Jewish World Review August 29, 2003 / 1 Elul 5763

Wendy McElroy

Wendy McElroy
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Going to extremes | In the last two weeks, more than 60 family court offices in Britain received hoax bombs that were apparently sent by fathers' rights extremists: perhaps by one individual.

The issue of fathers' rights in the U.K. may be entering a more violent phase. If so, this should act as a cautionary tale for North America.

No one was injured by the "bombs" but Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services were closed down, streets were cordoned off and businesses disrupted. More importantly, the "bombs" clearly threatened violence. An anti-terrorism team is investigating.

Violence is the worst possible "strategy" for anyone who seeks social reform. It is not only immoral and illegal, it is also counter-productive to the cause being advocated. The first time an innocent human being is injured, a movement using violence loses all moral credibility; it also creates a justified backlash of anger from the public and repression from authorities.

The abandonment of argument is one of the characteristics that distinguishes a revolutionary movement from one seeking reform. Reformers work to change a system of laws or attitudes, which means changing the hearts and minds of people. By contrast, revolutionaries have given up on the possibility of reform and, so, wish to sweep the system away — a process that does not require consent. The distinction is captured in the difference in how Martin Luther King and the Black Panthers each approached black rights in the '60s.

A question confronts anyone who cares about family and children in our society: How do we prevent the fathers' rights movement in North America from becoming revolutionary? This question does not shift the blame for violence onto the shoulders of society. Those who initiate force are responsible for their criminal actions and no one should negotiate with someone who is threatening them. That is the point at which negotiation and reason end. Having stated this, however, it is productive to ask why people become frantic or enraged enough to use violence.

Child custody and visitation rights are becoming flashpoints in our society: Men are desperate to be a part of their children's lives. And, if they are non-abusive, such involvement should be the right of every parent, male or female. Moreover, children should grow up knowing both of their parents.

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The problem usually arises through divorces in which no private agreement on child custody can be arranged and, so, the decision is left to the court. There is a growing trend toward joint physical custody — with more than one in five divorces handling child custody in that manner — but courts still overwhelmingly favor sole custody for the woman.

The wording of many state laws direct a judge to consider which parent is likely "to act in the best interests of the child." But, in practice, the sole custody of children is often assigned almost automatically to the mother, with joint custody being possible only if both parents agree.

To those journalists or activists who have any contact with the men's rights movement, the pain of estranged fathers is almost deafening.

Fathers cry out that even their scant visitation rights have been denied — sometimes arbitrarily, sometimes through circumstance such as the mother moving out of state. Their concern is not merely for themselves but also for the wellbeing of their children, many of whom grow up without a father.

Fathers' rights organizations are springing up on the grassroots level across North America and most of them are similar to the Alliance for Non-Custodial Parents Rights in what they advocate. The ANCPR states: "many aspects of the current and proposed laws concerning visitation, custody and child support enforcement violate the constitutional rights of all non-custodial parents" both male and female. ANCPR continues, "it is in the best interest of the child to have equal access to both parents ... joint physical custody should be the presumption in Family Law."

There are less temperate voices. As a commentator who addresses father's rights, I hear these voices personally. Not only through letters of "thanks" but also through open threats of violence when the particular phrasing of a sentence is considered "anti-male."

It is my policy to confront threats of violence. For example, there was a recent and public call on the Internet for "God to bless" the hand of any man who beat me up. When the head of a men's rights organization seemed to endorse the call, I confronted him. Happily, the "endorsement" was a misunderstanding that embarrassed him more than me. He issued a public apology.

Given my commitment of standing up to threats, it is not in the spirit of conciliation but of justice that I say, "The family court system in North America must be reformed to include the rebuttable presumption of joint custody." This means family courts should presume that divorcing parents will equally share the legal and physical custody of children unless there is compelling reason to rule otherwise.

Reform is necessary to provide justice to fathers and to children in divorce. As a salutary side effect, reform may also be society's greatest protection against politically motivated violence.

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JWR contributor Wendy McElroy is the editor of She also edited Freedom, Feminism, and the State (Independent Institute, 1999) and Sexual Correctness: The Gender Feminist Attack on Women (McFarland, 1996). She lives with her husband in Canada. Comment by clicking here.


08/23/03: The Marriage Strike
07/30/03: University Students Deserve Human Rights
07/09/03: The PCspeak of Diversity
07/02/03: Rebuttable presumption of joint custody
06/18/03: A Conscientious Objector to the Gender War
06/04/03: Gender issues impacted by masculinists
05/28/03: The value of error
05/21/03: U.S. to Fund Gender Feminism in Africa?
05/14/03: Cut men: Do they not bleed?
05/07/03: Women with guns fight back
04/30/03: No oil for food
04/28/03: The Great Lie
04/16/03: War may redefine gun control
04/09/03: Why we must discuss a post-war U.S.
04/02/03: Leftist feminists using war as podium
03/26/03: Laying down 'the white woman's burden'
03/19/03: Iraq War may kill feminism as we know it
03/13/03: A woman to replace Saddam
02/19/03: Elder abuse demands family solutions
02/13/03: Iraqi women brutalized by Saddam
01/29/03: There ought not to be a law
01/22/03: Gambling with race and gender cards
01/02/03: The future of fatherhood
12/26/02: U.N. complicit in forced sterilizations
12/20/02: Compassion, kindness killed by fear, paranoia
12/11/02: Affirmative action insults immigrant contributions
12/04/02: Stand up for yourself
11/27/02: Feminist fighting: Aren't we all women?
11/20/02: Rights & responsibilities
11/14/02: Feminist "urban legends"
11/06/02: Equal access does not guarantee equal outcome
10/24/02: Battered Women's Syndrome: Science or sham?
10/17/02: I demand a civil society that respects the individual and acknowledges the existence of honest disagreement between human beings of good will
10/09/02: Abortion debate is about to be ratcheted up yet again
10/02/02: 'Restorative justice' offers battered women more options
09/25/02: Why is prez promising to embrace UN radical social engineering programs?
09/18/02: Dirty dealings kill men's panel
09/11/02: Taking back your power
09/05/02: Calm down, Hootie!
08/21/02: Will Congress empower a group of radical feminists to oversee money slated for Afghan women?
08/14/02: Empower the U.N. with power to sculpt American laws and institutions into the image of gender feminism!?
08/01/02: Practicing 'intellectual virtue'
07/24/02: All male, bad. All female, good: Your tax dollars at work
07/11/02: Put Up or Shut Up
07/03/02: NOW they've done it, again!
06/19/02: A dark cloud shades U.N. Women's Treaty
06/10/02: This Father's Day, send justice
05/31/02: When good women do nothing
05/28/02: Feminists claiming motherhood as liberal cause
05/20/02: Wounds in health care system are self-inflicted: Or, why "my son the lawyer" makes more sense
05/10/02: Are parents boycotting public schools?
05/03/02: Women can't be gun-shy about defense
04/25/02: The Bill of Intellectual Rights
04/19/02: World Bank or World Government?: The World Bank is blackmailing impoverished nations
04/12/02: Victims From Birth: Engineering Defects in Helpless Children Crosses the Line
04/05/02: The professor made me cry, now I will make him pay!
03/31/02: Doctors and teens --- parents be on guard
03/22/02: I was born, now I'm suing you!
03/15/02: The 21st Century is knocking at the barricaded door of feminism
03/08/02: Fun and games at the Ms mag Bulletin Board
03/01/02: Andrea Yates, NOW, and Feminist Jurisprudence
02/22/02: Lady, Your Slip is Showing
02/14/02: 'Abusing' Valentine's Day
02/11/02: Is NOW Pro-Choice or Pro-Abortion?
02/01/02: Are 'fathers' rights' a factor in male suicide?
01/25/02: Is the U.N. Running Brothels in Bosnia?
01/18/02: 'Freedom' at another's (moral) expense
01/11/02: Feminists hit Ground Zero with WTC funds grab
01/04/02: Males winning "diversity discrimination" cases is good?
12/21/01: Good will toward men
12/14/01: "Boss Tweed" feminism
12/07/01: Call me 'anti-woman'

© 2001, Wendy McElroy