June 4, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
The murderous insanity of Elliot Rodger last week has opened the door to all sorts of strange and utterly off-base claims about men, masculinity and relations between the sexes. I suppose that was inevitable. After all, whenever a nutcase goes on a shooting rampage, we’re immediately informed by all and sundry that the actions in some way represent masculinity generally, that the person who is far out there on the narrowest edge of human behavior and self-understanding in some way is a fair representation of all men. Or maybe he just represents how men are socialized by our society that likes nothing better than to see women bleeding in the streets.
It’s hard to tell, but what I do know is that the same press and blogosphere that peddle that nonsense turns a blind eye to the mother who, just a month ago, was discovered to have murdered each of eight of her newborns and kept the remains in boxes in her garage. What? She’s not a fair representative of all women? After all, that behavior, although bizarre and deeply troubling, is not as uncommon as we might like to believe. Just three years ago, a woman in Pennsylvania was discovered by her teenage daughter to have done the same thing with five newborn infants. That outrage brought to light another, already behind bars, who’d killed seven the same way and a mother in France with a body count of eight. Here’s a piece I did about that (NPO, 7/17/11).
So what’s with the double standard? Why claim that crazy men who commit horrible deeds in some way fairly represent men, when they very plainly don’t, but not do the same when women go off the deep end?
The answer is pretty simple. We as humans tend to look at horrible events like those and do one of two things; we either judge or we love. We either condemn or forgive. We either stand apart to point the finger of opprobrium, or we move close to seek to understand. We either scream “How could you?” or we whisper “Why did you?”
That dichotomy of judging and loving bears a lot of resemblance to the dueling personas of the God of the Old and New Testaments. In the former God is “a jealous god, quick to anger” who doesn’t hesitate to rain down fire and brimstone on wrongdoers. The God of the New Testament sent his only son to teach us to love our neighbors as much, and in the same way, that we love ourselves. The Ten Commandments are mostly “thou shalt not;” Jesus gave us just two and both instruct us to love.
So it’s interesting that the media response to male wrongdoing is rarely if ever an inquiry into why the man did what he did, what demons he fought and how and where did they originate. But look at virtually any report on a mother killing her kids for example, and the rush is not to judgment but to empathize and, if possible, locate someone else to blame. One example that leaps to mind is the New York mother who, three years ago, drove her mini-van with her three children in it into the Hudson River in an attempt to kill them all. Only her 10-year-old son survived, but, by the end of the week, at least one publication was pleading with others to not place all the blame on the father.
That’s right, the father. What had he done? Not anything except to make some noises about wanting more parenting time with his children. But the press was so dead-set on forgiving the mother for her horrendous crime that it unleashed the dogs of blame on the nearest victim – Dad.
That this unequal treatment of men and women, fathers and mothers is sexist is clear enough. But as important is the fact that, as the primary target of our urge to blame, men find themselves holding the short end of the equality stick in many areas of life, like parenting, child support, alimony, Selective Service registration, premature death, death in war, healthcare funding, death on the job, harsher sentencing for crime, homelessness, adoption, putative father registries and of course most recently, being blamed by feminists for just about everything while being honored for nothing.
So, while it’s not a surprise that the foul deeds of the deranged Elliot Rodger provided all the impetus the commentariat needed to go on yet another rampage of male-bashing, that doesn’t mean it should go unaddressed. After all, someone needs to talk sense.
Sadly, that person is not going to be one James Fell, who got a platform at Time Magazine to write this piece that’s so at odds with reality, I fear he may soon make the news in an altogether more dramatic way (Time, 5/29/14).
Fell establishes early on that he has no grasp of his chosen topic. Stimulated by Elliot Rodger’s rampage, Fell decided to write a piece about the movement for men’s rights without first gathering any information on it. The extent of his nod to research seems to have been to go to the website for A Voice for Men and pull some phrases he hopes will convince his readers that “something wicked this way comes.” But beyond that, he contributed neither knowledge of facts nor an awareness of context. All too predictably, he did what is pretty much de rigueur for articles like his – he condemns men, specifically those who make so bold as to question their prescribed lot in life.
Men’s Rights Canada made headlines again recently with their classless response to an anti-sexual assault campaign called “Don’t be that guy.” Posters went up across the nation implying women aren’t punished enough for infanticide, stating, “Women can stop baby dumping. “Don’t be that girl.” This was a follow up of the same campaign from last year alleging many women made false rape accusations because they felt guilty over a one-night stand.
So feminist posters that tag every man as a potential sex abuser get a pass despite their plain misandry while the male response is, according to Fell, beyond the pale. Never mind that the Men’s Rights Canada posters were at least as accurate as the feminist ones that inspired them. Lost entirely on him is the fact that, in the same way that men generally can stop rape committed by other men, women must be able to stop infanticide by other women, i.e. not at all. Just how that’s supposed to work Fell never stopped to wonder despite the fact that it was the entire point of the MRC campaign.
Do men have any problems in life apart from the unbearable burden of all our privileges? Fell claims to believe we do, but he can’t think of any, so he moves right along in full “nothing to see here” mode.
Are there some problems with specific instances of unequal treatment? Yes. Is there some anti-male sentiment out there? Yeah, that happens too. But turning these issues into a movement is laughable. It is a like a multi-millionaire who whines that a tax loophole was closed and he’s losing 0.5% of his annual income.
Fathers losing their kids? Men’s suicide rate four times that of women’s? Three-fourths of the homeless population are men? Ninety-nine percent of those killed in war are men? Men live 6 years less than women? Men’s prison sentences 60% longer than women’s for the same crimes? Fathers’ visitation not enforced by courts or funded by the federal government? Custodial fathers get child support only 29% of the time? Next to no assistance for male victims of domestic violence? Nope, Fell’s never heard of those and in any event would likely just tell us to “man up” if he did.
Fell’s article is proof positive that literally anything with reasonably accurate spelling can be published by a major media outlet as long as it promotes claims and values that are congenial to the status quo. Information, insight or even basic intellectual honesty are not required, just a willingness to make unfounded claims in support of existing orthodoxy.
But of course it’s precisely that existing orthodoxy that movements like those for fathers and children are all about. If the status quo weren’t so damaging to all concerned, there’d be no movement on behalf of children and fathers that, by the way, seeks to improve the lives of mothers as well, to say nothing of society generally and the public purse. Fell finds the movement for those rights “laughable” due mostly because he’s entirely ignorant of its history, its legitimate goals and because his personal ox has never been gored.
The fact is that our current system of divorce and child custody has been known for decades to be deeply injurious to children and those injuries last long into their adulthood. Everything from involvement in crime to drug and alcohol abuse, lower achievement in school, and earlier involvement in sex that leads to earlier pregnancy among girls can be placed squarely at the door of fatherless children. And that fatherlessness has its deepest roots in custody orders that doggedly separate fathers from the children they love and protect and who desperately need them. Fatherless kids, now about one-third of the total, are at far greater risk for academic failure and emotional and psychological deficits than are children with both parents. They’re at greater risk for physical and sexual abuse as well. Their suicide rate is about 10 times what it is for their peers in intact families.
To Fell, a movement that seeks to address those many personal and societal dislocations is an object of ridicule, a fact that says a lot about him but essentially nothing about a movement that’s been around for three decades and has never been stronger. No, to him maintaining an age-old sexism that condemns men and forgives women has more value than (a) learning some facts about the very real obstacles placed in the way of men and fathers, (b) learning some facts about the movements to redress the many real grievances men and fathers have and (c) learning some facts about the misandry and intellectual dishonesty of those who would keep men trapped in their traditional roles while upbraiding them for being there.
I truly hope Fell never loses a child to the merciless machinery of family court. I hope he doesn’t have a son killed in one of our many overseas wars. I hope he’s never bankrupted by child support he was ordered to pay but never could. I hope he never takes his own life in despair at the loss of a child and the indifference of family law. I hope his wife or girlfriend never decides he’s had enough contact with his child, his home, his finances and gets a bogus domestic violence restraining order against him. I hope his son, if he has one, is never chucked out of college due to a false claim of sexual abuse.
I hope all of those things for Fell and more. I hope all those things because no person should have to go through what public policy visits on so many men on a daily basis. I hope all those things despite the fact that, if he endured any of them, the fathers’ rights movement would gain yet another convert. I hope all those things because, unlike him, I see many of the problems men and fathers face and have compassion for them. Unlike him, I seek to understand their situations. I try to stand in their shoes.
And when you do that, when you cease reflexively judging men because they’re male, when you cease reserving your compassion for the opposite sex, much changes. For example, you don’t write articles like the one Fell wrote for Time.
Thanks to Don for the heads-up.
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