A Man’s Rights

7.27.2017

By Logan Gossett

 

After losing a house, two jobs and $16,000 in court expenses, Phil – whose name has been changed to protect his anonymity – humbly received his ambitious reward: his son, for five hours, once a month.

        Five days ago he paid a monthly fee of $600 still owed from the home’s mortgage, a fee he will continue to pay until 2027 when his son will be 15 years old. Phil now pays more in child support than he earns from unemployment checks.

“My son was about four inches taller when I finally got to see him,” Phil said. “His mom told him not to tell me what his favorite color is, but I think it’s green. She also told him not to tell me his favorite superhero, but he let that one slip: Batman,” he said. He just hopes to be a close second one day.

Men’s rights advocacy was partly catalyzed by stories like Phil’s. Through forums like MensActivism, A Voice for Men and Reddit’s Men’s Rights board, men’s rights advocacy attempts to provide support and resources for fathers with similar struggles. However, their outreach is inhibited by their designation as misogynist hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC describes the men’s rights movement as “savaging feminists,” and cites the website manboobz.com as a useful watchdog of the men’s rights movement.

Male mortality rates paint the grisly picture that illustrates the story behind the men’s rights movement.

Advocates see that men are five times more likely to commit suicide than women; that men are twenty times more likely to die in the workplace; that men are four times more likely to be the victims of homicide. Men’s rights advocates see disproportionate workplace deaths and question the existence of disproportionate privilege.

Annie McBride, Assistant Director for the Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity, suggests that male privilege is not an easily measurable commodity.

“Privileges are things that [men] were born into, not that they’ve had to earn,” she said. “The ability to, as a white person, walk around department stores and not feel people’s eyes on you and be followed. I didn’t do anything to earn that privilege. It was just something I was born into.”

McBride agreed that male mortality and men’s mental well-being is concerning. She argued that toxic masculinity stigmatizes the male pursuit of mental health treatment, something feminism seeks to rectify.

Many scholars believe that the men’s rights movement is simply a backlash to feminism and the progress it has attained for women. Megan Williams, Program Coordinator for the Emily Taylor Center, agreed.

“[Men’s rights advocates] use the language of civil rights to undercut actual inequity,” she said. “It’s really just a reflection of men who are seeing their privilege challenged; seeing the entitlement that they’ve had challenged and thinking that that is oppression or discrimination.”

Men and indebted fathers struggle to reconcile their alarmingly higher rates of experiencing homelessness and being victims of homicide as challenged privileges. Men posting on MensActivism and A Voice for Men often resist the implication that the right to a home and life are privileges to be challenged.

Like McBride, Williams viewed feminism as a solution for the issues central to men’s rights advocates.

“If we’re talking about liberation of men, then that is a feminist project. If we’re talking about a real men’s rights movement, it’s feminism,” Williams said. 

The most urgent men’s rights topic for fathers, however, is the low likelihood of fathers being granted primary guardian custody of their child after a divorce. Custody is six times more likely to be obtained by the mother.

Phil doesn’t identify as an advocate for men’s rights or women’s rights: just a father, if only for five hours a month.

Phil was deployed to work on oil rigs for nine months per year. After four months of working rigs in Saudi Arabian waters, he returned to his home in the deep south to find it empty.

“Everything was gone. Furniture, TVs, kitchen stuff — you name it, it was gone,” Phil said. But, while furniture is replaceable, family is not.

“My heart sank when I knew what she did. All I thought of for months was seeing my wife and kid; maybe watching a movie or something,” Nease said. “Now I don’t even have a TV.”

Phil was the sole working parent while married. While he was on oil rigs, his wife was at home serving as their son’s primary caregiver. According to KU Law Associate Professor Melanie DeRousse, parental roles like those held by Phil and his ex-wife while married limit the outcomes of custody battles.

“Most of the time moms are doing that primary caregiving. The judge wants to maintain that stability for the kids so the kid has access to that attached parent. They’re going to maintain some of that gender disparity that was existing in the relationship into their orders. They’re looking at what will not disrupt the kid’s lives, not some parent’s rights,” DeRousse said.

If the mother serves as the child’s primary caregiver while the father is only parenting during the weekends, the judge will grant joint custody with the father having the kid for the weekend, while the mother maintains the child during the week. Extended periods away from his son while working hurt Phil’s chances of attaining equal joint custody.

Melanie DeRousse said that, while some judges may assume that the kid is better off with his/her mother, “more often than not you have the parties trying to figure out what form of joint custody is going to work for the kid.” DeRousse added that, “Most psychologists would agree with the legislature: joint custody is preferred for the kid.”

As traditional gender roles continue to undergo egalitarian permutations, fathers will begin to attain equal joint custody more frequently. Male mortality rates and mental health still present an issue, however, and men’s rights advocates and feminists view their respective movements as the optimal solution.

A Voice for Men founder Paul Elam argues that feminists preach equality while pursuing favoritism. Annie McBride, Megan Williams and most self-identified feminists disagree, instead viewing feminism as a potential solution for men’s rights issues and equity for all genders.

Both men’s rights advocates and feminists will continue to pursue their ideal of gender equity. Both men’s rights advocates and feminists will continue to provide assistance to men or women suffering through mental illnesses or unforgiving workplaces.

Meanwhile, Phil will be eagerly anticipating his next visitation with his son.

“[My son] likes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I bought him some action figures and Ninja Turtle shirts — stuff like that. Hopefully he likes them; I just wanna see him happy.”

 

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