On June 26-28, 2014, I had the pleasure of attending the first International Conference on Men’s Issues, sponsored by A Voice for Men (AVfM), in Detroit. Hundreds of people came from around the world, including many women and minorities, to peacefully discuss fathers’ custody rights, male victims of domestic violence, false accusations, paternity fraud, and other issues affecting men and boys. The first three speakers were women, including the first black woman on the Canadian Parliament, Senator Anne Cools. The conference was a tremendous success.
But as we expected, following the conference we saw a barrage of yellow journalism in the media that glossed over the issues and focused mostly on stereotyping men’s rights activists (MRAs) who organized the event. Monica Hess of The Washington Post distorted everything and called attendees “misfits.” Similar yellow journalism came from Jessica Roy of TIME Magazine, Adam Serwer of MSNBC, and others.
A Voice for Men did an excellent job of responding to each of the reactionary writers. But I’d like to add my own response to their argument, commonly directed at MRAs, that feminism is not responsible for any discrimination against men.
To begin with, MRAs made it clear at the conference that they do not blame feminism for all forms of anti-male discrimination. The male-only military draft, and the exclusion of men from the ban on slavery in the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 (Article 11), are examples of anti-male discrimination based on traditional concepts of male disposability, not feminism (although feminists rarely included this in their discussions).
On the other hand, it is indisputable that feminist groups play a major role in discrimination against fathers and male victims of domestic violence. The National Organization for Women (NOW) and other feminist groups have long opposed joint custody laws that would give fathers equal rights. While the Socialist Party in Belgium introduced joint custody laws that were very successful and have reduced conflict between parents in divorce, fathers in the United States are still discriminated against, as professor Cynthia McNeely documents in her law review article, “Lagging Behind the Times; Parenthood, Custody, and Gender Bias in the Family Court.” Even as late as the 1970s, bar associations were advising judges not to give custody to fathers.
But discrimination against battered men and their kids especially hits home for me.
I became an MRA back in 1998 while a law student at UCLA. By that time, I had co-founded the Disability Law Society and the Environmental Affairs Committee, both of which are still active today, and was involved in so much public interest work that the Southern Poverty Law Center made me an Honoree on their Wall of Tolerance, co-sponsored by Rosa Parks and Morris Dees.
But something happened during law school that radically changed my life. My best friend, whom I knew since kindergarten, was repeatedly assaulted by his drunk wife in front of their kids, who call me “Uncle Marc,” and when I tried to find a shelter for him to go with his kids before someone got hurt or arrested, none of the 25 or so state-funded shelters in the county would help male victims, with the exception of the Valley Oasis shelter, far away in the remote desert city of Lancaster.
I wondered how many other children were being exposed to violence because their dads were being abused and not getting help. So I did my research. I learned that 20% of domestic violence police calls were from men, and I found that Cal State University Professor Martin Fiebert posted an online bibliography of about 300 studies showing women initiate domestic violence about as often as men. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control found more than 1 in 3 women and more than 1 in 4 men are domestic violence victims, and “About 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner (e.g., hit with a fist or something hard, beaten, slammed against something) at some point in their lifetime.”
Clearly, this was a much bigger problem than my friend and his kids.
Then my girlfriend bought me The Myth of Male Power by Warren Farrell, which helped me understand more about this issue. I learned about male disposability and discrimination against men in other areas, as well as how media, academia, and government ignore these issues. I began noticing how feminist professors ignored discrimination against men, such as by discussing criminal sentencing disparities against minorities but ignoring the even larger disparities against men, and talking about racial profiling but not gender profiling. And their lectures on domestic violence and rape were totally biased, with gender-specific language and downplaying male victims.
I started publishing articles in the Daily Bruin and the UCLA law newspaper on these issues. That was not well received by feminists. When I tried speaking with a feminist professor about battered men, she became annoyed and dismissed it as “misogyny.”
After graduating, I founded the Los Angeles chapter of the National Coalition For Men (NCFM), a non-profit group that has addressed men’s issues since 1976. Our first meeting was at the home of Glenn Sacks, who had been a UCLA student with me and was the only other person publishing articles on men’s issues on campus. For the next ten years we offered support to men and fathers, spoke before public bodies, held rallies, drafted legislation to prevent paternity fraud, published hundreds of letters to editors and op eds, filed lawsuits, and did so much activism I cannot possibly list it all.
But it was our work on domestic violence that I’m most passionate about. One of the first things we did was track down the former director of the Valley Oasis, Patricia Overberg, to find out what we can do about discrimination against battered men. She told us that in the 1980s male victims kept coming to her with no place to go, so she designated one of her shelters for men, and as a result she was ostracized by certain shelter directors at the Domestic Violence Council, who would ignore her and omit her comments from the minutes. She advised me to file a lawsuit. And that we did.
But first we tried to change things amicably by attending Los Angeles County Domestic Violence Council meetings and talking about battered men. We even gave men rides to Valley Oasis. While we made a few allies at the council, we mostly faced hostility from feminists who did not want to hear about battered men. Some even told us to build our own shelters, even though men pay at least half the taxes that funded their programs.
We followed the money. And we learned that a state law—written by feminist groups—provided over $20M in funds for domestic violence shelters but explicitly excluded male victims of domestic violence from state-funded services.
So in 2005 we filed a lawsuit against the State of California and a Sacramento shelter that received $4 million a year in state and private funds. The lawsuit challenged the statutory discrimination as a violation of equal protection.
About a year later, a Sacramento judge dismissed the case on the ground that more women than men needed services. So we filed an appeal.
While the appeal was pending, a gay rights group introduced a bill that would make the law gender-neutral. As the bill’s analysis says, “Gay men have difficulties finding DV service and shelters which have traditionally been available only to battered women.”
But shelter directors made them change it back to being only for women. As the analysis states: “The severe deficiency in funding of domestic violence shelters that provide services to battered women and their children caused an outcry among the existing domestic violence shelter providers.”
Imagine the outrage if MRAs introduced a law that excluded female veterans from mental health counseling because the vast majority of combat veterans are men and there is not enough funding for veterans as it is?
Thankfully, in 2008 the Court of Appeal unanimously reversed the order and held that the exclusion of male victims violates men’s rights to equal protection and “carries with it the baggage of sexual stereotypes,” because “men experience significant levels of domestic violence as victims” (Woods v. Horton). The decision held that if a program cannot mix men and women in the same shelter, they can at least provide a hotel arrangement as well as legal and psychological aid that they already provide to women.
While this was a big victory, many state-funded programs in California still refuse to help men and their children. So, like before, we are first trying to resolve things amicably before filing another lawsuit. Recently we have successfully worked with groups like the Men’s Health Network to establish the first official Task Force on Male Victims in the County Domestic Violence Council. That is just a start.
And I will say that, without certain feminists who joined or voted in our favor, the Task Force would not exist. And they are not the only ones who have supported men’s rights. There have been many others. Former NOW president and attorney Karen DeCrow openly supported men’s rights in child custody and domestic violence services until her death on June 6, 2014. Feminist Robyn Blumner, former director of the ACLU in Florida, has written about how it is men who need the Equal Rights Amendment due to the anti-male discrimination in child custody and domestic violence services.
These feminists certainly deserve credit.
But it was also feminist groups who drafted the discriminatory domestic violence laws to begin with and opposed efforts to make them gender neutral. This is not unique to California. It happens all over the world. A judge in West Virginia, whose ruling was reversed only on jurisdictional grounds,found men were being routinely discriminated against in domestic violence programs. In England, shelter directors resisted helping men even when threatened with the loss of their funding. The federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has portions that explicitly discriminate against men, and its very title is discriminatory.
Imagine if we had a Men’s Occupational Safety and Health Act because 92% of job deaths are male.
And these are not the only area where feminists promote sex discrimination. They have downplayed the boy crisis in education, eroded due process rights of college men accused of rape, and spread all kinds of stereotypes about men and boys. In Sweden, feminists tried to create a “man tax” because, they said, men are so violent that they should pay higher taxes. Feminists tried to shut down the conference in Detroit by organizing a rally and making threats against the hotel staff. Thankfully, the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Saint Clair Shores welcomed the conference at its venue and did not fold when feminists called and claimed the conference was a meeting of “misogynists.”
If feminists cared about equality, they would join MRAs, or at least engage in sincere dialogue with them, rather than stereotyping and trying to shut down our venues. They would demand equal rights for dads in family court and equal treatment of male victims of domestic violence. They would support commissions on the status of men to address men’s well-being and inequalities in suicide deaths, homelessness, job deaths, and discrimination in criminal sentencing and family court. They would stop eroding due process for students accused of rape. And they would stop lying about MRAs.
Maybe when feminist groups woman up on their hypocrisy, MRAs will man up on their occasional anger and rhetoric, which pales in comparison to the systematic discrimination feminists have promulgated
Meanwhile, we are seeing the MRA movement grow all over the globe. One of the most prominent MRA movements in the world is in India, where they face abuse of dowry laws and where apparently only men can be prosecuted for adultery. In Germany, MRAs got the European Union to challenge Germany’s law denying unmarried dads’ custody rights absent moms’ consent. MRAs in the Philippines got a local government to stop ignoring battered men. And MRAs in Austria and nearby nations have successfully lobbied for official government commissions on men’s issues.
It took MRAs to make these changes. Nobody else seems to care. And we have a long way to go. But we will never stop, no matter how much name-calling is spewed at us by those who do not want a balanced dialogue on gender. I am forever grateful to NCFM and all other MRAs for their dedicated work in the face of such reactionary hate. And I give special thanks to A Voice for Men for working so hard to make the conference a success. I hope to see many more of those in the future.
Marc Angelucci is a Los Angeles attorney, an adjunct Professor of Family Law, and is Vice President of the National Coalition For Men.