Exercising Rights : Bombs vs Blame

Anders - Bombing Rights
“Behind every great man, there’s a great woman” so it is said

So what is behind every monumentally failed man?  A monumentally failed women? 

One Friday night in late July, Anders Behring Breivik exploded a car bomb in the city of Oslo killing eight people.  A couple of hours later, he went to a summer camp on the island of Utøya.  There, he calmly and indiscriminately shot 69 people.

Why everyone asks?  How about this for an explanation?  I think that Ander’s mother has a lot to answer for.  Let me explain why I think this:

Anders Behring Breivik refuses to plead guilty, but recognises he is responsible for the attacks that killed 77 Norwegians. He shirks real responsibility. Breivik’s refusal to plead guilty beggars belief.

But Anders Breivik is not the only one to shirk responsibility. His mother, Wenche Behring has remained strangely silent throughout this affair. I wonder whether she was so silent when she abandoned both Anders and his father to marry another man? I wonder whether she considered her son’s peace of mind when she thought it best to move to Oslo and then to deny his father’s application for custody? Anders was only one year old at the time his parents separated with his mother treating him like some kind of football. Such traumatic events in a child’s life so early on can have life-long effects.

Even though most divorced children do not go on to become killers, his mother is made conspicuous by her silence.  What is she thinking?  What was he thinking?  Well maybe he did not have a father when he was growing up to teach him the difference between right and wrong. What I want to know is why his mother is not feeling any sense of remorse for having failed her son.

Wenche Behring is not a bad person. Anders Breivik is. But his mother’s lack of reaction to this event is disappointing, and demonstrates a lack of humanity that should be there.

Okay, okay.  Keep your knickers on.  Extremism merely engenders extremism.

The point is this.  If anyone tries to publish a story vilifying a mother, public (and notably women’s) interest groups would cry ‘Foul.’ The writer would be hunted, haunted and hated. 

I do not really think that Anders’ mother can be held to blame for this event.  I admit (with pride) that the above story is not mine.  Shamefully, it is essentially the story of one Katharine Birbalsingh a columnist for the Daily Telegraph.

Katharine like any good Freudian-wannabe quickly identifies the parents of Anders as the causal factor.  Well, I say parents, but that is not entirely correct.  She places the entire burden of blame for the episode on one parent, the killer’s father, Jens Breivik. 
Katharine - Blaming Rights

The story above is nearly verbatim copy of Katharine’s story – except that my version implicates Ander’s mother instead of his father.

Katharine can write this stuff about the father, but no-one – and almost certainly no man – can write equivalent drivel about the mother.  To do so would be considered unremittingly sexist.

But is it not also sexist that our society allows someone like Katharine to write this sort of thing about men even while no-one, least of all men, can write this sort of thing about women?  Actually men could write something like this against the mother.  But stoning would be too good for them in the views of many – both male and female.

If we are to condemn sexism, then whether it targets a man or a woman should be irrelevant. 
Ironically, another writer for the Guardian  argues that Breivik’s manifesto is anti-feminist.  Breivik’s manifesto actually rails against a number of broad cultural segments.  Feminism is one of them, but cultural Marxism (whatever he means by that) is another, and Islam is yet another. 

So apparently rants against feminism are not allowed.  But rants against anti-feminists are.  Katharine of the Daily Telegraph can write a story about the culpability of the father of Anders Breivik based more on her apparent prejudices against men while Breivik can be roundly condemned for his writings criticising feminism.

Actually, perhaps we begin to see a similarity between both Katharine and Anders.  They are both assassins.  Admittedly she merely assassinated a man (Anders’ father) in print.  However, both took their beliefs, and extended on them by acting on people. 

Now we have crossed a line.

I am all for free speech.  I may disapprove of what Katharine says, but I will defend her right to say it – in echo of the statement often attributed to Voltaire.  Just as I will defend Breivik’s right to criticise ‘cultural marxism’ and feminism in his manifesto.

But when their beliefs flows to intolerance and more significantly, to actions affecting others – be it by bombs, bullets or blaming – then I draw a line.  Both are to be condemned for thinking that their beliefs accorded them rights over others not sharing their beliefs.  That is prejudice – the root of sexism and racism and discrimination.  Our beliefs do not give us rights. 

I would be tempted to put Anders and Katty B in a room together to sort it out.  The outcome would likely be unpleasant.  And neither victim nor victor would have right on their side, no matter how strong their beliefs, no matter who wins.

Dads have feelings too

Most expect single dads to contribute to the upbringing of their children. But most seem unwilling to accept that single dads have feelings, and that their lives are seriously disturbed by divorce.

One man tells his story of how he cried each night at 8pm, the hour that he would be involved in putting his four children to bed.

A friend of mine recently told me about his brother. Recently separated, the brother continues on with his life as best he can. He has been stripped of his wife, his child and his home. He lives in a bedsit. He barely ever cooks. He works late. He brings in food that he buys in the street. He probably drinks a lot more than he ought.

One day a week he gets to spend time with his four year old daughter. My friend, the child's uncle, no longer gets time with his niece. They both appeared to enjoy their outings, their trips to the park – but that no longer happens.

It is of course not only my friend that misses out on taking out his niece. It is her father. And the little girl. I'm sure that the little girl's life is busy, but it is now full of strangers. People who mean nothing relative to those who used to spend time with her and who want to spend the time with her. Why is she unable to spend time with these people? Because her Mummy and these other people are separated by an enormous divide called Divorce.

The Burden of Breadwinning

Men tend to be more single-minded when it comes to professional success. Indeed, men develop their self-concept around their profession. Ask a woman to describe who she is and you will get a myriad of roles and relationships. A man will tell you what he does for a living. There’s a reason for this. Men are valued mainly, or at least disproportionately compared to women, for their ability to earn money.

Being a stay-at-home wife is perfectly acceptable, but stay-at-home husbands are assumed to be fathers who are married to very successful women. No such assumptions are made about stay-at-home wives. In other words, men who stay at home look after the kids because their wives “wear the pants” in the family and bring home some serious bacon, whereas women who stay at home do so because they can.

Now we could just flip things around and say that the “burden” of breadwinning is self-imposed, that husbands delude themselves into thinking this in order to justify not making an equal contribution to domestic labor. Moreover, bringing home the bacon gives the husband a source of power over his wife. Money talks, and nobody walks - she can't afford to.

Perhaps women, and society in general, do not value men solely for their ability to generate income, and that a man with a more “balanced” set of priorities might actually be more attractive to women. There’s some truth to this counterargument, but cultural anecdotes and academic research suggest that the burden of breadwinning is very real for men.

In the movie Parenthood, Steve Martin angrily protests “Women have choices and men have responsibilities.” Like all good art, there's a sizeable nugget of truth here. Men see women as having more choices, whereas women see themselves as facing constraints that men do not. Women see men as having career opportunities, whereas men see themselves as having greater responsibilities and being forced into narrowly defined roles in order to fulfill those responsibilities.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that Hollywood is hardly a font of profundity, but art has to imitate life to some extent. In Frank Capra’s classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) is about to commit suicide, a fate far more common for men than women, because he doesn’t have enough money to cover a loan and he and his family are about to be put out in the streets by the evil Mr. Potter. George Bailey is going to kill himself because he has failed as the breadwinner of the house.

It is only when Clarence, his guardian angel, shows George what his home town of Bedford Falls would be like without him, how his love and caring for family and friends has virtually sustained the entire community, that he discovers, well, that it’s a wonderful life. In the post-industrial world of Bedford Falls, a man’s financial worth is all that matters. His worth as a nurturer can only be established via divine intervention.

George Bailey was lucky. Clarence saved him from committing suicide. In Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller’s protagonist Willy Loman isn’t so fortunate. After more than 30 years, Willy (shown here as depicted by Dustin Hoffman) is fired from his sales job, a position that largely defined who he was. Faced with no job prospects and no way to earn a living, he inevitably settles on the obvious solution. The only way for Willy to regain his self-esteem is to “earn” money via a life insurance policy. Suicide is Willy’s only chance to fulfill his responsibility as a husband and father.

Okay. So this is just two movies and a book. Fair enough. But academic research also supports this interpretation. There are far more single mothers than single fathers. Divorce courts have a lot to do with this, but for many decades the largely chauvinistic explanation was that, since men make little or no investment in producing the offspring, they have greater incentive to leave the women (literally) holding the babies, while they go off searching for other female conquests. However, a more careful analysis of sociological data suggests that women initiate single-motherhood not men.

Eighty percent of all separations are initiated by women, and they often result from a consideration of the costs and benefits of having a man around the house. The bottom line is that when a man’s income is less than the cost of having him around, he gets the boot. This perhaps explains why “financial problems” is frequently cited by women initiating no fault divorces, and why 70 – 80% of homeless people are men. Once again, art imitates life. In the Ray Charles classic Hit the Road Jack, the woman is very clear about why he has to move out "You ain't got no money!"

So perhaps it’s not so surprising that men define themselves in terms of professional roles more than women do. As captured by Nigel Marsh, in his book Fat, Forty, and Fired, a man who does not earn any income has a lot of explaining to do, even to women he hardly even knows.

“Although I don’t like to think of myself as a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ type of person, I was worried about my old friends’ reaction to my unemployment. After 20 years in an office career, it wasn’t a simple task to divorce my self-worth from my job. …Although everyone seemed incredibly supportive of my choice not to go back to work, I couldn’t help suspecting that many of them (especially the women) were simply being polite and had already translated ‘decided to take a year off’ into ‘poor bastard can’t find a job’.”

Such is the, usually unacknowledged, burden of being a breadwinner.

Single dads deserving of respect

Single parents deserve a lot of respect.  Single fathers deserve special commendation as they take on a counter-cultural role and deliver on their responsibilities to their children in the face of prejudice and discrimination.

I hope that single dads everywhere might take inspiration from other single dads who are such heroes for stepping into their parental role - even in the face of adversity.

Here's one particularly inspirational single dad : Atticus Finch of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  His adversaries were not sexists but bigots and small-minded town-folk.

We all face challenges.  A single father has the potential to earn much respect in the face of adversity he faces.  Read more about why Atticus Finch is deserving of respect here.

Limiting what she can decide

A woman called me up and wanted to talk with me about her separation from her most recent partner and father to her second child.

I guessed it was my job to listen. She arrived at a café I had suggested, she sat down and began to unburden herself.

A sad, disconsolate story. She was in the throes of breaking up with her husband of not much more than a year. She had had a child with him, and another child with another man before.

She admitted that she had entered this latest relationship and this marriage with the full hope that this latest man could step up to replace the previous father.

This triggered me.

What exactly was wrong with the previous father? I didn't ask. This wasn't the time and it wasn't the place.

Custodial Rights and Wrongs

The family courts are to be admired for all the good work that they do in trying to resolve the arguments of broken families. I do mean 'broken families' because those that are not broken do not need to go to the courts to resolve matters.

However, the court's approach to resolving child custody battles is problematic. In the case of a battle, women will tend to win custody in approximately 80% of cases. This is suggestive of a problem but not proof.

However, the awarding of custody to toxic, angry women and arguing it is in the best interests of the children is a problem.

In one recent Family Court decision a mother with a "delinquent attitude" who had created estrangement between the children and their father was awarded full custody of the children. It was ruled that the father would have no contact with the children even though the court considered that there was no risk that he would expose the children to any harm.

In another decision, a mother who had fabricated claims of sexual abuse successfully prevented the father from having access to his daughters. The mother won full custody of the two daughters recently even though the father had been granted access by a court order in 2008.

In another case, the mother's hatred for the father was so intense that she doubted his claim that he was dying of an inoperable cancer as he appealed to see his daughter. Encouragingly, the court invited him to prepare a DVD for his daughter. However, the court ruled that the content be checked to ensure that he made no disparaging remarks about the mother. This despite the mother having been free to poison the child with her disparaging remarks about the father to an extent that the child wished the father dead.