Risky times for broke men
Bettina Arndt – May 01 2020 at 12:20 AM
How irritating to watch feminist journalists everywhere fawning over NZ Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern, claiming her country leads the world in eliminating the COVID-19 virus – just one more example of why women have superior leadership skills.
In fact, Australia is doing a better job, with less shutdowns to destroy the economy. New Zealand has 0.4 deaths per 100,000 population while Australia has 0.3, according to a New Economic Forum analysis. And earlier this week infections were running at 26 cases per 100,000 people here compared to New Zealand’s 30 cases.
And New Zealand faces a tougher road back after their level 4 lockdown. No doubt we will hear very little from these journalists about Ardern’s attempts to hug her tattered economy back to life.
The Family Court toes the line
The big news in the feminist press this week was the Family Court has just announced a new triage system prioritising family violence matters. Such cases will now be able to be rushed through the courts within 72 hours.
“Our calls answered!! Thank You!” enthused Women’s Safety NSW which had been pushing out press releases reporting “alarming evidence” alleging “domestic abusers are using their shared care rights as a tool for further abuse during COVID-19.” They claim the closure of safe places for child handovers means women are forced to compromise their safety using informal arrangements to hand over children to abusive ex-partners.
So now the Family Court is to strengthen its policy of giving priority to cases where there are allegations of violence with a new dedicated COVID-list. Rest assured the Court will be less interested in the other major component in the recent 39 per cent increase in urgent applications to the Family Court – fathers being denied contact with their children.
Men who have spent years battling through the court system for decent parenting plans are discovering such hard-won victories count for little under the new COVID-19 social order where ex-partners use the virus as a reason to deny contact.
Corona child access battles
I’m hearing from many of these men. Yesterday a psychologist wrote about a father who spent over four years and huge sums fighting to get reasonable custody of his young child. As soon as COVID-19 hit his ex-wife denied all access claiming she was worried about the child’s health because of the father’s work, even though he was in a very safe job. She produced doctors’ letters claiming this posed a risk to the child and eventually the father agreed to stop working in a desperate attempt to still see his son. He’s now moved in with a family member to save money so he can still pay maintenance and lawyer’s bills but the mother’s lawyers are still making moves to cut back on the very minimum contact he currently has with the boy.
Of course, there are also men whose fears about the virus leads them to overreact, like the fathers who try to bully ex-partners who work in high risk jobs like hospitality or nursing to self-isolate from their children. But since it is mostly mothers who have the major care of children, they are usually the ones with the power.
There’s a very interesting blog by Robert Franklin, published on the National Parents Organisation website, commenting on current articles about sharing parenting which quote judges and lawyers sensibly saying that despite the pandemic parents should work together and abide by court orders. But Franklin then includes an extract from an article in The Atlantic by writer Deborah Copaken, who shares custody of her 13- year-old son with his father.
Copaken’s reaction to the pandemic was simple. She decided it was safer to keep the boy with her:
‘“I’m keeping him home from school,” I texted my ex the next morning: a unilateral decision, not an opening to a dialogue.’
She followed this up with another text to the father:
“Hey, hey, we need to talk about parenting in the era of corona. All things being equal, I’d be happier if he just stays here until the plague is over, but maybe you could do bike rides together outside?”
It’s perfectly acceptable for this woman to boast that she decided to violate the court order: “If you’re a Mom with possession of the kid, hey, do whatever you choose,” observes Franklin.
It says a lot that the magazine editors clearly thought this was fair enough.
Men at risk
Last week I received a tragic letter from a man who is facing his own court battle. After I wrote back to him trying to find someone to help him, I received another email which ended with the chilling line:
“I have been close to ending it all and your email literally was a life saver.”
Seventy per cent of Australia’s suicide victims are male and our biased court system has long been a key part of this problem. Now the corona virus is putting even more men’s lives at risk as divorced fathers deal with yet another obstacle in their fragile relationship with their children.
That’s not the only way this pandemic is putting pressure on vulnerable men. Just wait until the economic consequences of the lockdowns really start to kick in and more men lose their jobs.
It is now very unfashionable to talk about the burden men face providing for their families but the reality is that here in Australia males are more than twice as likely as women to be a couple’s primary breadwinner. Being the major provider for a family carries a real punch when it comes the impact of losing a job.That pesky legacy of “toxic masculinity” still connects a man’s earnings to his sense of self-worth and achievement.
Data from Australia’s leading longitudinal study, HILDA, shows in 2018 that males were the primary earner in 58 % of couples – 20 per cent of the women earned no income. In over 40% of dual earner couples, the female earned less than half that of the male, mainly due to working part- time.
So, it is hardly surprising that the loss of that key income hits men hard. Just look what happened after the financial crisis. British data showed 1,000 suicides linked to unemployment from 2008-2010, 84% of which were male, according to an analysis published in the British Medical Journal. And men dealing with this personal crisis rarely have the social networks nor inclination to seek out the help they need to get through.
But there’ s no way such analysis will impact on current media coverage promoting women as the real victims of the current economic crisis, as more jobs are being lost in retail, hospitality and healthcare sector which employ more women.
The barrage of stories about the stress this is placing on families has forced governments to dig deep for more money for mental health services. Our Federal government recently allocated an additional $74 million specifically for mental health services that are coming under strain during the coronavirus pandemic.
That money is to be shared amongst all the usual services, like Lifeline and Beyond Blue which in January received a $64 million funding boost for suicide prevention strategies. Most of that money will be spent supporting women, according to a detailed analysis by the Australia Men’s Health Forum (AMHF). Even Movember, the huge men’s health fundraising organisation, gives most of their suicide money to a programme called “Way Back” – 60% of people who benefit from this service are women.
But – wait for it – some of the new corona-related mental health funding is being directed at men. A very select group of men. Men’s Referral Services is to get more of the new mental health funding to deal with perpetrators of domestic violence. This is an organisation which proudly boasts of their expertise in weeding out the men who ring their help lines claiming to be victims of domestic violence but who are, in fact, perpetrators.