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"Domestic woes not a one-way street"

London Free Press, By SHARON OSVALD, November 6, 2001

For all the times I stood up and shouted "unfair, unfair," on behalf on my own gender, it's now time for me to defend the other half of the room. Men are getting a bad deal.

It was while helping a friend edit an independent study for her social work degree this first came to my attention. I smiled politely when she first told me she was writing about male partner abuse. (It was sure to be a short report, I thought). Thus began my first introduction to the notion that real sexual prejudice and gender profiling exists for men, just as it does for women.

Although I am cautious to comment on families whose personal lives I am not intimate with, the acquittal of Carline Vandenelsen was my re-awakening to the topic.

While I'd likely be typing just as furiously in opposition were Vandenelsen sitting in a jail cell right now, the fact that she was completely acquitted by "reason of necessity" still astounds me.

By allowing Vandenelsen to break the law in such an obvious manner, the judge's ruling clearly shows when it comes to children, mothers trump fathers. I can't think of a better illustration that there are beliefs held near and dear to people in our society (glass ceiling and all) that unfairly disadvantage men while benefiting women.

According to the male partner abuse independent study, much of today's sexism against males is rooted in a shift of emphasis in feminism from equity feminism to gender feminism.

No longer do we want equity for all human beings, but now many feminists see men as the patriarchal oppressor, someone to take back the night from, not someone who can fight injustice and violence alongside them.

Society and laws that govern the family largely see women as victims of men (who are inherently bad), empowered by a society that oppresses women. Since we all know no man would have been acquitted on those charges, society also believes mothers are inherently better parents then fathers.

As a mother, I know that is not true. For all my "never send a man to do a woman's job" rhetoric, I can be just as egocentric as the next guy. I've witnessed my husband blossom with patience and maternal -- I mean paternal -- instinct when I was at the end of my rope, and visa versa.

I've also witnessed enough family breakdowns to know men don't have a corner on the market for bad behaviour. Mothers, not just fathers, use their children for collateral, as mini private investigators, and as weapons against their former partners. Even Erin Pizzey, an incredible advocate for women and the founder of the first modern women's shelter 30 years ago, came under fire from those who insist all women are simply victims of male oppression for saying some people actually choose violent relationships.

While I in no way wish to diminish the horrible reality of women who are victimized by their male partners and their need for help and support, being male does not make one immune to victimization or violence. The independent study showed research conducted by the Canadian and British governments found a significant number of men, although usually physically stronger, are physically and emotionally abused by women.

What is disturbing is society's reaction to men being abused by women. Our first reaction is, I wonder what he did to drive his wife to shoot him?

Violent behaviour by women is almost always perceived as a pre-emptive strike or self- defence. While violent men are seen as pure evil, women who harm or kill their male partners are assumed mentally ill and are often pitied as victims who finally snapped under all the strain.

If you doubt this, ever wonder why we don't have an annual Phil Hartma march or rally for men, or why John Wayne Bobbit is in comedy instead of therapy?

*Sharon Osvald is a London freelance writer. Her column appears Tuesdays.