On Valentine's Day 2003, three and a half decades after the rise of the feminist movement, American men and women often remain bitterly divided. For many men this division is today symbolized by the fact that thousands of Americans are rallying to the defense of a Texas woman accused of killing her unarmed husband in a jealous rage. Men are asking, "If what this woman did to this man isn't wrong, what is?"
Part of the division between men and women is due to women's legitimate grievances. But much of it is also caused by men's resentment that the very real problems and disadvantages they face as husbands, partners and fathers have been ignored by the media, our lawmakers and by society as a whole. To achieve reconciliation between the genders, it is necessary to address men's grievances.
Many divorced or never-married fathers struggle to remain a part of their children's lives. According to the Children's Rights Council, a Washington-based advocacy group, more than 5 million children each year have their access to their noncustodial parents interfered with or blocked by custodial parents. Since courts rarely afford men any physical custody of their children and are often derelict in enforcing visitation rights, divorced dads are often separated from the children they love.
Just as the feminist movement has been aided by many sympathetic men, today it is women who are often leading the fight for equality and fairness for men and fathers. Women constitute half the membership of the American Coalition for Fathers and Children, the largest fathers' rights organization in the world. These women, who are often the mothers, sisters or second wives of divorced dads, have been instrumental in sponsoring shared parenting legislation that would ensure that fathers have the right to remain a part of their children's lives after a divorce or separation.
Another major concern for men and fathers is discrimination in domestic violence-related matters. Most randomized, two-sex studies of domestic violence show that women are as likely to attack their male partners as vice versa, and studies indicate that women compensate for their smaller size by their use of weapons and the element of surprise. Despite this, misguided women's advocates have sold the government, law enforcement and the public at large on the idea that domestic violence is a crime committed almost exclusively by men against women. This view is so pervasive that in the Texas case, in which a woman described as controlling and abusive was charged with murdering her husband when he tried to leave her, most Americans have failed to recognize what is in fact a textbook example of domestic violence.
As a result of this societal misconception, male victims of domestic violence face an agonizing dilemma. If they defend themselves or call the police, they are often arrested and prosecuted for what is really their partner's violence. If they do nothing, they allow the abuse to continue and possibly escalate. The problem is particularly acute for fathers, since fleeing their abusers leaves their children alone in the custody of a violent individual, and taking their children with them can lead to a kidnapping charge.
Many women have taken the lead in fighting these injustices, including some within the domestic violence services community who have sometimes risked scorn and even their careers to do so. Irene Navero, executive director of the Queens Women's Network, has provided services and outreach to abused men and, along with her colleagues, helped to sponsor a workshop on male victims at the Queens Borough President's Task Force Against Domestic Violence conference last October. The conference was reported to be the first time male victims of domestic violence have ever been discussed in a New York City agency's public forum on domestic violence.
Valentine's Day symbolizes not only the romantic bonds between men and women but also the ways in which we need and depend upon one another. It is for this reason that gender conflict, which cynics often portray as a zero sum game, is actually something far worse. As leading men's issues author Warren Farrell notes, when one gender wins at the expense of the other, both genders lose.
For decades men who resisted equality for women were part of the problem, and feminists were part of the solution. Today many feminists resist recognizing men's and fathers' legitimate grievances and have thus become part of the problem. But many other women have stepped forward to demand fairness for men and fathers. They are part of the solution.
This column first appeared in Newsday (2/12/03).
Glenn Sacks writes about gender issues from the male perspective. He can be reached at .