In the battle of the sexes, both men and women claim they are the victims. Matthew Fynes-Clinton reports
IN War of the Roses, Hollywood’s 1989 black comedy about a bitter marriage (Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner star), divorce lawyer Gavin D’Amato (Danny De Vito) declares the gloves off, explaining: “There is no winning in divorce, only degrees of losing.”
As bleak as that sounds, it is, it seems, the best of it.
A couple of years ago, Paul Hopgood, a long-serving Brisbane family lawyer, told me graphically how the meltdown of Australian families was striking at some men.
He said he’d had three clients — all male — commit suicide.
“One was the night before a trial. He put electric wires around his wrists, put a timer on for midnight and cooked himself through,” Hopgood said.
“Another was an overdose of pills — that was in the middle of a trial.
“And the other one hadn’t gone to court yet. It was a car accident which I believe was a suicide. The guy went straight off a cliff.”
A school of male thought suggests these emotion-charged postscripts are the consequence of a tide sweeping Australia. The wave is neither the men’s movement, nor the women’s movement. Maybe it is the space in between. Call it the anti-men’s movement.
Low rumblings persist of a conspiracy against men, spiking in fierce accusations of prejudice, even persecution.
Feminists prop up their cause with surveys bespeaking man’s continuing inhumanity to woman. Yet are such analyses, at times, nothing more than old chestnuts and false pictures?
An oft-quoted statistic is that one in three women is at risk of domestic violence. The computation has been in circulation since 1987, catapulted by an Office of the Status of Women campaign.
However, in a television interview, Labor’s then family services minister Senator Rosemary Crowley conceded the source of the figure was a 1980 American study, nowhere in which it was claimed that 30 percent of women were victims or likely victims of domestic abuse.
What it did state was that one in three households would experience at least one event of domestic violence — and that in 50 percent of incidents the woman was the perpetrator.
The research concluded: “An examination of violence between couples and violence by parents toward children reveals that women are as violent or more violent than men.”
“While fathers who beat up their children do so on an average of once a year, mothers who beat up their children do it more than once every other month.”
Faced with the facts, Senator Crowley benignly responded: “Why are you so worried about a little bit of wrong analysis?”
The findings of other key research have been similarly coloured by the feminist bloc, or completely ignored.
A 1995 Western Australia Department of Criminology study determined that only 0.5 percent of women would be assaulted by a partner or ex-partner each year.
A recent Australian Bureau of Statistics survey, Crime and Safety in Australia, reports men are more likely to be targets of violence than women (4.4 percent compared with 3 percent), while an ABS-sponsored Queensland Crime Survey uncovered that at least 26 percent of attacks on women were by other women.
With every claim and counterclaim, former tyre retailer Reg Price, 65, who with his wife Sue founded Brisbane’s controversial Men’s Rights Agency seven years ago, despairs of an interminable gender war.
“We’ve tried to have dialogue with some of the people in the domestic violence industry,” Price says. “They will not speak unless we admit that it’s the patriarchal society which causes violence.”
According to armies of disaffected men, the ugliest facet of today’s anti-man prejudice begins in our austere courtrooms, with a lashing from divorce lawyers, and ends in knockdown via the debt-collecting muscle of the Child Support Agency.
Many dads desperately want to carry on parenting their children after a marriage bust-up, but the courts are placing obstacles in their way.
FATHERS speak of the implicit need to prove before a Family Court judge that they are neither violent nor feckless. Women, so the conjecture goes, benefit from a time-worn axiom that children are better off with their mothers –even if husbands have acted blamelessly and wives have not.
The CSA, an arm of the Australian Taxation Office, collects child maintenance from non-custodial parents to a formula calculated on taxable income.
Despite changes in 1998 after a government backbenchers’ committee review, politicians at the coalface say the CSA is still the No. 1 concern of constituents.
Although men’s payment-dodging is one form of gripe, this is far outweighed by squawks, from men, that unfair and inflexible child-support requirements are driving them to poverty.
How bad does it get?
“We had a policeman ring up recently,” Price says, “who’d just attended a suicide, where a man had shot himself. He said the victim had an empty wallet, 80 worth of change — and a bill from the Child Support Agency.”
Not everyone blames the courts.
“I don’t think it is the job of the (family) courts to be accountable in the way that, say, politicians are,” says Professor John Dewar, director of Griffith University’s Family Law Research Unit.
“I think it’s the courts’ job to decide cases according to law, and they are answerable to higher judges who review cases on appeal.”
“And I’ve not seen any evidence that there is a systematic bias against men in those cases that have to be adjudicated. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that women still do very badly.”
“With children, the fact is that during a relationship it is often the women who do the primary child-caring. Because that’s been the case, those arrangements will be either agreed to voluntarily between the parents or will be ordered by the court.”
“But that’s not the courts’ fault. I mean, they’re simply working within the social and economic structures that we have.”
Price maintains that a third of telephone calls to the Men’s Rights Agency come from women.
“They’re mothers, sisters, a new partner, someone at the man’s work,” he says.
“The mothers are concerned about what’s happening to their sons. They’re knocking themselves off — it’s a national crime.”
Queensland’s latest suicide figures reveal that while youth suicide has stabilised, the rate for men aged 25 to 40 is escalating.
“There’s no question family breakdown is a major issue for suicide in general,”Wickham Tce psychiatrist Dr Chris Cantor says. “It may be that rising rates of divorce may be fuelling rising suicide rates in that (the 25 to 40) age group.”
Jennifer Buckingham, a policy analyst at Sydney’s Centre For Independent Studies, says strong links have been identified between juvenile crime and broken families.
“In most cases, family break-up results in the absence of a father in the home,” Buckingham says. “For some reason, probably to do with male role modelling and discipline, this adversely affects boys more than girls.”
Dr Lesley Jolley, from the University of Queensland’s department of anthropology and sociology, says: “What we don’t deal with very well is difference.”
“It’s not being male or female. It’s just working out how to live together that’s the problem.”
I am 53 and, at this stage of my life, I find myself with no home, no kids, no job and a psychiatrist has placed me on a disability pension. The Government must be very proud of its achievements.
The Courier Mail, Letter to the Editor, The author requested his name be withheld
A few years ago I was earning $1000 a week and supporting five of us; today we are all on welfare.
I made the biggest mistake of my life in 1979. I got married and went through the most abusive relationship you could imagine. I have three children, a boy, now 16, a girl, 13, and a boy, 11.
The children were brought up to have not the slightest respect for me. To give you an example, when I would come home from work, my daughter, from the time she could speak … I could hear her running u[ the hallway to greet me, calling out, “Mum, the f —ing arsehole’s home.”
And she would throw her arms around my neck and give me a hug and a kiss and tell me, “I love you f—wit.”
I guess the whole idea of this was to get rid of me and when I suggested my wife walk out and leave me and the kids she said, “I’m not that f—ing stupid.”
She actually sat there in the house and told me she had taken out a DVO (domestic violence order) on me and when I asked why, she said, “I’m frightened of you,” and then burst out laughing.
Before the DVO she accused me of abusing my daughter, so when I told her I intended to involve the police, she just said: “I’ll say I never said it.”
On the DVO it stated that our six-year-old daughter had told her that my brother and I were going to get her (the brother she was referring to lives 600km from Brisbane).
I’ll guarantee that if women had to substantiate their accusations or men were given legal aid to defend themselves, the outcomes in a lot of cases would be different.
My wife accused me of mentally and emotionally abusing her, controlling her life, the money and her friends.
Everything I said or did was demeaning to women or putting them down. I was a misogynist and a violent person and I was going to have her committed.
She mounted her campaign like a military operation. I have since found out that this is how the women’s movement advise them to act to get rid of you.
My wife’s friend was the first to get rid of her husband, then three of the ex’s other friends did the same. The (husband) before me hanged himself.
I did the divorce papers up myself and when I gave them to my wife to sign, she turned around and said “Why are you doing this? I won’t sign them.” You could have knocked me over with a feather.
I spent over four years where I had all the children involved in sport. I became team manager to get the eldest bloke’s team off the ground and did a coaching course to coach the youngest’s team.
I was tied up with their sport four evenings a week, all day Saturday and then when the daughter started competition basketball, nearly every Sunday.
I arranged to work a permanent nightshift so I could do this.
Over four years Child Support agency gave me relief to the value of $1400 (approx $1 a day) against my obligations.
During this time the children were spending in excess of 125 nights a year with me, not to mention the days. When you consider that the children spent every weekend (Friday evening to Sunday evening) with me every public holiday, and I took my holidays to coincide with theirs which they spent with me, I can’t see how (the $1400) could be considered excessive.
In 1996, I received a letter from the CSA to the effect that their mother did not agree with me getting any relief, and that it had been revoked, and that I was required to repay the $1400 with interest, penalties and fines.
When I explained to the CSA the hardship this was causing me, they told me that they could not care less, that “we are here to get as much money our of you as possible under the law – if you have any complaints, see a politician”.
When you are considered that we are always seeing in the media how boys have no role models, how boys are committing suicide at the rate of seven a day, I would have thought any father in my position would have been given every encouragement to be a part of his children’s life.
I told the kids what was happening and the youngest (10 years of age) came over the next weekend and told me I was “just a f—ing loser” and my daughter told me I was “just a f—ing arsehole”.
I have had nothing to do with my kids since. I do not have a clue where my children live and not once has the CSA ever contacted me and asked if I have contact with them. As a woman from the CSA once said to me: “You are there to f—ing pay, nothing else – so shut up whingeing and pay.” Then she hung up.
In this country, if you are a non-custodial father, year are assumed guilty and hounded to death.
I can understand why some men completely lose the plot and commit suicide and take their kids with them.
I would say the only thing that stopped me was the fact I had sunk into the depths of depression and couldn’t even get out of bed.
There seems to be nothing that caters for men in this situation.
Doctors seem to be totally lost, and to go to Centacare or Relationships Australia, you are automatically assumed to be in the wrong because you are a male.
I have written this letter to try and let you see what some men go through. I’ll never forget my kids, but what am I supposed to do?”
Spurious reasons for appalling injustice
The Spectator, Melanie Phillips
This issue is not confined to Australia. In England, a new book, The Sex-Change Society by Melanie Phillips, published by the Social Market Foundation, claims that fathers are being routinely denied contact with their children on grounds produced by welfare officers that are so spurious as to be virtually incomprehensible.
Here are some example:
There was the father who, in McDonald’s, spread his arms to his daughter and said: “Bet you haven’t seen me in a suit before.”
A watching welfare officer misinterpreted the gesture and decided the child had refused to return the father’s proffered embrace. As a result, the father was denied all contact with his child.
Then there was the father whose overnight contact with his five-year-old was stopped because “the child has so many milestones ahead of him”; another who was denied contact because he “had to prove his commitment;”; another because “this is the mother’s first child”; another because he was “over-enthusiastic”; yet another because “the child fell asleep in his car on the way home”.
One child of 13 had not seen his father for eight years because he was led to believe that an injunction against his father prevented it.
No one – certainly not his mother – had told him that the injunction would last for a maximum of three months and that for most of that eight years the boy had every right to see his father. And so on and so, appallingly, on.
The UK debate centres on the validity of no-fault divorce. If a mother has gone off with her lover, jeopardising the well-being of her children and demonstrating infidelity to their father, promise-breaking, deceit and selfishness, why should she be automatically regarded as the fitter parent to bring up the children?
The answer is to restore issues of conduct to divorce and the subsequent care of the children.
The spurious argument that “children’s needs” must come before any other consideration means that children are being used as hostages to protect adults from facing the consequences of their own behaviour.
Children’s needs are in fact best met by having both their parents to look after them; failing that, by living with the more responsible parent. This may even bring the divorce rate down, as has happened in America in states where mothers no longer get automatic custody.