I feel like I’ve heard this argument a hundred thousand times. “When a couple divorces, the mother always gets the kids. That’s sexism against men!” It’s usually trotted out by ‘men’s rights activists’ but I’ve heard it from seemingly ordinary, reasonable men as well, and it really bothers me. Because, you see, it is actually the same old sexism against women which causes this to happen.
When a heterosexual couple with children decide to part ways, sometimes they come to an amicable conclusion as to who will be the ‘parent with care’; that is, the parent with whom the child or children will live most of the time. But sometimes, when things are more acrimonious, it is up to a court to decide who ‘gets custody’ of the children. And yes, a lot of the time, it ends up being the mother who becomes the parent with care. And yes, on the surface this doesn’t seem fair…
…until you look into why she gets given custody. You see, the legal system isn’t skewed in favour of women because it necessarily decrees that women are automatically better or more important parents. Instead, it looks at what will cause the least disruption to the children’s lives. We live in a patriarchal society which tells us that the only valuable thing a woman can do with her time is to raise her husband or boyfriend’s children. Childcare is “women’s work”. So in the vast majority of families with a mother and a father, it is the mother who has been doing the lion’s share of the childcare since the first days of their children’s lives.
So of course, a court looks at a family’s situation and says, who are these kids used to being with most of the time? If the father has been a stay-at-home-dad, the court will award him custody of the children, because that would cause the least disruption to their lives. But we know this isn’t usually the case, so because the kids are accustomed to being cared for by Mum most of the time, they are left in the full-time care of Mum – not because courts are discriminating against Dad, but because it’s easier on the children.
So the next time some dude starts moaning at you about how his kids (or his brother’s kids, or his buddy’s kids) were ‘given’ to their mother unfairly, ask him who had been doing most of the childcare before the relationship came to an end, and point out to him that perhaps if we lived in a less sexist society which emphasised the importance of fathers caring for their children as well as mothers, things might have been more ‘fair’.