Thursday, March 29, 2007

More on the Distinction Between Feminists and Man-Haters

A few days ago I sketched out some of the differences between being a Feminist and Man-Hater to set the record straight. Another salient distinction came to mind after I discussed J.S. Mill's The Subjection of Women. We turned to a discussion of the various customs and institutions that perpetuate gender roles that work against political equality for the sexes. A student brought up the unfair policies toward men and paternity leave. I acknowledged that indeed this was a problem for many men who would like to spend quality time at home with a child. That, of course, led me to a further discussion of how the workplace is structured in such a way that makes it nearly impossible for parents to spend any time with their children. I also pointed out that they needed to consider who had the power over crafting leave policies at workplaces!

Then we talked about how men fare in divorce, particularly custody issues. Here is where I would like to make another important distinction between Man-Hater and Feminist. I pointed out how many if not most men do not get custody (even partial) of their children in a divorce (see Fatherneed). The default reasoning for this is not, contrary to what the Men's Rights folks thinks, the product of the feminist revolution. Rather, the reason courts award children to the mother results from patriarchal thought. The idea here is that women are more naturally predisposed to take care of children: make sure they eat on time, get to bed on time, get to practice and whatnot.

It is Man-Hating to say that men are naturally incapable of taking care of children. A student in my class passionately argued that a court should never award 3 children to a 35 year old man. Her reasoning: men are too irresponsible to take care of children. I asked her if she believed that all women were necessarily better equipped to take care of children. She didn't answer right away, but I am sure she said "no."

But then my student proceeded to argue that women were more naturally predisposed to know how to take care of children, i.e. make sure they eat on time, get their rest, have structured play. I was totally taken aback. I can't think of even one of my friends with children who said, "hey, this is easy; it's like I was born to do this." My point was that the only way that men or women learn how to take care of children is by doing it. If women believe that men cannot take care of children, and then don't give them lots of opportunities to learn how, then they will find themselves doing the bulk of the labor of raising children.

Feminists want to see that the division of labor in childcare is equitable. Man-Haters want to rob fathers from any meaningful opportunity to take care of their children. Man-Haters are far more plagued, furhermore, by sexist gender roles than feminists.

P.S. It should go without saying that I don't think that violent and abusive men should be awarded custody. But the grounds for a man being violent and abusive are not established based on marital spats, which lead to a divorce.