by Trish Wilson
ven as fathers are disappearing from the lives of millions of women and children, they’re turning up in newsletters, local activist groups, and cyberspace as members of an outspoken movement for “fathers’ rights” whose declared purpose is to “fight back.” Fight back against what? Against the power of women and children, of course. Although these groups’ public pronouncements are full of high-minded sentiments — a desire to help men to become better fathers, for instance — and platitudes such as “Dads are more than a paycheck,” members are not good fathers seeking support but rather angry men (and women who stand by them) seeking expanded male entitlement. Their private communications are diatribes against child support and in favor of controling women. Not even much lip service is paid to the father-child relationship.
These days, fathers’-rights activists, like right-wing militia sympathizers, are particularly active on the Internet. Some cybergroups, like the Fathers’ Manifesto, actively recruit members and spread misinformation there. The Manifesto is an umbrella organization founded by John Knight, president of the California-based American Institute for Men; and although Knight has reportedly recently been put in prison and Manifesto’s site is no longer on the Internet, signatories from a wide variety of fathers’-rights groups still actively support its agenda: attacking single mothers, whose child-rearing, it claims, is the source of most evils from high crime rates to poor SAT scores. Nationwide, members petition courts for sole father custody — regardless of whether the father has been involved in his children’s lives or even has a history of domestic violence or abuse — and/or lobby for legislative reforms that empower fathers. In this group, highest priority is given to eliminating welfare, food stamps, HUD programs, social security, court-mandated child support, alimony, and “all other transfers of assets which encourage or support fatherlessness.” One timely recommendation, given the new federal Welfare Reform Act, is immediate placement of children with their fathers should the mothers apply for welfare. To quote a recent rant on a “mailing list” (cyberspeak for a closed e-mail discussion group): “Gentlemen, start your custody engines (if mamma is on welfare).” Another cybergroup that also has a website, Men’s Action Network (MAN), seeks to define the new male rights as “safeguards” and to devalue women’s rights by referring to the “radical cultural philosophy that sees men as the enemy, regards the traditional family as a tool to oppress women and sees every male-female relationship as a power struggle.”
|Fathers’-rights groups |
have wormed their way
into mailing lists
devoted to domestic
violence, rape, and
family law, and urge
groups that oppose
What’s a woman to do after these “safeguards” have been put in place? In a recent TALK-MAN message post discussing women, Jimmy (a member of Men’s Health Network, a Washington, D.C.-based organization with indirect ties to Gary Bauer’s Family Research Council) cited his favorite items from a widely circulated list of qualities of the “perfect woman”: “1) Knows when to shut up. 2) Knows when to put out.” In another list posted by Jimmy — forwarded to him by Ben — called “69 Reasons Women Should Not Have Freedom of Speech,” women are mocked with entries such as “27) If they can’t speak, they can’t whine rape. 29) Only one set of lips should be moving at a time.” The most telling quote is “40) The only way women could get equal rights is to give up a lot” — the view of a majority of men in the movement. Jimmy opened this post declaring that Ben’s wife had left him. What a surprise.
A quick look at newsgroup threads (chains of messages and responses) shows the movement’s true agenda — and true depth of misogyny. In a thread called “Father Custody — No Exceptions,” Daniel Amneus, a Manifesto signatory, correlates smaller female brain size to inferior female intelligence. With perplexing bitterness, he writes:
Females earn 42 percent less than males on average, solely because of discrimination, and this lower income has nothing to do with their smaller brains, their lower math skills, their lower verbal skills, their smaller physical size, their weaker muscles, their shorter height, nor their lower stamina? These are minor details which have little effect on the productivity of a worker?
Men’s-rights activists have also wormed their way into mailing lists and newsgroups devoted to domestic violence, rape, and family law in order to derail legitimate discussion. Even more outrageously, the National Council for Men’s newsletter, Men’s and Fathers’ Activism Report, available on the Internet, urges terrorizing any group that opposes its views. By far the most heinous, and illegal, action it has taken is its written support of phone harassment of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Of course, fathers’-rights groups are still taking their agenda into courthouses and state legislatures. There, venom mixed with misrepresentation of the facts is their defining mode. Figures are twisted or used with no source citations at all. When pressed for sources, member/lobbyists get indignant, as recently did Richard Bennett — director of the Silicon Valley chapter of the Coalition of Parental Support (COPS), the organization that sponsored the failed rebuttal presumption for California joint custody, bill AB 999, and also sponsored the recently passed SB 509, which eliminates lifetime alimony. When he was questioned about his astounding claim that the majority of divorced mothers don’t work, Bennett snapped:
Try looking at the Census Bureau’s statistics sometime, and not just your own navel. A majority of married mothers work outside the home, and a majority of unmarried mothers don’t. Now I’ll grant you, a lot of these are never-married Welfare Queens and not actual divorce cases, but even so we have over four million single moms failing to provide for their children, and either counting on the government or on daddy to do the right thing. No wonder they aren’t married.
(Just to set the record straight: Current Population Reports, Census Bureau , shows 70 percent of women who receive child support worked a full month prior to being interviewed.) One solution recommended by many of the groups: Give custody to the wealthier parent, the father.
Anne Mitchell, founder of Fathers Rights and Equality Exchange (FREE, a California fathers’-rights group that has the endorsement of Governor Pete Wilson), quotes a common distortion: that 75 percent of fathers are paying all or some child support in a timely fashion. That figure, from U.S. Census data, doesn’t take into account that the majority of that money is paid not voluntarily but by court order and/or garnishment. And half the women owed child support in the U.S. receive nothing or partial payments.
In fact, fathers are angry that they are being asked to part with their assets and support their families rather than play with all that cash themselves. In newsletters and on the Internet they proclaim that their ex-wives dress the kids in rags (read: comfortable clothing) and spend child-support money on new cars and expensive vacations. They ooze self-righteous anguish, like that of Bill and/or Robbie Fetzner of Wisconsin Fathers for Equal Justice, who posted a note on a mailing list called Family Law-L that “forcing” a father to pay child support — instead, presumably, of waiting for him to volunteer — “hurts the recipient custodial parent just like our current welfare does. And it deeply offends the noncustodial parent-wage earner…. Milking the cow even harder won’t increase the supply, and kicking the giver won’t solve the problem.” (Perhaps jailing will. See “It’s a Crime,” page 18.) Wisconsin Fathers for Equal Justice have infiltrated Wisconsin NOW, which has been brought to the attention of National NOW.
The fathers’-rights movement receives both tax-free federal funding and money from member dues. Women under siege need to do the same. Additionally, feminist women’s groups need to start working with state women’s commissions and the pro-feminist men’s movement in order to counteract propaganda and keep therapists, court personnel, and attorneys accountable for their actions when handing children over to abusive fathers. If elected judges are found awarding children to abusive fathers, they should be voted out of office. Ignorance is deadly; continued monitoring of Internet men’s/fathers’ websites, newsgroups, chat rooms, mailing lists, and harassment of woman-friendly forums is important. Databases of individuals, specific groups, and potentially illegal actions should be maintained. Some of these suggestions are in the works. National NOW’s new Clearinghouse Against Fathers’ Rights, for instance, alerts members to protest proposed fathers’-rights legislation. But more organization is needed. Above all, we must not be silenced by hate speech. Women do have the power and resources to stand up and fight back.
For more information, contact the Clearinghouse Against Fathers’ Rights, National Organization for Women, 1000 16th Street NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20036.
TRISH WILSON is a freelance writer and activist who concentrates on domestic violence issues. She is currently working with the National Organization for Women’s Clearinghouse Against the Fathers’ Rights Movement.