Divorcing Men Face Pervasive Gender Stereotypes in Family Court


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It should not come as a shock that men face antiquated gender stereotypes when going through a divorce, and that fighting these can lead to lengthy, expensive legal battles that still result in unfair settlements once a judgment is finalized.

Stemming from the traditional nuclear families of the 1960s where the father worked to support the family financially and the mother filled the role of homemaker, it became the standard for women to receive primary physical custody of children, along with a nice-sized child support and alimony award after a divorce was finalized.

However, society has evolved over the last 50 years, and it is no longer safe to assume that the wife in a marriage held the primary domestic and childrearing responsibility. According to the Pew Research Center, 37 percent of married women have a higher income than their husbands, and the employment rate of married mothers has increased from 37 percent in 1968 to 65 percent in 2011.

Yet, the assumption persists in family court that the mother is the caregiver and the father is the family’s source of income, despite the drastic increase in the number of women who work full time along with the husband or serve as the primary breadwinner while the father takes on more responsibility around the home.

Because of this, many fathers who shared parenting and household duties equally or reversed traditional gender roles and served as the primary homemaker while the wife supported the family financially, are left struggling against preconceived notions and outdated assumptions. They must scratch and claw to achieve even the most basic rights to continue being a part their children’s life, let alone receive a fair amount of time equal to their contributions before divorce.

While men’s rights advocacy groups are helping raise awareness and steps are finally being made to right the injustices against men and fathers found in family court (there is a growing push towards default equal parenting, modernized alimony statutes, etc.), there is still a long way to go — and not just in the courtroom.

The gender stereotypes characterizing men as lacking the capability to preform basic household or parenting tasks are still pervasive throughout our culture.

A recent article on the Huffington Post by Washington University senior Jaime Zucker pointed out a shift in advertising over the past several decades away from sexist ads portraying women in old-fashioned gender roles. This may seem like a step toward gender equality, yet a new, equally damaging trend has emerged in modern marketing: the “Bumbling Husband.”

While women are now commonly represented in commercials as capable, confident and intelligent, their husbands have been reduced to “that lovable but incompetent man who just can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble, much less keep a house in order.”

Zucker argues that empowering women through a contrast to their Bumbling Husband not only increases the misunderstanding of feminism’s end goal (it is gender equality, though many men see feminism as a movement toward female domination), but also reinforces traditional family roles — it is blatantly obvious based off advertising that men are a lost cause in the kitchen, raising kids or around the home, so they should just stick to the office where they belong.

In the modern age, however, men are equally as suited to take on the job of running a household, just as women are equally suited as contributors to the workforce. The television trope of the Bumbling Husband does nothing but strengthen the idea that men are generally unacceptable caregivers after a divorce, further perpetuating archaic gender roles.

There are plenty of fathers proficient in the skills of raising children and taking care of a household out there who would agree that you should not always believe what you see on TV. With the drastic change in family structure over the past several decades, it makes little sense to continue using these outdated assumptions in court when it comes to divorce — and television is not helping make those stereotypes disappear.

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