MA Reconsiders Custody Bias

I have tangled with the Men’s Rights movement before, usually in the comments section of my Good Men Project articles. The most frustrating thing about that crew, besides their vitriolic hate speech towards feminists and the occasional personal insult, is that sometimes they are right.

There are gender biases that cut in all directions, and I don’t think it’s fair for feminists to argue that women always get the brunt of it. Most of the time? Yes (especially in these last trying months). But are there are occasions where men get screwed based on sex-based prejudice? Yes. Should we rectify those as well? Absolutely.

Massachusetts is putting together a task force to reconsider its child custody laws. From the Boston Globe:

“Advocates for custody reform aren’t going away; they are among the loudest and most persistent constituencies to lobby state government today. Their passion bespeaks a genuine need to examine the workings of family courts, and to determine whether some complaints about bias have merit. And while some shared-parenting advocates won’t be satisfied with anything less than joint custody in all cases, others have suggested smaller changes in law and practice that are worthy of discussion. These include tweaks in the language used in domestic relations cases – such as replacing the term “visitation’’ with “parenting time’’ – and changes in the restraining-order process that would encourage more healthy contact between parents and children.”

As the child of a less-than-amicable divorce but a successful joint-custody arrangement, I have strong feelings on the subject. I think the presumptive default should be joint custody, and then you work from there. I don’t think that one situation fits all families (and thus I would not be in favor of a mandated arrangement), but I do believe we need to begin with the assumption that both parents have equal access to and engagement with their children.

Part of my feminism is ceding the assumption that women are “naturally” better parents. Our culture favors caregiving for women and breadwinning for men in a myriad of de facto and de jure ways. We need to fix the legal double standards (i.e .provide parental leave across the board), and we need work to scrub the prejudice from judicial discretion as well. Beginning from a place of equality seems like a good start.

Do women request full custody more often then men? Yes. Will you still likely end up with more custody arrangements that favor the mother, probably yes. But, you will also end up with fewer disenfranchised fathers, and fewer “every other weekend” models, and fewer kids that view their dads as glorified babysitters instead of engaged parents.  Using gender as the launching point for a conversation about custody is unfair to dads, reinforces stereotypes about men and parenting, and deprives kids of seeing their fathers as primary caregivers.

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8 Comments

Filed under Family, Gender

8 responses to “MA Reconsiders Custody Bias

  1. I definitely still consider myself a feminist and not a “humanist” (or whatever vague term people are using these days… “equalist”?). It’s not only women society screws over. And women and men do not get screwed over in equal amounts or in the same ways.

    But sexism against women (what some people call the patriarchy) is still extremely damaging to men, and I don’t find oppression olympics or trying to convince people of their “privilege” to be particularly productive intellectual activities.

    If feminism wants to move forward and actually show up the MRA for the misogynists they really are, we need more feminist bloggers like you to show feminists—and particularly female feminists, not just male feminists or pro-feminists (whichever term you prefer)—care about how the sexism-against-women hurts men too. We just need to dismantle the whole system. It’s not about whatabouttehmenz. It’s about fixing the whole damn thing, and doing so will greatly benefit both women and men.

  2. Bob-O

    “I have tangled with the Men’s Rights movement before, usually in the comments section of my Good Men Project articles.”

    Well, thanks for posting at GMP, and I’m sorry if you feel unwelcome there. That said, you’ve chosen to write about gender, so you have to deal with MRAs.

    I think that most MRAs are coming from the same place – a place of extreme distrust of women, and I think that most of them have reasons for that distrust. In my case, it was a false rape claim. In many more cases, it probably has to do with divorce and custody issues.

    Does that mean that the MRM anti-feminist standpoint is justified? No, no more than the feminist anti-male standpoint is justified because women feel oppressed by men. I think overgeneralization is a human tendency. If a woman burned me, women suck. If a man made me feel like crap, to hell with men.

    I do think the MRM movement is moving slowly towards not being so focused on what women think. Feminists have made it clear that they consider the MRM a hate group, and that’s unlikely to change. I think eventually MRM will discover pushback against feminism is pointless, so will go its own way, without women.

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  4. As someone who has been screwed over three times in child custody seriousness, I totally agree with your statement: “default should be joint custody, and then you work from there…”

    I wish I had that as my foundation from the get go, because my daughter and I have paid the price ever since.

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