December 31, 2013 by Don Hubin, Chair, Executive Committee, National Parents Organization of Ohio
Some years ago, I came across an essay by Steven Schacht called “Teaching About Being an Oppressor”. To me, it reads like a long apology for being male and, therefore, being an oppressor (by identity if not by overt action).
In this article, Schacht gives a list of male privileges. He cautions that “[b]ecause of my own partial and situated perspective, this list should obviously be considered far from exhaustive.” Modesty—even intellectual modesty—is a virtue, of course. One wonders, though, how Schacht can be so certain that his “partial and situated perspective” allows him to know that the list is accurate as far as it goes and that it should be considered “far from exhaustive”. It sounds as if he thinks that his “partial and situated perspective” gives him absolutely certain knowledge that everything on his list is correct, and certainty that there are more things to add. It just makes him unable to add those things. This is a very selective sort of intellectual modesty.
There are a lot of items on the list worth discussing. The tone, the one-sidedness, and the content of the “privileges” are worthy of further examination, I think. Here, though, is one that particularly caught the eye of this divorced father:
13. Should I decide to divorce my spouse, or have this decision forced upon me, if children are involved, I can count on her being the primary caretaker of them (unless I should desire otherwise), and to correspondingly experience an increase in my standard of living often with the full knowledge that her’s (sic.) will significantly drop.
We now know that the standard of living of divorced fathers does not rise as Mr. Schacht believes; and the standard of living of divorced mothers does not decline as much as Mr. Schacht believes. Looking at this paragraph, I don’t primarily fault Mr. Schacht for being ignorant of the facts here; many people are. I don’t even primarily fault him for writing with such arrogance when he is ignorant of the facts; ignorance and arrogance are often conjoined. What I find despicable is his assumption that it is a male privilege to count on one’s ex-spouse “being the primary caretaker of” one’s children. Having fought a long, expensive and hard battle to achieve something close to parity in being a caretaker of my children, I can tell you I do not consider it a privilege to be able to count on someone else being the “primary caretaker.” I don’t know any divorced fathers who do.
Schacht’s calloused disregard for the plight of loving fathers who, without any wrongdoing, have been unwillingly removed from the lives of their children might be explained by his apparent belief that if men don’t desire that their ex-wives be the primary caretaker of their children, they can easily prevent this from happening. Perhaps Schacht believes that any divorced father who wants to be a parent to his children can easily achieve this end. But excusing calloused insensitivity by appealing to absolute lunacy is a strange way to defend Schacht’s position. And ‘lunacy’ is a kind word for the belief that divorced fathers can easily get custody of their children after divorce.
Schacht reveals much about himself in suggesting that it is a benefit to men not to have their children. Divorced fathers are ten times more likely to commit suicide than divorced mothers. Not coincidentally, divorced mothers are ten times more likely to get custody of their children than are divorced fathers. Only a man who either doesn’t have children or isn’t fully engaged with them as a loving father could see it as a benefit to have someone else raise his children. Only a man who isn’t willing to listen to the anguished voices of loving fathers who have had their children taken from them could think that men, in general, see this as a benefit.
Even more revealing are some of Schacht’s recountings in another essay (“Why Men Should be Feminists”):
Perhaps not that surprising, given societal expectations of “successful” young men, once I reached my teenage years, my father’s ways of being—and all the masculine privilege it had to offer—seemed far more valuable and I increasingly started to reject the wisdom of my mother’s voice. Correspondingly, during this time I undertook nearly every imaginable “stupid men trick” there is from playing hockey, to binge drinking, to driving a sports car (often far too fast and under the influence of alcohol and various other drugs), to starting fist fights with other men, to womanizing. This also meant that I increasingly spent more and more time in male-exclusive groups, and except for largely sexual purposes, sadly had little meaningful social interaction with women.
Being quite average in height and weight, but having an acumen that enabled me to almost always get in the last cutting remark, I surrounded myself with larger often older young men. I was often the “mouth” of masculinity in these groups whereas they often provided the muscle to backup whatever I might say. Frequently like a pack of wolves, almost always under the influence of alcohol and or/some other drug, we set out to see who could sleep with the most women—score—and sought out other men to verbally and physical subordinate, all in the quest to prove our seeming superiority, our manhood. Little stood in our way as we sadly cut a swath of wanton destruction wherever we went. Moreover, even though I was arrested numerous times from an age of 14 to 21, my class privilege enabled me to hire a lawyer, and combined with a racist criminal justice outlook that white “boys will boys,” meant that I was never really held accountable for my illegal and destructive actions.
I could see the disappointment in my mother¹s eyes each time she became aware of my most recent masculine exploit, but in some sick sense, it almost seemed to validate the appropriateness and increase the value of my destructive, often misogynist behaviors. Like some classic Freudian separation complex from one’s mother, sadly much of what she stood for, and at one time I shared with her, seemingly became the exact opposite of who I then sought to be. At a point in my life when I was most engrossed in these various masculine rituals, 19, my mother died, and perhaps as if to punish her for doing this, I would unfortunately remain lost in a masculine daze for years to come.
Now if that’s what Schacht thinks masculinity is all about, I’m against masculinity, too. But, of course, that’s not what it’s about. Masculinity was displayed in the selfless actions of the New York police officers and fire-fighters who willingly risked, and often forfeited, their lives to save others after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. Masculinity was displayed when Ghandi stood up to the British and when Martin Luther King, Jr. helped to lead the fight for civil rights. And masculinity was displayed by my father, and all the fathers like him, who work hard to provide for their children, play with their children, guide their children, and love their children unselfishly.
I’m sorry that Schacht chose the masculine role models he did. He could have done much better, I think. But when will people—especially people who repeatedly note their “partial and situated knowledge”—stop thinking that their experience is universal experience? Not all men are pigs. Some are, of course, and some who were should now regret their actions. Schacht may have much to apologize for; it sounds as if he does. But he shouldn’t shift the blame to society. He was not a “victim” of masculine culture; he should take responsibility for his actions. (That’s part of what being a man is about.) His apology should be a personal one. And most of all, he should stop apologizing on my behalf or on behalf of all men.
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