by Robert Gillespie
by J. Kevin Cool
And war is the metaphor many men use to describe divorce, says Associate Professor of Sociology Terry Arendell in her recently published book, Fathers and Divorce. Arendell, whose earlier book, Mothers and Divorce, described the attitudes and opinions of women who had experienced divorce, conveys and puts into context the anger, hostility and frustration of men who believe they are victims of a system that favors women.
"What was striking --and strikingly different-- in this study was the level of rage expressed by these men," Aren-dell said. "There were some women [in my earlier study] who were angry, but they were mostly angry with the legal system. It wasn't personalized hostility. The men were angry at their ex-wives."
Based on extensive interviews with 75 divorced fathers from New York state, Arendell's study might --or might not-- be representative of divorced fathers in general. The characteristics of her sample group suggest that, if anything, their attitudes were moderate compared to the general population. "Only fifteen percent of the fathers in my study had no contact with their children; nationally, the percentage is much higher," Arendell said. "Earlier research suggests that fathers who are involved with their children have less anger towards their former spouse, perhaps because of the negative effects it has on their children. But among this sample, anger was definitely the dominant motif."
Indeed, the men in Arendell's book are given to diatribes aimed at their former wives. Said one, "She was a parasite, a money-sucking parasite, and she still is. That's what the law [in awarding a custodial mother child support] does, rewards parasitic women."
That these men devalued their former wives is not surprising in the context of the "gender-stratified society" in which they live, Arendell says. "Degrading the former wife served several functions," she said. "It lent support to assertions about a miscarriage of justice, including that they had been badly mistreated in the divorce settlement and illegitimately stripped of authority in the family."
While most of the men in her study complained that they had been victimized by a system that robs men of their rights, Arendell says, they often broadened their comments about their ex-wives to generalize about all women and to use their own experience as an example of the injustices divorced fathers must endure.
"I think the hostility these men feel is created by the loss of power and authority that they are experiencing for the first time in their lives," she said. "Men define themselves according to their perceived public role as a provider. When their authority as a provider is called into question, they're not sure how to deal with it. Most of these men [in the study] didn't anticipate how much those issues would be raised."
Arendell says she struggled to resolve her own theoretical influences, informed by interpretative feminist sociology, with her desire to be a neutral researcher. "It was a real dilemma, because on the one hand my objective was to be neutral, but on the other I was being pushed to contextualize the data because I recognize that the society is gender-stratified."
Arendell says that much of the current debate about men's divorce rights is driven by economics. She says that, while there are obvious exceptions, many divorced fathers are pushing to expand their custodial rights as a way of lowering their child-support payments. "It's interesting that the men complained about the deprivation their divorces had brought upon them, but the women in my study were preoccupied with economic survival."
The direction of recent court rulings broadening custodial rights of divorced fathers and increasing their leverage in determining child support payments and other economic settlements disturbs Arendell. "What's especially unfortunate is that the debate is being posed as a fight between men and women rather than as an issue about caring for children," she said.
Arendell's next research effort may be aimed at college-aged children of divorced parents. "I have a lot of students who tell me they would like to see more research done about the effects of divorce on young adults," she said. "That might be an interesting study."
|Second in Command
A recent study shows that The Journal of Contemporary China, edited by Associate Professor of Government Suisheng Zhao, is the second most powerful influence on Americans' attitudes toward China. The study, conducted by a professor of political science at the University of Connecticut at Hartford, listed Zhao's journal behind ex-CBS newscaster Connie Chung and ahead of The Private Life of Chairman Mao, a new book written by Mao Zedong's physician. The Journal of Contemporary China, founded in 1992, publishes articles on prominent mainland Chinese issues. Topics have included the political debate about Tibet, economic reform, Communism, the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan and Chinese intellectuals. It is the only English language journal in North America that provides information about contemporary Chinese affairs.
Vice President for Development Randy Helm was quoted in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education about efforts by institutions to recruit wealthy trustees.
"Trusteeship is too important to put blinders on and only look at philanthropic ability," Helm told the newspaper. He explained that Colby's philosophy in selecting trustees used a "three W's" rule of thumb. The College seeks trustees who can provide at least two of the three W's: wealth, work and wisdom, Helm says.
"The quickest route for disaster is to make wealth the sole criterion," he said.
The Chronicle of Higher Education is a leading publication aimed at faculty and administrators.
The survey, whose results were paraphrased in Washington Technology, asked 29 male undergraduate computer science students whether programmers or their computers should be blamed for system crashes that wreak havoc. More than one-fifth of the respondents said it was the computers' fault. In fact, 83 percent maintained that computers "decide" how to perform and are partially responsible for their own problems.
However, one respondent held that such a claim is ridiculous, saying: " . . . that would be like me blaming the car for running over a dog. You can't blame an inanimate object."
The study may help shed light on a developing legal dilemma about who should be held accountable when valuable computer-based information is damaged by system malfunctions.
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