How Women Got Their Cake And Are Eating It Too

March 3, 2009 at 6:58 pm Leave a comment

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By Joe Engelbert

“A woman needs a man, like a fish needs a bicycle.”

Gloria Steinem, one of most recognizable and influential feminist activists of her generation, once made this statement to emphasize how unnecessary men are for women to achieve fulfillment in their lives. Thirty years ago, at the early stages of the modern feminist movement, most Americans probably considered this sentiment to be quite radical. However, the idea that men are somehow “biological necessities but social accidents” (as Margaret Mead once said) has become both socially acceptable and even politically correct.

The feminist mantra embodied in Steinem’s famous quote has contributed to a generation of women that believe they don’t need the help of men in any area of their lives – including raising children. If men are unnecessary to make them happy and fulfilled, it is logical many women believe the same applies to their children.

This line of thinking is not only wrong, but dangerous.

Skyrocketing divorce rates and the breakdown of the traditional family unit has lead to an epidemic of father absence, which has had a devastating effect on children. Countless studies and mounting anecdotal evidence continues to demonstrate how children who grow up in father-absent homes are much more likely to be poor, to use drugs, to experience educational, emotional and behavioral problems, to be victims of child abuse, and to engage in criminal behavior.

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Over the past 30 years, women have made remarkable progress in the areas of society that had been dominated by men for centuries. The women’s movement was responsible for much of this advancement, and it was feminists who first pointed out that traditional gender roles were oppressive and demeaning to both men and women. Interestingly, only half of feminism’s message has made a meaningful impression on our collective consciousness. Women are now viewed as being capable of success in the workplace. Men, however, are not yet seen as being capable of providing competent, attentive child care – at least not in the eyes of many family court judges.

Family roles assumed by both men and women have been changing for decades in accordance with the feminist ideals. Current Census Bureau statistics indicate that 68 percent of U.S. mothers with children under the age of eighteen work outside the home. The “typical” postwar nuclear family is almost extinct. Ward and June Cleaver live on only in television reruns.

In most homes today, mothers and fathers share child-care duties and the daily labors necessary to operate a family (cooking, cleaning, shopping, feeding and bathing the kids, helping with homework, and so forth.)

Feminists have successfully dismantled the construct of marriage and family that existed half a century ago. However, as they have pushed for women to explore opportunities beyond the socially accepted norm, they have been unwilling to let men do the same. Feminists wanted to help get women out of the kitchen, but they didn’t want to let men in, so to speak. Women for the most part are reluctant to give up their traditional roles as primary care-givers for their children to fathers.

If the old paradigm of men as providers and women as nurturers is flawed, then why is it that women’s groups are so opposed to giving men equal footing in custody disputes?

The answer is that feminists were never just seeking gender equality, they were seeking gender superiority. They not only wanted to be independent of men, but they wanted to minimize their role in the traditional American family. And, in many ways they have succeeded.

In today’s family law courts fathers are consistently considered secondary parents due to a prevailing “anti-male” bias. This discrimination is caused in part by the persistence of the old rulebook that says women are naturally superior parents.

This is the same form of injustice feminists have fought so hard to correct for women. Men are now on the other side of the same coin that the feminists have flipped over in the last 30 years. To tell a father he is biologically incapable of being a good parent, is like telling a woman she is naturally incapable of being a good doctor.

But both statements are, of course, completely false. Numerous studies of single-parent households have reached similar conclusions: There is no correlation between gender and child-rearing competence. While several differences in parenting styles have been noted by researchers, both fathers and mothers were found to be equally capable as caregivers. (Parental competence, in these studies, was measured through comprehensive evaluation children’s behavior, attitudes, school performance, and social skills.)

The results of academic investigations are validated every day, in homes all over the country. Mothers and fathers are sharing child care duties, often not because they want to but mainly because that’s the way it has to be. The reality leads us to the aspect of the bias evident in many family law courts that fathers find most unbelievable: But ironically because of this gender bias propagated by many feminists, many family court judges continue to decide children’s fates based on narrow, sexist stereotypes that no longer exist.

To understand this gender bias, one must first recognize all elements of the phenomenon. An ironic and inappropriate reverence for a long extinct ideal of motherhood is certainly one important piece of the puzzle. The belief that fathers can’t handle the rigors of child care is another. The conviction that children need a father’s money much more than the father himself also plays a part. The final key might be the perception – widely held within the family law courts and shared by many women – that fathers don’t really want, or need, parental rights or responsibility.

Society’s lack of respect for fatherhood, perpetuated and the inaccurate assumption that fathers are not truly interested in parenting combine to perpetuate a comfortable rationalization that fathers and children don’t need each other as much as mothers and children need each other. Accept that false premise and gender bias, although illegal and unfair, doesn’t seem all that harmful. Many fathers find separation from their children to be a tortuous, devastating experience.

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Entry filed under: Divorce.

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