Why Are There so Many Women in the Fathers’ Movement?

By Dianna Thompson and Glenn Sacks

Three and a half decades after the rise of the feminist movement, American gender politics have begun to come full circle.

The feminist movement has always been aided by sympathetic men, and American women would never have come so far so fast without their support. While women still face many problems, those problems have received a fair and often extensive public hearing.

Today, men’s issues—principally fathers’ issues—are where many of our nation’s biggest gender inequities lie. And just as many men helped the women’s movement, many women are stepping forward to help fathers, forming groups like Moms for Dads and the Second Wives Crusade. Today women make up half of the membership of the fathers’ movement.

Fathers’ grievances include: blocked visitation and unenforced visitation orders; "move away moms" who permit or even use geography to drive fathers out of their children’s lives; acceptance by the courts of false and/or uncorroborated accusations of domestic violence or child abuse as a basis for denying custody or even contact between father and child; rigid, excessive, and often punitive child support awards; a "win/lose" system which pits ex-spouses against one another by designating a custodial and a noncustodial parent; and judicial preference for mothers over fathers as custodial parents.

According to Virginia Forton, the Executive Director of Moms for Dads, "Our current system torments non-custodial parents and their children by allowing custodial parents to drive them out of their children’s lives. Children need both parents. At meetings I’ve seen so many fathers, with tears running down their faces, talking about the children they’re no longer allowed to see. How could we, as women and as mothers, not try to help them?"

Just as male feminists have been criticized by traditionalists as dupes and opportunists, many women in the fathers’ movement have been condemned by the feminist establishment. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, says that women in the fathers’ movement are used by men the way "a man charged with rape will hire a woman lawyer to represent him."

In The Price of Motherhood, feminist writer Ann Crittenden portrays these women as petty and shortsighted pawns of men. Susan Faludi, author ofBacklash, likens them to Uncle Toms.

In reality, many pro-father women, such as Canadian Senator Anne Cools, North America’s premier pro-father public official, came from the feminist movement. Cools was one of the most effective leaders of the battered women’s shelter movement during the 1970s.

Others, like Forton and Melanie Mays, a member of the advocacy group Child’s Best Interest, had little interest in fathers’ rights or gender politics until they came into contact with our family court system’s anti-father bias and its devastating effects on the people they love. In Mays’ case, witnessing a close relative and his children being tormented by the court system spurred her to action. Other activists are grandmothers who were cut out of their grandchildren’s lives when their sons were cut out of their children’s lives.

At the core of the movement are second wives. Since over half of all first marriages end in divorce, and 75% of divorcees remarry, there are many second wives and second husbands who struggle with the effects of their spouse’s divorces.

Many second wives who marry divorced fathers have little inkling of the maelstrom they are entering—custody disputes, access and visitation denial, sudden child support increases, and the burden of legal fees spent on fighting inequities. Some second marriages end in divorce because of these pressures. Increasingly, however, these women and others are turning to activism. According to Mays:

"The fathers’ rights movement is the civil rights movement of our era. Some belittle the plight of fathers, saying ‘oh, they’re men, they’re privileged, what have they suffered compared to other groups?’ The answer is this—whatever horrors blacks or women or other groups have endured in the past 50 years, nobody ever took their children away. What discrimination and what injustice is worse than that?"

  • Minneapolis Star-Tribune