This has been quite a week in the world of family separation politics and, as expected, the battle of the sexes has begun to escalate dramatically. I tried very hard not to comment, but the events that have unfurled have been so astonishing, that I cannot help but make a few, (very carefully chosen) observations. I say well chosen because as always, in the field of family separation, the political is extremely personal and I know that anyone who does jump in to have their say can very easily come out the other side feeling as if they have been mauled by a rottweiler.
This week has seen Louis de Bernieres commenting in the Daily Mail on the difficulties that fathers face when the family separates. I listened to Louis, on Radio 4 and found him to be so much like other men that I work with in this situation. Heading into the family justice system, many fathers believe that they will, upon being heard, get a fair outcome and that their relationship with their children will be protected. Heading out of that system, I meet dads who are often in a severe state of trauma, bewildered by what has happened to them, uncertain how to go on in life, depressed because of the way that they feel discriminated against and unable to believe that no-one can see what is happening. As Louis says in his Daily Mail article; ‘There was, however, a time when I was utterly bereft. For some months, I was helpless with rage and frustration and an overwhelming sense of injustice, always aware that any extreme expression of my despair would inevitably be used against me in order to show that I was unstable.’
we are in favour of contact where it is safe for children but have look at our research paper which says it isn’t easy. That’s why we are supporting the Children Act 1989 as it stands because the paramountcy principle is the evidence that the family courts deliver the best outcomes for children.
and by the way we were one of the founding members of Kids in the Middle Campaign, with Relate, Families need Fathers and the Fatherhood Institute.
So that’s alright then. The Children Act as it stands is the proof that Dick Dastardly F4J are looking for and Gingerbread are, after all, on the side of everyone. Also, being women, and therefore of a more delicate disposition, isn’t it about time we all stopped having a go at them?
Jolyon Maugham from the Fatherhood Institute thought so. He galloped into the battle this week demanding that purple pests F4J stop harassing Gingerbread and their staff. I had been feeling a little admiring of Jolyon up to that point as he tweeted his disappointment that Gingerbread were perpetuating the same old outdated stereotypes around family separation in the debate about shared parenting. I began to wonder whether the Fatherhood Institute might, after all, possess a whiff of testosterone. This delusion however was not to last, as all too soon, the real Jolyon emerged on his charger, to rescue said Gingerbread damsels, who were clearly distressed by the persistence of trolls on their Facebook page. Clearly, for the Fatherhood Institute, it’s just not cricket to be too challenging or too demanding. Either that or the guilt of his tweets overcame him.
On another subject, the Fatherhood Institute also posted an article this week asking why a father of a child, whose mother died in childbirth, was not automatically given the child to bring up. Reading this, I almost fell off my chair in amazement. I can’t decide whether the chaps over at FI are being deliberately dim or whether they think they are asking a question that no-one knows the answer to. The issue being debated was why a father does not have the same automatic right to a relationship with a child as a mother, in this case, a baby, whose mother had died in childbirth. This father had had to undergo assessments and the child had been put into temporary foster care whilst his right to be his child’s father was determined by social workers. FI couldn’t seem to understand why.
To help them out, here goes. The reason why that father was not automatically given PR and the child to care for is that the law that governs family separation, starts from the premise that fathers may not be safe and therefore need to be prevented from automatic rights to a relationship with a child. Hence the fact that unmarried fathers have to apply for Parental Responsibility or be granted it by their child’s mother, unless she agrees to him putting his name on the birth certificate. And the reality is that Institutes that are supposed to be set up to further the interests of fathers, supporting organisations like Gingerbread, leads to the perpetuation of the same unequal system that got us into the kind of mess that leaves a father having to fight for the right to bring up his natural child. In short, this mess was created by the kind of belief system that sees men as dangerous to children and a Fatherhood Institute, one would have thought, would not only be alive to this, they would be challenging it all the way, not asking vague questions that appear to be designed to make us believe that they are.
And it needs challenging because over at the cosy club that is Mumsnet, the extreme end of the women’s rights movement seems not only to be alive and well, but flourishing. For those of you who are unfamiliar with radical feminist beliefs, let me give you quick summary.
I was a radical feminist in the days when it first came alive as a thought process and way of life. As a former initiate, I am aware of the way in which this particular movement deploys smoke and mirrors to persuade its followers to believe that all men are violent bullies and potential rapists. Women in relationships with men are viewed as collaborators by this particular sisterhood and the Mumsnet gang appear to label these women ‘handmaidens.’ (For the uninitiated, that is a reference to the book the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, a book described thus – In a dystopicly polluted rightwing religious tyranny, a young woman is put in sexual slavery on account of her now rare fertility ). In Rad/Fem world therefore, all women in relationships with men are in sexual slavery.
Whilst I am no longer interested in listening to or reading the writings of women who are as enslaved in their own tyrannical beliefs as those they think they are liberating women from, I was curious to see what was going on over at Mumsnet. Alerted to the existence of this particular thread by F4J reporting them to the Police for gender hatred, alongside the almost surreal idea that Mumsnet were harboring such a viperous nest, curiosity got the better of me. Wandering onto the thread, I felt as if I were entering the days of my youth, back in the seventies and early eighties. Posts declaring that ‘all women are to be believed without question’ and arguments that women cannot be guilty of misandry whilst men retain all of the power over the state, finance and business along with various unpleasant rants along the lines of the queen of radical feminism herself Valerie Solanas abounded. I half expected to see SCUM Manifestos to appear up there at one point.
Mumsnet apparently went into meltdown on Tuesday night this week with uproar ensuing after posts were deleted and Mumsnetters were cautioned on their use of language and tendency to stray into defamation territory. F4J were the butt of much of this vitriol, which resulted in the report to the Police and, whilst things seem to have calmed down a bit now, the extreme wing of the women’s rights movement continues to have their say, here’s one from last night –
‘women who hate men have no power or cultural endorsement to inflict their hate on anyone other than the odd individual. Such women tend to stand out in society and suffer consequences for their views/behaviour. Men who hate women have the whole structure and culture of society excusing, and sometimes actively reinforcing, their actions.’
Try telling that to Louis de Berniere and the thousands of other fathers out there who struggle with their relationships with children because of the lack of power and cultural endorsement wielded by the women in their lives.
In family separation, the old feminist adage ‘the personal is political’ comes perfectly into play. The personal in this field is most definitely political and the power, invested through the legislation created in the boiling pot of seventies feminism, is most certainly in the hands of women. Examining family separation through a gender lens clearly demonstrates that fathers are at a disadvantage when it comes to relationships with children after family separation. Examining the legislation, it is clear that it was designed to be that way. From the dad who cannot claim any rights to bring up his natural child, to the father who is reduced to the role of secondary helper to be deployed when strategically necessary, the intention is to put the power and control over children into women’s hands. In rad/fem world, a dad is a dispensable device and if they could be reduced to an iDad, as introduced by F4J this week, so much the better. I thought that this type of blinkered bigotry had died out as we, original radical feminists, grew up. I hoped that the conspiracy theories and the constant analysis of everything that is ever said by any man, at any time, was just part of a youthful movement that pushed real oppression out of the way. In the days when women could not leave relationships because they were likely to lose care of their children, this kind of feminism might have had a place, I said might. Now it just seems like the poisonous pedagogy of old, embittered women, who have indoctrinated another generation to believe that boys become dangerous when they reach puberty. But on Mumsnet? Astonished? Much!
These are, without doubt, changing times and when the old gives way to the new, there will always be a fight. As I have said on previous postings however, let us not be deceived by the notion that this is about good women and bad men. Whilst F4J are portrayed as the bullying baddies as they push to make us aware of the reality of 21st Century, fatherless Britain, one only has to take a look at Mumsnet threads to see the kind of bullying that really makes your hair curl. Mumsnet is supposed to offer advice and support, by mums for mums. But this kind of nastiness is not about helping people become better parents and it doesn’t do anything for children affected by family separation either.
And so, as the fight goes on and at the end of such a tumultuous week, I thought I would round off with something for the folk who believe that all dads turn dangerous or deadbeat after family separation and for those who think that children’s best interests are being served by the family courts. For all those who contribute to keeping the status quo, for those who want the fight to be fair and those who think that a few nasty comments on a Mumsnet thread are not harmful. For all of you, this is why change is necessary.
This week I reunited a ten year old boy with his father. This little boy has not seen his dad for four years and, whilst he was nervous, he was also curious and as he waited he asked ‘what does he look like, does he look like me?’ This little boy was wearing the T Shirt his dad had sent him during the period I was working to re-establish the relationship between them. His dad was waiting in another room, his heart ‘bumping through his chest’ with emotion at finally being able to see the son he was parted from after family separation four years previously. A bag of presents, things he had kept for his son over four years sat at his feet and food to share was on the table. After half an hour, the boy was sitting on his dad’s knee, his dad’s eyes full of tears but his face full of love and smiles. This man had, for four years, been portrayed as dangerous and this boy, for four years had been made to feel afraid of his father. Four years of court hearings, allegations and more allegations. Four years of thwarted contact orders and four long years of missed out on love and affection.
This is a man who is subject to the legislation that was brought about forty years ago. Legislation which requires that he proves that he is not what he is alleged to be and, if he shows any feeling about the accusation, it is viewed as proof that he is. This is a man whose relationship with his child is not viewed as being his natural right by too many people, even though he was married to the mother of his child and even though he holds parental responsibility.
The boy put his arms around his dad’s neck and said, ‘I love you dad, I missed you.’ It was almost more than any of us in the room could bear.
I wish I could say this case was rare. I can’t.
I wish I could say that this man had been prevented from being with his son because he was violent, dangerous and abusive. I can’t, because he was none of those things.