Monday, July 21, 2014

Gas-lit Sparks

I am ashamed to be a man because of the injustices committed by my gender against women. I am embarrassed to be white because of the unwanted privileges given to me that I did not ask for and cannot seem to give away. I am remorseful over being born into human skin for the criminally dishonorable way that we treat each other on both a micro and macro scale.

Last night I liked a Facebook post from Guerrilla Feminism that stated men could be prejudiced against, but could not be the victim of sexism because the formulaic distinction is that there needs to be an imbalance of power involved. Sexism = Prejudice + Power. I also left a comment claiming to have been the victim of sexism, and though it was on a smaller scale in an isolated part of my life, it affected a very integral part of my being.

It was not my intent to blow out anyone else's candle in an attempt to make my flame seem brighter, but I disagreed with this notion and felt it relevant to voice my opinion. I spoke up and provided some anecdotal truths to attempt solidarity, not in any way to diffuse the message that was being shared. When I got my son's mother pregnant, I had already planned to move to another state and was less than a week away from being gone. She insisted that I continue with my plans and told me that she'd move up there too. Partly out of selfish, blind hope and partly because she had a good friend who lived in the area that I was moving to, I believed her and went on with my move expecting that she would sort her affairs and be there soon. 

Once I got settled in, she informed me that she never intended to move up there and simply didn't want to stand in my way of leaving. She would raise the kid on her own. She did not want or need me involved. We were not together. She had always wanted kids. I was immature to the point that my presence would be more of a hindrance than a blessing. Did I even want a family? How does raising a child fit with my life plan? 

Truth is that I did not want and was not ready for a family- it was unplanned, so that should be understood by definition. But that someone else would assert such a negative view of my character and assume to conclude that my life plan meant shirking responsibility, abandoning my son, being a dead beat dad? Even though my actions have always been in the contrary, the negative self image haunts me regularly. I often wonder against reason if I am letting the lowered bar of what fatherhood means versus what motherhood means allow me to be less. When a mother has a hard day wrangling their child and has a momentary fantasy of a life without parental obligations, they are consoled and told that this too shall pass. I am told by the voices in my head, for I dare not speak these fantasies aloud and confirm what everyone including myself expects that I will someday do,  "Of course you do. Go ahead. You've already done more than what's expected of a man. The bar's so low- how many of your friends had a dad? You saw yours one weekend a month during the best of times and he seems to sleep fine. Everyone will forgive an absent father for showing up at the finish line." For starters, I am a naturally guilt ridden person, anxiety prone and skittish by nature- but I have a moral compass. The anxiety and guilt that I would suffer from allowing myself to do less than I am physically and emotionally able would crush me. As for the ladies who are reading this- I just ask that if you meet a man who had children that he does not take care of, no excuses, then don't give him a chance to be a repeat offender. 

I would be willing to concede that this instance might/should be considered Prejudiced, because the power she exerted over me was not systemic- but isn't the systemic built on stereotypes that become so prominent that it feels okay to rationalize a choice that effects another person's life based on the conventional belief of what "those people" want or need or should have?

I did move back, which was a great source of financial strain. I couldn't transfer jobs back, I had to reboot my career. Just in the process of moving back and forth so close together, I lost a lot of my accumulated life. She was pregnant and I stayed quiet in service to her pregnancy and out of a sense of duty I carried as a man. Friends started to give me grief over how much I needed to step up, or how mean I was being by not getting into a relationship with her- since I moved back, that's what she told everyone she wanted and I was the bad guy for not reciprocating. I don't blame them, because as I said- I kept quiet. I didn't share what I was feeling, and I didn't want to throw her under the bus. She was going through enough physically and emotionally, and for my part, I could take it.

After my son was born, however, it quickly became clear that I would not be inherently granted equal rights as it pertained to the raising of my son. I tried to be patient, I awkwardly took what time I was given and passively begged for more of an equal share, trying to be sensitive to what she must be going through. I was stuck between taking away her baby and gaining access to mine.

To be fair, once I swallowed my own fears and barriers and sat with her to discuss the future of raising him, she was pretty open to the idea- just not to the equal degreeI hoped for. She insisted that we go to court and get it all straightened out and official, I agreed. But in California, it's mandatory that you attempt a mediation service before appearing in court to see if you can come to agreeable terms before being brought before the judge. The mediator, someone who was supposed to be impartial, told me that no mediator in the state would give me a 50% share of physical custody because they wouldn't feel right taking a mother's child away from her for that stretch of time- he was not breastfeeding and it was not any more biologically imperative that he be with her for longer than he should be with me. I felt powerless to argue with the professional and took what I was given, which was more than I had. I called it a little victory.

Over the next three years, I grew more frustrated with the situation. We returned to court in order to even things out, but she did not want to give me more than 45% physical custody because an even share would reduce the child support I paid to nearly nothing. I had already conceded to allowing her to claim him on taxes every year, I paid to have him on my insurance, I paid for half of all medical and child care costs. But the judge sided with her and wouldn't give me more than 45%, which basically came out to one less day every two weeks. It meant that when he was with me for the weekend, I had to drive him back on Sunday rather than take him to school the next morning.

Outside of court, she agreed to let me keep him that extra night without argument as long as I kept on paying child support. I continue with that off the books arrangement even after she has married and is now pregnant with another child. 

I believe that the mediators and judges who saw it fit to determine that I should have to fight for equal parental rights, that the burden of proof should not be set first at equality and then adjusted based on the situation and standings of both the parents involved, used their power hand in hand with their prejudices against men in determining what I should have, what I deserve or need or am entitled to. 

I don't want to tell this story to be inflammatory, but to find a common ground with the women who say that I can't possibly understand. This is to the people who say I can join their struggle, but only quietly in the back of their bus so long as I keep to myself and act as quiet as the signatures on their petition. I understand that this is a deeply emotional battle for many of you and all I want is for you to know that on some small level, I understand. I have felt that feeling in a way that is very real and significant to my life. If you want to ignite a passionate revolution, it might help to have a few men aboard that empathize with your plight. A few men who connect to your idea with emotions of their own, that shut down slut shaming and oppressive inequalities within their own system- who act on what's right instead of staying quiet for the fear of joining a battle where they are perceived to have everything to lose among their man-peers and nothing at all to gain.

I woke up this morning to see if anyone had responded to my Facebook comment on the Guerrilla Feminism page only to find that it had been deleted. My feelings aren't worthy enough to be a part of their revolution. I am not equipped with a valid  enough point of contribution to the argument that they are trying to make. 

I searched around for their posts a while longer, trying to see what I had done wrong- what point I had missed. I was met with a bunch of self congratulatory posts about how brave and bold they were going to be, no matter who didn't like it. I was met with posts that preached unto themselves and only focused on a change that could be simulated internally. 

I am not here to proclaim that what I've gone through is on par with anyone else's discrimination, I know it isn't. I just wanted to reach out to those who were so emotionally charged for their cause and say "me too." I have felt something like that and I understand. I won't do it because... I won't allow it in my presence because....

Not because I am honored to be a man, not because I am grateful to be white and not because I am proud for belonging to the human species- because for a minute, I wanted to feel like I was part of the group that looks to make me proud. Honored. Grateful. We would probably have a lot more success if we were all rowing in the same direction, but until that day comes- fuck it. I'll be over here, igniting a revolution of my own. And anyone who wants to help, whatever the personal motivation may be, is welcome. 

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