It's a misguided notion that speaking out against "fathers' rights" is anti-male gender bias.

Prior to the 1960s, women rarely could get out of marriages in which they were abused or just plain miserable.  In order to obtain a divorce, they had to prove "fault." Some of the first speakers against the fault-based laws, and against the difficulty women had in leaving marriages in which they were unhappy were feminists.  Before much changed, however, mens' rights groups discovered that the words and ideas of feminism could in fact cleverly be turned around and used against women, and for the advantage of men.

Thus it began...

The pattern of women's making gains on one hand without realizing that something else has been taken from them on the other has been one of the pervasive problems for feminist activism.

One of the reasons it's been able to happen is that women by and large simply have been newbies in the political process. Women have not even yet become astute about the impact of compromised agendas, or visionary about how compromises and nice-sounding rhetoric will "pan out" in practice and down the road.

Additionally, women's information networks move slow -- much slower than the existing old boy networks, which are highly organized, both formally and informally.  Consider how the father's rights activism has permeated the internet over the past few years, making noise. creating new organizations, and establishing "names" and "credentials" for itself far out of proportion to the numbers of men actually involved.

Changes Without Progress.

What has happened over the last thirty years in family law legislation has been, in the main, for women, a series of gains on the one hand coupled with reversals on the other, all of which have occurred without fanfare or critical media commentary or, outside of very limited feminist legal scholarship circles, much of any feminist awareness.  Why.

First, as more and more women moved into the workforce during the 70s (as much the result of economic factors as any success of the feminist movement), anti-mother, pro-career rhetoric was picked up strongly by the media.

The media liked the career-woman theme because, well, frankly, it was trendy.  Different. Free sex, bra-burning, the E.R.A... gender-neutrality was stylish.  Titillating.

During this period, as they gained recognition of workplace inequities, women went from leery to terrified of showing much overt interest in family and children, lest they lose hard-won and still-unsecured employment and lifestyle choices, and women's "place" be redefined again for them as *only* wives and mothers.

The woman versus woman nonsense (careerist versus homemaker) largely was (and still is) misunderstood. It is just a variation on the old popular theme (slut versus madonna) which, by labelling women, seeks to limit and control them. When we are not whole, and denied a part of ourselves, or the ability to be true to ourselves, we have lost power. And when those who have accordant interests nevertheless believe that reality is otherwise, then they are not a powerful and united group. Not recognizing this, however, many students of 70s feminism, in attempting to avoid being limited as "girls," and "housewives," bought into the woman-dividing in its insideous 70s variation. [liznote #1]

Then as now, both women and men, including feminists, fell (and still fall) for this simplistic either-or characterizing of "kinds of women."

And falling for this, as far too many self-identified feminists in fact did through the 70s and into the 80s, and out of misplaced fear that continuing interest in their families would harm women's rights progress on other fronts, all major feminist and women's organizations have, until very recently, sorely neglected the family law arena. They focused instead on the peripheral impacting domestic violence and abortion rights areas, as well as a gender-neutral ("we can do it just like-- just as good as -- men") focus on employment rights.

Never mind that most women DO get married and have children. The intense fear of defining ALL women as wives and mothers created an arguable paramount priority. Whether justifiable or merely excusable, it was a short-sighted priority. (After all these years, we still don't have decent child care options, do we. Or an economic workplace reflecting that it itself exists FOR the benefit of individuals and families, the enhancement of life, and the good and functioning of society generally, and not vice versa.)

Lack of a holistic feminist policy and vision.

Family law has been the area of most academic feminist ignorance and least feminist activism, largely due to the fact that motherhood and older women's lives never have been and *still* are not the subjects naturally of most interest to young, scholarly college women. Family issues also have not seemed terribly pressing to women who do not choose to marry men and have children -- and many of these women disproportioniately are feminist activists, precisely because traditional patriarchal notions of women's roles offer nothing for them.

Added to this, of course, is that, good intentions aside, there are some things that a person just has to live to actually understand.  Like what one's children mean and really involve in time, effort and emotional investment.

While cultural womanhood freely embraces, or at least gives lipservice to notions of "sisterhood," an ageless and roleless and safe term right out of childhood, note, the culture's often schizophrenic, negative and limiting woman-labelling has, perhaps, prevented an empathetic identification of all grown women with "motherhood." (Contrast the readily embraced, frequently metaphorized, and always respected notions of "fatherhood.")

But perhaps the biggest reason the importance of family laws to women's lives has not been conveyed successfully to the feminist front-lines has been that women with children, and especially women on welfare, are overall the most isolated, poorest and least-connected group in the society, and the group that has the least time for activism.

The "Feminization of Poverty."

What happens to women and children after divorce? They struggle, and struggle mightily! The question is: why haven't decades and decades of broadening career and educational opportunities yet assured women of economic viability? Well, yes, there's the discrimination in the workplace, overt and covert, in all the ways and all the kinds we know about.  But the real answer is simply that women STILL bear and care for the children in this world.  This is not "equal," it's not "gender-neutral," and it never will be. [See liznotes on primary parenting and the effects of pregnancy.]

Both men and women each get the same 24 hours in a day, but by and large, women with children have to allocate their time between two jobs.  NO ONE can be in two places at the same time, doing two incompatible things at the same time, both caring for children and a household AND earning a living.  A list of economic studies [#2] compiled by Lynn Hecht Shafran illustrates how this pans out post-divorce, once the support system of marriage is no longer in place (it's not debatable.)

The following is from an article by Harriet Newman Cohen, author of The Divorce Book for Men and Women, Avon Books l994, and a partner in the matrimonial law firm of Cohen Hennessy & Bienstock, in New York City:

"Fourteen years have elapsed since the equitable distribution law was passed in New York (on June l9, l980) and even more since similar "reforms" were passed, including no-fault divorce on demand in parts of the country.

"No more "alimony drones," the phrase to describe the bum rap women suffered in the seventies and earlier, when alimony was all a woman could get in courts that were not statutorily empowered to divide up property.

"With the "new laws," women traded long-term, even lifetime, alimony for anticipated property distribution and the promised dignity that would accompany it...

"We start with assumptions [about]... the relative worth of each party. She... is supported, dependent, and a receiver at his sufferance. These views are frequently held by him, her, the lawyers, and the courts -- throwbacks to another era. They are reinforced by society. After all, the government has refused to enact laws entitling homemakers to Social Security and IRA contributions based on their homemaking services.

"And people still ask mothers, "Do you work?" It smarts. Outside the house in "gainful" employment, do they mean? The principles of equal partnership characterized by different work assignments in a marriage have not caught hold...

"... The equitable distribution laws that were supposed to reform family law premised that women who had been out of the paid work force to raise children and be homemakers -- or simply out of the work force because that was the partners' deal -- could be recycled (i.e. reeducated, retrained, and deployed into a higher-paying job) in short order.

"Before that dubious premise could even be tested, short-term spousal support -- about five years even for a long-term marriage -- became the norm. "No-fault" states also became "no support" states. Yet studies showed that a five-year turnaround period... was not enough. Routinely, his standard of living went up, and hers and the children's went down. A new phrase was born: the feminization of poverty... "

--Family Advocate Summer l994, American Bar Association

Over the last twenty or thirty years, in many respects, divorce laws have become more and more punitive and dangerous for women.

In the beginning.

Women used to have difficulty getting out of marriages. Traditionally, in patriarchal societies, even today around the world, and in our culture until the last century, women simply had no effective way to get divorced. Divorce largely was a male prerogative. In the rare instances in which women had this legal option, often they effectively were kept in marriage by economic disabilities that prevented them from having any real choice to go it alone.

Even after some of the economic barriers to women's obtaining divorces began to dissolve, in order to gain the permission of the state to dissolve what only "until death do us part," egregious fault had to be proved.  By the 20th century, however, for those women who in fact WERE in the most abusive of marriages, that fault could be proven -- and proving it meant custody of the children and some award of support (which wasn't always paid, but at least the need for it was recognized.)  In addition, in all those marriages in which MEN wanted out, women had a "bargaining chip" in the fault laws: they could refuse a divorce unless they received a fair property settlement and alimony.

This is not to say that there weren't BIG problems of other kinds with fault-based divorce, or with many of the other divorce and family laws preceding the current era. [See, e.g. the comments by U. S. Civil Rights Commission in connection with its support for the failed Equal Rights Amendment.]

One problem with fault-based divorce was that while men would just leave marriages without obtaining a divorce, economic pragmatics effectively prevented women from "abandoning" their marriages in this way. Lest they be found themselves to have "abandoned" their marriage for unwarranted reasons, and in the absence of being able to prove "fault" based on other grounds, "non-abandoned" women frequently found themselves stuck in miserable situations. Those who were in the worst situations, however, ultimately could get their divorces. And where men were the ones found to be "at fault," or who wanted out of their marriages in order to remarry, the fault-based laws did offer some protections for the "not-at-fault" spouse in the way of bargaining power. The men found to be "at fault" paid. But those women who just could not adequately prove the degree of fault required, or who had less than exemplary marital track records themselves were in trouble. Proving what few or no third parties may have observed behind the closed doors of a marital home (or a paramour's bedroom) was not always feasible. Physical abuse did not always amount (legally) to "mental cruelty." And so feminists from suffragette days onward campaigned for reforms to enable women to more easily get a divorce when they needed or desired one.

Ironically, though, while feminists had long sought reforms that would enable women to end marriages that were untenable, as the divorce laws began to loosen and as substantive economic and procedural reforms began to achieve more parity and safety for women, by the time the no-fault divorce laws were enacted, they actually were enacted for, and in ways that benefitted, not women, but men.

Although many women still believe that "no-fault" somehow was the end result of women's long-sought-after marriage dissolution rights, "no-fault" ultimately was the way men counter-moved to evade their worsening "held hostage" situation of having to make property settlements and pay alimony (and the more fault the more alimony) as divorce became more easily and safely obtainable by women. The "no-fault" language was presented as the logical extension of "making divorce easier to obtain," and it was cleverly and timely coupled with a distorted application of 70s feminist rhetoric about women's "independence" and supporting themselves. "Fault" as a basis for equitable remedy in connection with a divorce was abandoned right along with "fault" as a ground for divorce.

Once the no-fault divorce laws, coupled with gender-equality/neutrality rhetoric took hold in the late 70s and early 80s, the bad news for women was that in all but seven states in the country, most of the marital property was titled solely in husband's names -- and they walked out with it upon divorce.

In addition, with the discarding of fault as the basis for equitable remedy in divorce, "no-fault" presumptions actually came down hardest on, and yielded the worst outcomes for precisely those women who suffered the most during their marriages to abusive, nonsupporting, or dysfunctional men! One step forward, two steps back. [liznote #3]

"Equitable Distribution" and "Equality."

Once the problems with "no-fault" divorce (as it had been fashioned) started to become apparent, another wave of "divorce reform" via "corrective" legislation started rolling along, and it came about largely in the way of something known as "equitable distribution."  But that wasn't all. It is no accident that timing-wise, it followed in the 80s right on the heels of women's greater entry into the workforce in the 70s, and feminists' clamoring for equality. Mens-rights forces coopted the idea of equality, and turned it back into their favor, using the the same "equitable" language. To this day, many persons -- judges and scholars included -- have difficulty distinguishing between the terms "equitable," and "equal."

The claim was made by men and bought by many women, including (or even particularly) many self-described feminist women, that inasmuch as men and women now were "equal partners," and inasmuch as women would be getting an "equitable distribution" upon divorce, women should no longer "childishly" depend on being "supported."

The women who fell for this, a good percentage of them optimistic young women, often childless, in academia, and also women lawyers, many married to successful and supportive men, and also "overachiever" types desperate to be seen to be as fully as capable as their male peers, unfortunately pretty much represented the "consensus" of women's voices heard from on these issues. They were the only women who HAD a "voice" and a platform from which to be heard. (This problem remains pervasive today in connection with women's issues in areas outside of domestic violence activism and abortion rights.)

The mens-rights interests succeeded in coupling most of the equitable distribution laws with anti-alimony laws.

The (faulty or fraudulent, you pick) thinking was: why should women be supported if they are "equal?" Divide the accumulated marital "partnership" property, and then henceforth, the former husband and wife would have "equal opportunity" to work and support themselves. [liznote #4]

But fifty-year-old women, who had spent all of their married lives moving where their husbands had moved, entertaining his clients or working for his business, or simply picking up all of life's other chores and child-rearing to enable him to work, found themselves being told that they could "rehabilitate" themselves, and that they had "equal opportunity" to work.

Such thinking ignores that in commencing the economic race ten, twenty or thirty years behind out of the starting gate, there simply is never going to be any kind of catch-up. There's no catch-up in salary levels or overall career achievement, there's no catch-up in pension plan vesting, and there's no catch-up in post-marriage asset accumulation. Equitable distribution standing alone is a particularly noxious remedy where, for one reason or another, at the time of the divorce, there isn't much marital property to be "equitably divided," and the couple's biggest maritally-developed asset, the result of the joint efforts of both, is the husband's future earning power. And it's a double-whammy when women, already operating under THIS impairment, also have children to continue to care for.

For young women, with one or several infants and young children, not only have fewer marital assets accumulated or pension plans vested, but also it's just not reasonable to expect that an individual with children to care for -- even a mother with the very same education, experience and ability as her former husband -- will be able to earn equivalently to her ex-husband.

Without even getting into the employment sector barriers which still exist, it's flat-out not possible to both care for children and work in outside employment at the same time. Either childcare or financial care is needed. Even with babies warehoused for inappropriate and unhealthy amounts of time in third party care, the cost of such care leaves mothers with little or no earnings remaining after taxes and other expenses of employment. Even with optimal child care, mother's employment is hampered by contraints on travel, distance, hours, overtime, emergency flexibility, sick children, breastfeeding requirements, daytime errands, and the weight of "buck-stops-here" responsibility for little others' lives.

THE CUSTODY WARS by Mary Ann MasonThe rise of joint custody theory and politics.

By the time the flaws in equitable distribution/no-alimony schemes became apparent in the late 70s and 80s, divorce reform was humming long at breakneck speed, along with an increase in divorces, breeding its own systemic problems to be addressed (such as more courts.) A more sophisticated political wave and a counter-wave rose at the same time, posing as an ostensible "fix."

To mend some of the holes left by the first equitable distribution laws, in the 80s, feminist activists helped get recognition for women's contributions to mens' schooling and careers, and helped strengthen "rehabilitative alimony" laws, and child support laws. As these bills came into legislatures, however, they threatened to take from men their beloved possessions.

While feminists worked to enact laws that would help women retain their share of some of the economic security they had "in partnership" helped accumulate, along came joint custody theory and joint custody laws -- once again, using feminists' own words about equality against them, and in a weird way, rendering children yet another possession for equitable division.

The (faulty or fraudulent, you pick) thinking was: If women are entitled to seek equality in the workforce, well, then men are entitled to seek it in custody laws. Equity and the interests of the children be damned. Never mind that women who had achieved some personal semblance of "equality" in the workforce had in fact taken considerable initiative to do so, gaining the education and experience, and putting in the requisite time and effort toward that career. In the home, men, on the whole had done nothing much different from what they always had done, with only minor increases in male parenting time with children, largely in the area of recreational time.

Affirmative action? This is hardly the time for it. It's not the time for it, even if "affirmative action" in the workplace were analogous to a theory of "affirmative action" by one divorcing mother to benefit one husband. And it's hardly analogous given that children are not property to be divvied up and experimented with like just so many entry-level jobs or freshman class openings.

One of the specious arguments goes: this will free up mothers' time, enabling them to work, and improving the quality of their life!  Ridiculous. If an alternate custody arrangement were beneficial to a particular mother, she hardly would need to have it mandated by law. Half-time children don't free up full-time career needs: few employers pay full time salaries plus benefits for part time work. Or offer jobs of one week on, one week off. Nor are women's lives in the throes of divorce and afterward likely to be improved by adding economic pressure and visitation packing and schlepping onto everything else they have to do, not to mention "negotiating" childcare minutiae with a hostile ex.

The ideas about "equal parenting" and "fathers are parents too," etc. are about men's wants, not "equality" vis a vis women, and *certainly* not about children' needs! It's all about men, who, having taken advantage of women's different reproductive and child-rearing role during marriage, and having made no effort during marriage to take on an equalizing *greater* share of the housework, suddenly, upon divorce, realizing that it would be cheaper to replace the mother altogether with the second wife (or the girlfriend, or the housekeeper, or grandma.)

Joint custody is a backlash response to the increased enforcement of men's post-divorce financial obligations. The primary political goal is the reduction (or elimination altogether) of the payment of child support. Of secondary appeal is the promise it holds out for two separate autonomous and ostensibly "equal" households, minimizing the need for contact and cooperation with the ex-wife.

Joint custody also appeals to those individuals who seek to regain the means to continue to control the family members they once controlled. In practice, it frequently devolves post-order and over time into a time-share arrangement that differs little from traditional sole custody with visitation (but differs a lot in the amount of the child support order.) Where this does NOT happen, that's because the male-option-granting joint custody order is sought and used as a means for a later second bite at the custody determination apple. Joint custody (in both forms, legal and physical) is a legally-engineered decision-delayer, and a stepping-stone for use by the nonprimary parent in marriage to later seek and obtain full custody. IF he wants to. He's free to come and go, start another family, move or not, always paying less child support than he otherwise would have paid. Well what about his wanting to "parent" his child? Where this isn't about something a bit squeamish and mawkish, chances are very good it's all about replacing the fungible woman/mother/caregiver with one he prefers, and maybe even "saving" some money in the process.

The parent seeking joint custody is almost always that parent who would not be the custodial choice on an up-front either-or determination. After a few years, however, and perhaps a new wife, and coupled with the decreased financial support and ostensible "increased involvement" that accompanies "shared parenting" schemes, it sets up men as the advantaged party in a later custody redetermination de novo (another side benefit.) The need for a redetermination down the road is virtually guaranteed, when, as should have been predicted, joint custody is found to be unworkable over the long haul. [See Nick's comments on this issue.]

Unwed father's rights.

At first, after the enactment of no-fault divorce, and perhaps with the increased social rhetoric of equality making unhappy marriages even less tolerable, where once they would have remained, miserable "for the sake of the kids" -- especially since fault-ground divorce was a long, drawn-out process anyway -- more and more women began filing for divorce in the earliest years of their marriages. As they did, however, and with small children, it became clear that instead of the egalitarian partnership that those who had pushed for the original family law reforms had sought to create, the original no-fault changes themselves had created new inequities. While Band-aid revision after Band-aid revision was enacted in every state, and with each correction in the laws, along came a new set of "unforeseen" hurdles and counterproductive consequences, all moving toward putting women back in their traditional place.

In response to women's legal and social ability to leave marriage, and to the correction after correction in the laws impeding them, and to the simultaneous trend of women marrying later or shunning marriage altogether (coinciding with women's increased entry into the employment sector), the men's rights, and religious right anti-abortion forces became more agitated and threatened, and more and more vocal. Anti-abortion, anti-divorce, anti-welfare and "pro-family/fathers" sentiment grew throughout the capitalistic, merger-and-acquistion 80s. While this trend was observed, all of ts manifestations and repercussions were not. This had an interesting effect.

Women's groups happily (and shortsightedly) bought into the anti-welfare pro-child support movement initiated by those whose actual primary interest was in reducing government spending and replenishing welfare coffers, and whose secondary interest was in re-restricting women's freedom to "break up" families by reimposing the old economic disabilities that had for centuries forced women to get into marriages and remain married.

In joining in the movement seeking increases in child support guidelines and stronger enforcement neasures, women missed the concurrent fathers-rights countermotion. Once again couched in the rhetoric of equality, father's rights groups used some of the very same arguments to achieve a surge of support for father's rights, including the revolutionary UNWED father's rights, all under the same guise of "parental responsibility." Even many feminists embraced "equal parental responsibility" rhetoric along with the post-hippy-era California notion of "joint custody," which ironically, set up the perfect ploy toward an ultimate agenda of doing away with child support altogether!!

Pushing for "child support" post-divorce as "parental responsibility" appealed to feminists for several reasons. First, it eliminated the need to argue roles and choices in marriage, and all those distasteful issues of women's economic dependence -- a continuing factor notwithstanding two decades of second wave feminism and women's entry into the workforce. Second, it provided a way to enable financial support for mothers that did not carry the negative connotations of "alimony." It looked "neutral" and unassailable as a theory. It would be fair, and predictable, and not subject to the vagaries of who had the better lawyer, or a judge's discretionary biases.

But there is no "responsibility" without concurrent "rights." And there's the kicker.

All the focus on child support (child support being "owed" to the child and all), kept the scholar's focus away from examining issues of marriage, contract, and support that might in fact be owed to a *woman* who has, at great and usually lifetime cost to herself far in excess of the mere loss of current income, provided a man with the child or children to which he lays equal claim.

Collecting "child support," and talking about "parental responsibility" felt much more palatable to those women who had bought into being shamed at the idea of receiving support for themselves (that alimony drone argument.) And it came packaged in the gender-neutral surface appeal, if one did not dig deeper, of the "equality words." As could have been predicted, the "parental responsibility" rhetoric was swiftly plucked up by the anti-woman forces straight from the child support arena and plunked down into the child custody arena, where many bought it.

The "parental responsibility-child support" bandwagon also lent itself wonderfully to louder and louder finger-pointing cries of unwed welfare mother "irresponsibility." While the FRs were quick to seize upon the usage "deadbeat dad" as unfairly painting all divorced men in a ngative light (a specious claim to begin with), neither they nor the government nor the media have had any compunction against blaming nearly all of the society's problems on "feminism" and "single motherhood."

Even as the financial detriments still facing women post-divorce were becoming apparent, the stage was being set for widespead propaganda against single mothers generally, previously married or not, responsibe or not. Feminists missed the big picture, and continued to carry the child support ball, originally thrown by the anti-welfare set, of pushing for more and more (and more and more draconian) "child support enforcement." They pushed for it without thinking about or making any cognitive distinction between child support for previously married women (an idea arising out of marriage contract and divorce law theory and substituting for what probably should have been alimony in the first place) and child support "for the children" of never-married women (an idea with no basis in jurisprudential logic, supported by those interested solely in reducing government spending, and believed in by those who never understood that "for the child" was a subrogation fiction.)

While all this was occurring, young women were busily resolving to have their families anyway, but in a new feminist-inspired and "responsible" planned way: to prepare for them first with educational and economic achievement and then, once careers were set, if no compatible partner came along, to just "go it alone." Young women who still planned on marriage were encouraged with the idea that if they only "established" themselves in a career first, they could avoid economic dependency in marriage when babies came along. [liznote: probably not.] Focusing on this notion, though, ended up delaying marriage and motherhood for educated women generally, and thwarted the likelihood of marriage for some women -- but pointing this out has been seen as subversive fear-mongering.

Murphy Brown, et al. instead became the better, and trendy but fleeting feminist answer. It won't be permitted to succeed as a solution.

Economically and socially viable unwed motherhood is the ultimate in women's independence -- complete autonomy over their own bodies, lives and families, IF they wish it. Not that most women would ever really want lives without partners, but recognizing that reality does not appear in the anti-feminist position for a number of reasons.

Women's merely having the OPTION to bear and rear children and go life alone without men would grant women the complete and unfettered marital bargaining power that nature's biology originally gave them, as well as a powerful chip to play in achieving full equal social gender status, notwithstanding motherhood.

It's a threatening prospect, particularly to men who have had women leave them, or who have doubts about their own self-worth, abilities and desirability. And so it only added more fuel to the backlash fires.

The response to "Murphy Brown" was that mens-rights groups (using the rubrik of gender equality) successfully started to advocate for the ultimate control over adult women's bodies and lives: fathers' rights completely outside of marriage, and with no obligations at all to the *mothers* of their children. The push to seek child support from unmarried fathers provided the perfect tit-for-tat "equitable" argument, and guaranteed an easy ride for this absolute nonsense.

Some scholars, e.g. Martha Fineman, have recognized that "unwed father's rights," never before widely acknowledged in the history of the world, and an idea that that largely has cropped up in the United States only in the last 15-20 years, is essentially the imposition back again on women of the marriage laws, a definition of the family as man-woman-child, and a way for the government to get around women's thinking that they are free to conduct their lives, bear children, or use their own bodies as they will outside of the constraints of marriage or men's approval and collaboration.

However, THIS imposition of "family" laws on women's sexual and reproductive independence comes without ANY history or promise of relationship or obligation of the fathers to the mothers of the children. All of the detriments without even a semblance of benefit.

If marriage ever was *anything* remotely partnership in the abstract social theory, it was the bargain by which a woman shared her reproductive investments, her children, and unrecupable time and effort from her life in return for a supportive partner. But patriarchal notions and social, economic and political disabilities traditionally imposed on women in order to force them to enter and remain in marriage as the ONLY viable route open to them, cheapened women's worth and reduced their "bargaining power" and expectations in return for what they had to "trade." An "agreement" made under duress and disability is hardly an equal partnership arrangement.

Patriarchy 's promise to the loyal troops and patriots and believers and followers, is that the behavior from them that will be rewarded with a "chick in every pot" is effort for and in support of the sovereign, not devotion to a woman. Women are not life partners, but possessions and spoils. It's a system of maintaining sovereign authority. Male sovereign authority.

In supporting notions of child support obligations and "equal parental responsibility" OUTSIDE of marriage, OUTSIDE of a contracted-for relationship and "deal," women have been DISabling their bargaining power and their hopes for appropriate laws and equal power IN marriage, IN partnership with men, and as mothers. Since most women will be mothers during their lifetimes, this has the domino effect of disempowering all women generally in all other spheres of life.

The upshot is that in the family laws, women have taken one or two steps forward, and then one or two steps back. Women have made, on balance, NO gains at all in rectifying gender inequity in marriage and divorce.

And if women have no equality in marriage and in their personal lives, then they have no equality in the workforce, either. "Equal pay" is an illusion when there's an unequal personal price that has to be traded for it. [See liznote on gender neutral inequality.]

The Father's Rights Movement.

"Men's rights" began as germ of an idea born of feminism's equality notions, and feminism's pointing out the real ways in which patriarchy has harmed and also controls men. But don't kid yourself that that's what it's really about. Words are easy to use. And when it comes down to politics, very few persons are interested in social theories that don't make a good rationale for laws that appear to address for them their immediate personal desires and disappointments.

"Father's rights" is a synonym for "mens rights," since ultimately, everything -- from the success of the economic systems in place to the religions to the politics -- boils down to patriarchal control of the efforts and fruit of women's bodies and lives.

The groups that are fighting women's efforts on anti-domestic violence laws are "fathers' rights" groups. The groups that are against laws protecting children from child abuse are "fathers' rights" groups. The groups that seek to prevent women from obtaining divorces, or to continue marital controls and rights over them even if they do via shared or father custody, and child support and alimony manipulation are "father's rights" groups.

Listen closely: whether they couch their ideas in terms of religion or liberalism, and regardless of whether they disagree on a particular route or rhetoric, e.g. "joint custody" versus "father custody," listen for the theme in common. Whether it's about the "Father in Heaven," or the "Founding Fathers," or "parenting fathers," there's one paramount interest that's shared, and it isn't about women's -- or children's -- best interests. [See liznotes on the father's rights movement.]

Oh you'll hear a lot about "children's rights," too. When all other arguments are shown up as specious, they have no choice but to fall onto that one. But it's not about children at all. At least not in the sense of being a hands-on caregiver. It's about doing what's good for men and controlling women.

Odd, isn't it, that when the mothers of men's children are under their control, fathers aren't complaining about not being the caregiver. [See liznotes on joint custody, and in response to Wade Horn's position on "fatherlessness." Also see a divorced father's opinion.]

Whether it's a group which has coopted the rhetoric of gender-neutrality and equality, or whether it's a group that makes no bones about being dead-set against feminism, it's one and the same thing: these are still the old boy networks, and with their recruits and their literal armies of grunt foot-soldiers, they still have the connections, wealth, power, political acumen and propaganda machines to decimate women's rights if feminists -- if women -- don't wake up soon.

The propaganda often *sounds* innocuous. Who could be against "equal rights?"

Who would agree that they are not an "independent" or "self-sufficient" woman?

The rhetoric of gender bias has been turned against women, and sadly, it's been bought, hook, line and sinker by more than a few.

(And I'm talking to some of you women lawyers out there, too, who are so indoctrinated in male ways of perceiving the world -- and some, still so hung up on male approval -- that you don't use the brains and training you should have to see what's right in front of your nose!)

Every time women have made a gain in the family laws, whether married, divorced or single, if they had children, the fathers-rights backlash has responded. Proportionately, women have got poorer and poorer financially, and more and more constrained in their freedom, while fathers-rights groups have got enacted laws and amendments to laws that more and more will keep the mother of/and any child of theirs within their control, given that they now cannot do that through preventing divorce. (Although, note, divorce prevention rhetoric appears to be the next bandwagon song, and from there it will be only a short step to "really doing something" with "teeth in it.")

It would appear that the (only) way for any woman to keep her life completely outside the dictates of a man would be for the woman grow to adulthood, not marry, and to not have children at all. But this appearance is deceptive, too. In not supporting mothers IN motherhood and marriage, women who want none of it at all remain at risk and in numbers far too small and powerless to ensure their own options.

Under a pure patriarchy, even the option to remain childless is denied women. Hand-in-hand with the unwed father's rights movement, more and more men, and not for religious, but for political reasons, also have been demanding the end to abortion rights and demanding the right to "input" over the abortion decision, along with demanding that unwed fathers get a veto power over a woman's giving her baby up for adoption. It's no mere "oversight" that insurance companies generally don't cover women's contraceptive health care, but have rushed right in to offer the new "viagra."

The men's clamoring notwithstanding, remaining unmarried and childless is not any solution for most women on a more basic ground. They like men, they want to be married with a partner, and they want to have children and families that include a lifetime partner!  In the last decade, there has been plenty of documentation of childless women in their thirties and forties and up questioning their having had to accept child-free/family-free lives as the price of "equality" and freedom -- a price that men have never had to pay.

Note the agonizing from feminists on both sides of this issue. As with the "mommy-track" issue, those who fear the loss of gains in the employment sector, and the loss of lifestyle choices, immediately suspect, and not without some credible evidence, that the media brouhahas over these kinds of reports are moved, at least in part, by the ulteriorly motivated, backlash propaganda attempting to turn back the clock on women's choices. Other women, often those who have come to some awakening upon their actually having children, but with full feminist goals and sympathies nevertheless intact, are conflicted as to how to deal with these issues and the division in the feminist community over it. These latter women (I submit these are most women) would welcome the opportunity to be able to *choose* to take a relatively small period of their lives in which to focus on and care for the children they *do* have, without suffering life-long economic punishment and repercussions as a result.


Since permanent singlehood just isn't a viable choice for most women, feminist efforts in the 70s and 80s did try to recharacterize marriage and alternative relationships as a "partnership."

A great deal of lipservice (and you'll hear it from some younger and childless women) still is given to the notion of the "new man," i.e. men's "sharing" of homemaking and parenting. It's very fashionable for young, childless couples, as well as professional-type young couples with one young child to babble about their equal arrangements. Lots and lots of media coverage and movies about those Mr. Moms reinforce it. The grand ideas didn't get implemented in any widespread practice; only the rhetoric did. The arrangement just doesn't work in real lives. And the rhetoric will never become the reality. [See liznotes primary parenting article.] It's had its opportunity, and we're well past that now. (Even in the "egalitarian" Scandinavian countries that have given men fully-paid childcare leaves, men rarely take them -- when they have, it's frequently been used as a vacation -- and Norway had to go so far as passing legislation in 1998 requiring men to take childcare leaves against their will!)

It's also about words that easily are misunderstood and coopted for distorted ideas by the male-power contingent, e.g. Warren Farrell et al. Gender-neutral participation arguments are misleading when most families have, if any children, more than one. "We share everything" sounds just so easy to the newly coupled and childless, or the equal professionals, in love, in commitment, and with one child and plenty of money. Almost all of them are in for a rude awakening.

The reality is: men's "equal participation" in either homemaking or childcare during marriage is a myth. Save for the exception which proves the rule and the isolated case, it hasn't happened, and in the main, it never will.

Many women over the past couple of decades, even feminists and scholars have indeed bought into notions of "equal partnership" that a little thinking could have foreseen would actually result in women's both bearing and rearing children for men, and providing half or more of the family support -- two steps back to *doubly* servicing men! Doing two jobs to his one. That's not equality! [The Whirlpool Foundation Study 5/10/95 found that in 45% of intact households, women provided half to all of the income.]

Women going it utterly alone? The fathers-rights answer has been the attack on welfare, the attack on jobs programs, and to slander single motherhood as the cause of crime and immorality.

A compromise alternative? Nonmarital "egalitarian" partnerships with no protections and no guarantees?

Unwed father's rights. All the burdens without even the semblance of benefits or relationship history that was marriage.

Father's rights is about control of women, and it comes in many flavors ...whatever it takes to make sure that women will never have the option of living a life in which they are permitted to use their own uteruses and keep the children they grew in them without first obtaining the blessing of, or submitting their lives and freedom to live them as they choose to some measure of control by a man.

When I talk against the "fathers' rights" groups, immediately I am accused of "daddy-bashing." Nonsense. "Father's Rights" isn't the counterpart to some "Mother's Rights" organization -- how many of these as feminist groups have you EVER even heard of (!) (WHERE are they!!?)

It's clever propaganda.

"You're a feminist -- or a lawyer, or an educated individual, or a fair person. You wouldn't be against something that stood for equality, would you?"

"You wouldn't advocate for fairness for mothers but not fathers, would you?"

You wouldn't be in favor of a group that called itself "Anti-woman's Rights" now WOULD you? C'mon. Smarten up.


liznote 1. Notice that now, in the 90s, that women have made gains in the employment arena and have turned some focus back to family considerations, the media has begun a campaign of blasting working women.  It's always been the most fun to pit women against each other, and define women as one-dimensional subhumans. RETURN TO TEXT


The Advisory Committee on Women in the Courts, "Report on the Financial Impact of Divorce in Rhode Island" (November l991)

Baker, Barbara, "Family Equity at Issue: A Study of the economic Consequences of Divorce on Women and Children," Alaska Bar Association, Alaska Women's Commission (l987)

Bell, Rosalyn B., "Alimony and the Financially Dependent Spouse in Montgomery County, Maryland," 22 Family Law Quarterly 225 (Fall l988)

Brett, Leslie J., Sharon T. Shepela & Janet Kniffen, "Women and CHildren Beware: The Economic Conseqences of Divorce in Connecticut" (Summer l990)

Garrison, Marsha, "Good Intentions Gone Awry: The Impact of New York's Equitable Distribution Law on Divorce Outcomes," 57 Brooklyn Law Review 621 (1991)

Gerval, Jean M. & Carelle Muellner Stein, "Spousal Support in Minnesota: Where Are We Going?" 6 Minnesota Family Law Journal 29 (1993)

Hammer, Heather, "The Economic Impact of Divorce in Hawaii," Preliminary Report to the Hawaii Supreme Court Committee on Gender and Other Fairness (December l993)

McGraw, Robert E., Gloria J. Sterin & Joseph M. Davis, "A Case Study in Divorce Law Reform and Its Aftermath," 20 Journal of Family Law 443 (l982) [Ohio]

McLindon, James B., "Separate But Unequal: The Economic Consequences of Divorce for Women and Chidlren," 21 Family Law Quarterly 351 (l990)

Rowe, Barbara R. & Alice M. Morrow, "The Economic Consequences of Divorce in Oregon after Ten or More Years of Marriage," 24 Williamette Law Review 463 (l988)

Rowe, Barbara R. & Jean M. MLown, "Economics of Divorce and Remarriage for Rural Utah Families," 16 Journal of Contemporary Law 301 (l990)

Weitzman, Lenore, The Divorce Revolution (l985) [California]

Wishik, Heather R. "Economics of Divorce: An Exploratory Study," 20 Family Law Quarterly 79 (l986) [Vermont]

-- compiled by Attorney Lynn Hecht Shafran, director of the National Judicial Education Program to Promote Equality for Women and Men in the Courts, a project of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund in cooperation with the National Association of Women Judge. RETURN TO TEXT

liznote 3. To a great extent, this is still true. One factor evidencing lawyers' attempts in the face of equitable distribution to achieve some measure of compensation and justice for their clients can be seen in the creeping back in of "fault" through the "back door" -- tort actions connected with separation and dissolution proceedings.

Also read: Mason, Mary Ann. _The Equality Trap_ Simon and Shuster, New York, 1988.

Fineman, Martha. _The Neutered Mother, the Sexual Family and Other Twentieth Century Tragedies_ Rutledge, New York (1995).

Fineman, Martha. _The Illusion of Equality: the Rhetoric and Reality of Divorce Reform_ Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1991.) RETURN TO TEXT

liznote 4. Meanwhile, the federal bankruptcy laws were amended to protect from discharge debts arising for "spousal support," equitable *property distribution* laws were omitted from coverage. And, notwithstanding recent *new* changes in the bankruptcy laws, this remains largely the case. The result, almost axiomatic: he files for bankruptcy post-divorce! No property, no alimony, nothing... The right hand giveth and the left hand taketh away...] RETURN TO TEXT

liznote 5. WOMEN: THE NEW PROVIDERS, an extensive study released May 10, l995 by Louis Harris and Associates, Families and Work Institute, funded by the Whirlpool Foundation, indicates:

In 45% of two-parent households, women provide half or more than half of the household income; in single parent households, women provide more than half to all of the income 82% of the time.

In 88% of households, women are charged with the responsibility for family care (childcare and housework, family social life, elder care...)

If mothers were able to choose freely:

--51% would not work at paid employment, spending their time instead caring for family and doing volunteer work

--33% would work part-time

--15% would choose to work full-time



Except as otherwise noted, all contents in this collection are copyright 1996-2009 the liz library. All rights reserved.
This site is hosted and maintained by Send queries to: