As a necessary counterweight to the excesses of the women’s rights movement, a men’s right movement has developed to fight for equity in the courts, in the family and in the workplace. For instance, in divorces there is significant and insurmountable (unless you have lots of money) obstacles to getting a fair custody decision regarding your children. Restraining orders are given away easily and have been used as weapons in divorce cases even when there is no evidence of abuse. There clearly is a need to stop the abuse men suffer from the excesses of the women’s rights movement.

The problem with the movement, which is the same problem with the women’s rights movement, is that adoption of the victim-enemy moniker that the press imposes on every issue. Anyone who does marketing for television will tell you this is the format to present any issue if you want news coverage: one, pick a victim and tell a sob story. This victim must be presented as angelic, an innocent victim of a cruel and obstinate system without regard for truth. Two, find a villain. This villain is the epitome of moral evil and must be destroyed. For many issues, referring to George W. Bush suffices (which is why political discourse in this country is so worthless).

Villains cannot be compromised with, they must be defeated. They are the bad guys and we need to stick up for the good guys at all costs. The problem is that compromise becomes unthinkable and even seeing the legitimate points of view of the other side is out of the question. To see this play out, see any political debate show talking about the election.

While there are significant injustices the men suffer as documented in Steven Baskerville’s fine book Taken Into Custody, there are injustices that women have and still do suffer also.

Retraining orders are far too easy to get without any evidence whatsoever (go ahead and sit in a courtroom and watch a hearing for one if you don’t believe me), but on the other hand there are men (and women) out there who are physically abusive and could care less about that piece of paper a court order is written on. People go to the system for help and they don’t get the help they need. We can all agree that no innocent woman or man should not be protected against an abuser. Surely there is some middle ground to address both sides.

Therein lies the difficulty. Activist groups, if they want even an ounce of press or public pressure, must adopt from the start that the other side is evil and wants to screw the innocent. Compromise is not only difficult, it’s impossible. All these groups then rank legislators on their absolute compliance with their agenda. Any leeway on their part makes them unacceptable.

So thinks have settled into a nice little détente where the men’s rights and women’s rights movements resort to outright name-calling instead of reasoned debate to improve the status of all people. With some issues, such rhetoric is not a big deal. In this case, we are dealing with families where peace should reign. Instead we have dueling groups that wage their war and leave the family asunder. Families are the building block of society, and as goes the family, so goes society.

It may be tempting for the men’s rights movement to say “let’s not compromise until they do”, but even from a political standpoint, if it is an all-or-nothing fight the women’s groups have more clout and that is that. Adopting a more holistic approach is also a political necessity if they don’t want to be side-lined.

It is long past time for policy makers and policy advocates to drop the all-or-none attitude and start to find a middle ground to find beneficial policies for what is best for the entire family. In an all-or-nothing fight, one side may win, but in the end we all lose.

John Bambenek is a freelance columnist and writer as well as an academic professional at the University of Illinois. He is on the board of the Illinois Alliance for Parents and Children.

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