Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gendering Victims: Attacking the Family Court System from All Sides

I've seen a lot of articles kicking around the Internet of late talking about the family court system and how wretchedly custody and visitation disputes tend to be handled. Unfortunately, most of these articles attack the family court system from one perspective: the Wronged Father.

"What's wrong with that?" you might ask. "The father is more often the parent denied visitation or custody without good reason. And besides, fighting for fathers whose rights regarding their children have been impinged on can be extended to the tiny tiny minority of mothers without custody who are in similar positions."

Well, there isn't anything really wrong with it. Gender bias is pretty prevalent in the family court system, and pretty generally agreed to be, so attacking the privileges of the privileged group does make sense.

But to talk about unjust custody and visitation decisions as a fathers' rights versus mothers' rights issue unnecessarily genders it and forcibly creates two different groups of people who both feel they have been wronged in different ways- the Wronged Fathers and the Wronged Mothers. They are both just Wronged Parents who should be able to come together and fight the family court as an unjust judicial system, awarding custody unfairly sometimes on the basis of gender, sometimes on other bases unrelated to the actual care and welfare of the child in question.

It's not often that I see an article talking about the family court system in this way, and I must admit I have fallen prey in the past to gendering my discussion of it. This article by Teri Stoddard does an excellent job of calling out custody-seeking mothers and fathers for their petty hostility towards each other and exposing the family court system's mistreatment of them both. It is a good read.

Just one final note: in this post, I use the example of the family court system and the assumed male victim and assumed female aggressor. Soon, I promise, I will address gender assumptions for victims and aggressors of sexual and domestic violence in a similar (and I hope respectful) manner.

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