Intimate Partner Violence and the Fathers’ Rights Movement

The fathers’ rights movement is an interesting phenomenon, if only because so many sites in this genre are a curious amalgam of ‘support’ for women and children on the one hand (lip service, really) while at the same time underplaying the undeniable role of patriarchal ‘values’ in sustaining abusive attitudes and behaviors. Therefore, as a movement it cannot really be filed under feminism because it is, in large part, a derogatory response to feminism — one that co-opts the language of feminism in an effort to deny the validity of feminist arguments, including the assertion that such traditional ‘values’ that define male privilege underpins gender-based violence and that persistent opposition to the ERA maintains the economic (and hence, cultural) status quo.

Rather, the  movement should be filed under ‘Anti-Feminism’ and the rhetoric on some of these sites is vitriolic to say the least, if only in comments posted by its most ardent proponents, which are typically abusers. These abusers are not ignorant of what they are supporting, nor are they ignorant of their own abusiveness. They exercise their self-assumed entitlements to superior treatment, superior opportunities, superior pay, and, importantly, unlimited latitude in the way they conduct themselves with intimate partners and the children they father — knowing full well they would never accept such treatment at the hands of women or jurisprudence. They unapologetically support and perpetuate a double standard and seek to preserve the male privilege that until recently has been a culturally accepted paradigm. Their aim is to make sure it stays that way.

While they cannot en masse literally beat women into silence and submission, a growing number do exercise their sometimes considerable economic and political advantage through legal means: by ‘educating’ men about alleged threats to their male privilege (e.g. domestic violence laws and child support enforcement policies; legal aide, advocacy, and shelter to victims of IPV and their children; identification of ‘victim-friendly’ attorneys, judges, counselors, etc.) so that they may work to perpetuate the abuse of former partners through spurious counter-allegations of abuse; allegations of ‘parental alienation’; flagrant misuse of Motions to the court to exhaust the emotional and financial reserves of the abused; lobbying for changes in policies/laws regarding child support, division of property, and civil damages; and lobbying for mandatory joint custody arrangements which keep their abused partners tethered to them until their children are adults.

In sum, the fathers’ rights movement speaks not to men who accept and embrace their responsibilities to their children and seek only to protect themselves from unwarranted malicious attacks on their assets and their character. Rather, it speaks to men who wish to be empowered to manipulate their abused former partners, the children they have in common, and the judicial system in order to preserve their wealth and augment their opportunities to exact retribution on those they hold responsible for the perceived assaults to their male privilege. It is essential that the fathers’ rights movement be critiqued objectively regarding its language and tactics, its influence on the sociocultural, political, and legal landscapes, and the ways in which it intentionally misrepresents the interests of men, women, and children in an effort to promote a damaging and dangerous agenda.

 

[For an excellent and objective treatment of this topic, see: Behre, K. A. (2015). Digging beneath the equality language: The influence of the fathers’ rights movement on intimate partner violence public policy debates and family law reform. William & Mary Journal of Women & the Law. 21(3). Retrieved from http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1408&context=wmjowl%5D

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