s rights appear to be at odds. Feminism runs east and west while men’s rights run north and south. At any point where they intersect, neither desires to yield the right of way. But the truth is that at nearly every intersection, they should appear to be more like a merger than a crossroads. For nearly every identifiable feminist issue, there is a men’s rights issue that if supported, could advance its cause. This will be an examination of how feminists could advance their cause by supporting men’s rights.
The Gender Wage Gap
Feminists are quite fond of pointing out the “fact” that women earn about 77-84 cents for every dollar earned by men. This is true. But unlike what feminists would have us believe, there are many reasons for this gap and very little of it, if any, can be traced to patriarchal discrimination or oppression. Mostly, it is due to the different choices made by men and women. Of course feminists will tell you that these differences in choices are due to different expectations placed by society on men and women. Of course these different expectations are due to patriarchal oppression and therefore the wage gap is due to patriarchal oppression and discrimination even if women and men are freely choosing different options.
So how can supporting men’s rights reduce patriarchal oppression of women and make things more equitable? Funny you should ask. Let me count the ways.
Family Law, Child Support, and Custody Issues
Some of the difference in the career choices made by men and women can be traced to the care and nurturing of children. Traditionally mothers have chosen to forego careers to stay home with their kids. Fathers have chosen to support and nurture their children by working longer hours in riskier occupations in order to provide more financial resources so their children can lead a better life. This has led to the belief that mothers are more nurturing than fathers. It has also led to extreme anti-father bias in Family Law, and Family Law outcomes where mothers are almost automatically awarded custody of their children.
Because child care is time consuming, the career of the custodial parent tends to suffer. Decisions are made to reduce working hours and increase flexibility in order to accommodate the needs of the children. There is nothing wrong with this. However, shared custody would decrease the demands on the custodial parent (usually the mother) and allow her to make decisions based on career advancement rather than the needs of the children.
If feminists supported shared custody (which would reduce child support obligations) women would have more freedom to opt into more time consuming careers with the potential for higher earnings. Conversely, they would feel less pressure to be care providers and society would place less expectation upon them to fill that role.
Further, feminist support for increased paternity leave would allow fathers to become more involved in the day-to-day care of their young children. It would promote bonding and attachment and would likely result in increased interest in parenting time and improve father-child relationships.
Negative Media Portrayal and Institutionalized Misandry
The negative portrayal of fathers in the media as inept, stupid, drunken, and abusive does nothing more than to promote misandry and negative stereotypes. It is nothing short of contempt for males and male hatred. It has no socially redeeming value and has the power to create and promote stereotypic images that shape the way our society views men and fathers. Since most of these portrayals are negative, they instill a negative view of men as fathers, inhibit positive images, and sway public opinion in such a manner as to demand anti-father legislation and action. These negative stereotypes become part of the public consciousness that helps to separate fathers from their children. This helps to create single mother families in which mothers bear the burden of caring for fatherless children, believing that this is preferable. Considerable social science research concludes the opposite; that children are better off with involved fathers. It also has the effect of leading to the above described situations where women feel they must choose to forego career advancement in order to care for their children.
If feminists were more supportive of men and more critical of the way men and fathers are portrayed in the media, the public would have a better view of fathers and be more supportive of public policy that would allow fathers more contact with their children, freeing mothers to focus on making career oriented decisions rather than child care decisions.
Sexual Harassment, Rape, and False Allegations
Feminists frequently complain that allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape are not taken seriously. Victims, they say, are not believed. They insist that every victim should be believed and that false allegations are practically nonexistent. Women never lie about such things. This is a ludicrous claim that runs contrary to human nature. People lie. They lie about nearly everything and they lie for a wide variety of reasons and everyone but feminists knows it.
Because people lie, the feminist claim that real victims won’t come forward because they won’t be believed is perpetuated by the fact that lies go unpunished and are therefore encouraged. Unpunished lies simply lead to more lying. Lying leads to disbelief and disbelief leads to less reporting. It’s a vicious cycle perpetuated by the lie that women never lie. The logic is circular and fallacious.
This is why nothing that has been done to increase the reporting of rapes (victim shield laws, etc.) has actually worked to increase reporting. The cycle must be broken. The way to increase the credibility of all women who report sexual harassment, assault, or rape is to conduct serious investigations into each and every complaint. Serious investigation begins with a neutral investigator who is not invested in the outcome, only in the truth. Lies must be punished as the crime itself is punished. Once the incentive for lying is removed, the lies will decrease and the integrity of those who make allegations will no longer be suspect. Only an honest, neutral investigation that treats both alleged victim and alleged suspect with human decency and respect can achieve this.
Feminists also tend to use overblown statistics to inflate the problem. Frequently these statistics simply don’t add up. One in five women will be sexually assaulted while in college. 90% of sexual assaults go unreported. Interviews of women who participate in many studies that produce these statistics have shown that the vast majority of “victims” deny being victims. If 20% of women suffer a sexual assault, sexual assault would be the most commonly committed crime on college campuses by far. It has been suggested that such statistics are partially responsible for the underreporting of these crimes. Statistics that show low reporting and low conviction rates may help to convince women that their reports won’t be taken seriously.
If feminists wish to have alleged victims treated with respect and dignity they should be willing to take steps to hold accountable those who happen to be dishonest. This, more than anything, will help to ensure the integrity of those who come forward and should serve to encourage real victims to report. Encouraging the use of more honest and accurate statistics may remove potential barriers to reporting. Feminists should support each of these solutions as a means to increase reporting and ensure the integrity of those who do report.
The gender wage gap and sexual harassment and assault are but two feminist issues that could benefit from feminist support of men’s rights issues. In future articles I will examine other issues such as abortion, sexual freedom, contraception, and paternity fraud. These are other areas where feminists might help further their own cause by supporting men and men’s rights.