Let’s dispense with pleasantries. Men of the Men’s Rights Movement (hereinafter MRM*), I don’t know you personally. I have read some of your stories and many of the comments you have posted in places you frequent. Not everything I write today will apply to each of you individually—this letter is to your movement as a whole. You may have run into me in the Huffington Post Divorce Section comment forums since you arrived. I have on occasion found something you wrote so outrageous that I couldn’t keep myself from tapping out a short reply. These replies are taking up too much of my time, so I have chosen to get them all out of the way with what I had hoped would be a short post. (I’m sorry—it’s not.) If you want to know more about my situation, you can read and dissect it here. My hope is that, through reading this letter or my story, many among you will gain insight, and that you will be inspired to compassion and not condemnation, as I have been when reading some of your stories.
When both parties to a divorce are sane and strive for compassion, things can generally be worked out peaceably, often without excessive legal tit-for-tat and money burned up on the salaries of those who earn their living from the misery of former couples. (Apologies to Ms. Awesomesauce if she’s reading.) I envy those peaceably divorced couples because it is a hard road if either party to a split is lacking sanity or goodwill, or both. (You can maintain goodwill toward someone even if you don’t want to be their romantic partner anymore. You should try it, really.)
First, to those of you who are not crazy and were actually screwed, I’m very sorry. It sucks. I feel your pain, guys, I really do, and I wish you the goods of the serenity prayer every single day. Be mindful that you must be the good men you are by confronting men who are less than they should be, those who pointlessly punish their former spouses and children as a result of their own mental health struggles. You have an obligation to point them toward counseling resources to help with unresolved anger. I hope the services offered through sites like The National Center for Men genuinely help in this regard. I hope these services actually do aid in healing and are not just cold-floored rooms where the collective din of uttered bitterness amplifies to a pitch that silences compassion forever.
Former spouses with mental health issues who don’t or can’t get help cause considerable heartache. Many of you argue that divorce is bad for children, and that may generally be the case. However, there are certainly ways to make it much worse, such as bringing anger and conflict to the children, and making your spouse an enemy because she abandoned you dammit and you’re gonna make her pay. It’s a pretty simple equation guys: You play angry-victim, set out to punish your ex-wife, and as a result you punish your children, too. (Women really do sometimes do this, too. I get it.)
Maintaining one’s sanity in a firestorm of conflict and worry is hard work and not all of us are equally equipped with the required skills. I have worked double time to hone mine, but I am not perfect, not in the slightest. However, my intention is compassion. In the same way that attorneys and judges do, individuals, readers, counselors, and friends are also forced to make value judgments about what is reasonable, what is true, and what is not. As my wise friend, whom I have quoted before, said, “There are three sides to every story: His, hers, and the truth.” Dealing with crazy people can be crazy-making and it makes all parties suspect.
Mental health issues, psychological problems, and substance abuse are exacerbated by stress, among other things. Divorce is a tremendous stressor. I have yet to see studies, but my informal survey of your sites leads me to believe that these issues are significantly more common among those active in the MRM. Certainly there seems to be a strong correlation among the most angry in your midst. To be fair, I have also found some domestic violence survivor sites that made me quite uncomfortable for the same reason. However, on the domestic violence advocacy sites versus the MRM sites, it is quite clear who is the sane party. (Those of you who are grumbling “feminazi,” right now probably shouldn’t even finish reading this letter.)
This brings me to the subject of domestic violence, which is not, as you claim, perpetrated equally by men and women on one another.** In situations where there is domestic violence, there are mental health issues. Period. All parties are affected; perpetrator, survivor, and witness. The courts do and should have an obligation to protect the weaker parties, and I’m sorry fellas, quite likely I couldn’t take any one of you if you were to come after me. When I walk past a dark alley, I look over my shoulder and I’m not looking to see if there is a woman who might attack me. You probably aren’t either. (By 1995, homicides committed by men outnumber those committed by women 11 to 1.) While you may not be a “bad guy,” most “bad guys” are—I’m sorry to say—guys. (… and yes—as men you are not just more likely to be perpetrators of a violent crime, you are also more likely to be victims.)
You’re going to hate this, but I’m going to say it: A bigger, stronger individual has an obligation to uphold a higher standard of conduct than those who are weaker. For men, that’s women and children. If your wife slapped you, she shouldn’t have done that, and she should get help—you should insist upon it, you should document it, and you should think seriously about leaving her. However, if your wife slaps you, that does not give you the right to hit her back twice as hard. It does not give you the right to hit her back at all, not even if she called you the most vile thing she could possibly think of, something that threatened your masculinity and violated your trust—it gives you the right to leave, but nothing more. Nothing gives you the right to hit her, to push her, to tackle her to the ground, or throw her over a chair, no matter how crazy she might seem, and she may well be crazy. If you did such a thing, then you did wrong. Maybe your wife did something wrong, too, maybe she provoked you—but that doesn’t absolve you of responsibility for your choices. I say this because many of you believe that if your spouse broke the social contract, all bets are off.
I understand that many of you are the way you are because you yourself were victims, probably in childhood, possibly at the hands of your mothers whom you may still believe never loved you. It’s heart-rending, but you are grown men now, and responsible for your own choices. You can choose to perpetuate a tragic cycle or you can choose otherwise. If you ever feel justified in hitting, pushing, tackling, etc., women, or children, you owe it to everyone, including yourself, to get help for whatever it is that is ailing you. I’m not saying you are the only one who should do so either. Victims need help and support, too—in fact, they often need it more.
As my ex does, many of you believe that your ex-wives are somehow trying to control you. Some of you are probably right. However, I am sorry to say that many of you—probably most—have it wrong. Undoubtedly you are correct that women struggle when they have to place their children in the care (if you could call it that) of an abusive or incompetent former spouse. They are frightened and for some that fear finds its way out in anger. You are correct that such anger may motivate such a person to raise awareness about the need to protect women and children. (You frequently mention the interests of children when you cite statistics, statistics you think should motivate those who govern to pass legislation to make it more difficult for women like me to leave men like you.)
The way many of you see things, women (tricky vixens) get you to marry them, make a baby or two, and then run off with a guy with a bigger penis or bankbook. Sometimes they run off to nothing, leaving you drowning in a pool of often well-earned rejection. (Oh why, oh why didn’t you get a pliable mail order wife?) In your narrative, “the system” then works in concert with your soon-to-be ex to screw you (and guys like you) over. Sometimes, it probably really is that way, but the underpinnings of the MRM lie is the perception that men are persecuted, as rlaspari said, “raped.”
I don’t know your ex-wives, and I don’t know their sides of this story, but I know some of yours and I know my ex’s. Yours and his aren’t markedly different. The underlying theme is that you are the victims, and I hate to tell you that’s a pretty standard perpetrator device to avoid accountability. It’s called “victimstance. ” Instead of taking responsibility for one’s actions, an individual shifts the focus from their behavior to the “unfair” consequences. “The world is against me.” “With victim-stance thinking, there is no room for remorse. Righteous anger produces feelings and images of power.”*** It is a special brand of crazy.
Here’s the news, fellas: It is very likely that no one is out to get you. Usually women are not out-to-getters, certainly I’m not. What you think is a woman out to get you or control you or whatever, is usually a woman who is afraid, afraid and often simply trying to protect her children from harm, sometimes even SERIOUS HARM. (Sorry to shout, but lots of you don’t get that. You can’t seem to remember that your mothers would have felt that way about you… or perhaps—speculating again, and knowing that you hate me all the more for it, especially if I have gotten it right—perhaps, like my ex, your mother didn’t feel that way about you, and that is exactly the problem.)
Note to self: Counsel all the young girls I know never to involve themselves with men who are still messed up over the belief that their mothers never really loved them.
Note to self: Make sure my boys know I love them.
In closing, MMR readers, please remember that you made me—or rather women like me—your enemy. I haven’t made you mine, not even now. I seriously hope that you will reconsider your positions and perspectives, take responsibility for the harm you have caused and continue to cause. Move on. Get help. Rebuild your lives and refashion yourselves, and perhaps you won’t find yourself so angry and so lonely.
The Bitter Divorcée
*For a glossary of Men’s Rights Movement terms see this humorous and insightful primer by my favorite “mangina” blogger.
**I don’t precisely know what sort of shell game you boys are playing, citing figures from a single article, claiming to have reviewed 200 studies, which when brought up mostly look like those listed here. These are, by the way, from credible sources: CDC statistics, National Domestic Violence Hotline statistics (the general stats are especially harrowing), and Statistics from the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence.
***John Schaar writing in the Cognitive Behavior Management Reference