Children of the revolution: life in a post feminist world.

This week I have been thinking about how life outside of the feminist paradigm can be so difficult to talk about let alone experience. Wherever one travels in the field of family separation, the tentacles of women’s rights creep determinedly in, like japanese knot weed in need of reporting.

The argument of most women’s rights organisations are based upon the idea that children’s needs and wants are indivisible from those of their mothers. This is feminism in action, putting the rights and needs of women first with their children enmeshed within that aim. Those who know the Children Act 1989 will point to the right of the child and the way in which this is set out in the act, to protect and further the needs of children separate from their parents. The problem with the Children Act being however, is that the way that this is too often interpreted and carried out is within a feminist paradigm which leads people to act ‘as if’ the needs and wishes and feelings of a child are indivisible from those of their mothers.

I have written elsewhere of how dangerous this practice is. This framing of all support around the mother after separation as if she and only she is the parent worthy of that. Equally dangerous is the analysis of relationships between mothers and fathers after separation and the upholding of the belief that a mother is a good parent and a father is a parent who must prove he is good before he is allowed to be a parent at all. These gateways, these embedded barriers, are what lead us to live in a culture where dads are disposable, as highlighted in the new CSJ report – Fully Committed, which is published today. This report, which looks at the blocks to involved fatherhood, is something that my husband Nick Woodall has been working on for some time now and I am delighted to see in that report those things which we know must change if we are to bring about better outcomes for the children affected by family separation in the years to come.

Those things are, by and large, to do with loosening the grip of feminist social policy on our family services and the cessation of a women’s rights agenda which is covertly delivered as part of this.  The proposal to change the child maintenance system for example, so that each parent after separation is regarded as both capable of paying AND receiving, of caring AND providing for their children. And the notion that the lone parent model of support to families, is simply a way of ensuring that women gain and maintain control and the financial independence to maximise that post separation.

These things, which exist still in our social policy, were written in the days when women could not leave a relationship and automatically take their children with them.  These things were designed to enable women to leave marriages with impunity and to ensure that their needs were met in a world where they were, largely, still often financially dependent upon their husbands.  These things were written at a time when women could not sign for a mortgage independently and where their wages for the same job of work were often lower than a man simply because they were not a man.

Those days are far far away in the past. Despite all of the stories about glass ceilings and women being oppressed, the reality is that in this day and age a woman is able to own her own home, work for the same pay as a man and achieve as much as men can achieve in the world outside the home.

Inside the home however it is as if the past forty years never happened.  Women who once went out to work, shared being pregnant with their husband and who were equally as likely to lounge about in bed instead of doing the housework, suddenly, on the point of separation, become separated ‘stepford’ wives, conforming to the stereotype of poor little woman, abandoned to her fate, children starving and without shoes.  Why?  Well I would argue because of the way in which feminist social policy belittles women and ties them firmly to the kitchen sink and because modernising Britain, in terms of valuing and supporting engaged and healthy fatherhood has largely been a matter of men tip toeing around on the edges of family policy hoping they might, if they are not too threatening, be allowed to say that dads are actually quite important. The debate about fatherhood and its importance is one which is frustratingly stilted and ever so polite. Everyone is far too busy passing round the hot potatoes of violence in the home and money and being careful not to offend some organisations who get upset at the mere thought that dads should be automatically supported in their children’s lives post separation.

A modern day workforce in the field of family support however, will be equipped to support both mothers and fathers and will also be able to differentiate between the type of violence from which people must be immediately protected and that which can be treated through therapeutic means.  A modern day workforce recognises that women have rights and men have rights and that a balancing of those rights does not come before the rights and needs of their children.  A modern day organisation supporting separated families will be able to start where each person in the family is and will be able to deliver the immediate, medium and longer term support that sheperds the changing family through the difficult times. And a modern day service will not need to declare itself anything other than committed to equalities, there to support children to maintain strong relationships with all of the important adults in their lives. Viewed through a post feminist lens, those big bucks Charities such as Women’s Aid and Refuge, Gingerbread et al, all start to look a little bit 1970’s. Their policies and practices sounding more like a second wave feminist manifesto than a truly modern set of proposals to support the separating family in 2014. Continued concentration on women’s rights is all well and good, but the grip they hold on the consciousness of another generation is starting to slip as it becomes apparent that their rule over the sphere of family separation is disappearing. Change or die goes the old maxim and in line with many other countries, it is time for those organisations to modernise their act. Or shut up shop.

Life in a post feminist world is not a dream, it can deliver a great deal more than the limitations set upon family services by the one sided, self interested services which have thus far brought us to a world of disposable dads.  It can engage fathers and mothers and it can bring together a working alliance which supports children through change.  Life in a post feminist world, where everyone is different and equal is possible and it is time the voices of those supporting dads started to find the courage to say so because the dissonance between what is said and done about family policy within Westminster circles and the reality facing families is so vast, that speaking the truth, at times feels like howling into a gale force wind.

As the Westminster edifice begins to crumble away however and the sins of the past which were visited on children by those working in government departments as well as government funded organisations begin to be made visible,  the feminist stranglehold on family policies and practice will be examined alongside the impact on families and the way in which the children in them have been impacted by this.  Whatever we think about feminism, it has been at the heart of the Westminster world for well over five decades now, some of its proponents being, in the past, heavily involved in things which will now be scrutinised in the present.  Perhaps the time is coming when the truth of what has been done to our children in the name of this political doctrine, will finally be understood and we will know for sure, that supporting children in separated families requires a revolution all of its own.

15 comments

  1. Great piece, Karen, as always.
    However, it is written on the day when the media are speculating, certainly truthfully, of Cameron’s government HAVING to introduce more women into cabinet.
    I make this point because I see no loosening of the grip feminism has on government – or any inclination of government to do any single thing which may upset the feminist lobby

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    • karenwoodall · July 14, 2014

      I am starting to wonder Cityman whether the threads that unravel in the child abuse enquiry might just shake up the Westminster circles a little more than they bargained for. As part of that process, the grip that feminism has on social policy around the family may well be forced to be loosened. If you look at my link to government funded organisations in the blog piece you will see it goes to a piece about how NCOPF (that’s Gingerbread to me and you) were calling for the abolition of the age of consent in 1979. That’s something that those of us who know what feminism has done in terms of demonising men have a duty to flag up. Women’s rights organisations saying that sex with children was something to consider? This is the time when the feminists who have held our family policy in a steel like grip must answer for their role in the unfolding scandal of our time. What part did these women play in making the world unsafe for children? What part do they still play in rendering children vulnerable? It is time to start talking about feminism as the political doctrine that it is and not some universal truth that really means we are all just jolly nice people. I think we are on a twin track process of the past catching up and the future evolving out of what we learn, no time for silence, that is for certain. K

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  3. caprizchka · July 14, 2014

    An attorney by the name of Hillary Rodman was instrumental in the formation of the policies described in the article through her work at Yale. She’s getting ready to reap the “reward” of her harvest. We live in pivotal times.

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  4. J · July 15, 2014

    Thank you for another great article Karen, giving insight to the wider problem, and reasons why so many children (including two of mine) so often lose half their (typically paternal) family, .

    Interestingly when I was at Court last week and asked the Cafcass Guardian if he had followed the link I had provided him to your blog……he had to ask me to remind him of your name.

    Yeh, like if he had done as I suggested he would forget….and would he have apparently forgotten your name so easily if you were an active and respected feminist….I suspect not?

    Having done so, he made no admission to having followed the link, but instead claimed he had spoken to a colleague who had once been on the same case as you……and had told him you acted in a very unprofessional manner.

    How? – I asked – and he shrugged his shoulders – wouldn’t it be normal in such a situation, and in front of a Judge to qualify such a statement? Well he didn’t, and wasn’t asked to….and if I am honest…..I think he either made it up…or was simply laying the foundations to discredit anything of yours that I may have quoted from your blogs or research..

    This is of course a man who told me, outside of the Court, that psychologists…..along with any counselors or therapists, or people like you, that subscribe to their theories (especially any of those that contain the word alienation) are all a bunch of – crackpots!!!!

    I’m not sure if this time served Cafcass veteran is a victim of feminist doctrine, or just ignorance, but either way, he and countless like him are able to destroy thousands of young lives…..and for sure, the feminist movement, nor any of those supposed to be on the side of kids like the NSPCC, make any attempt step in and try to stop this travesty from happening.

    And will anyone make any attempt to do so in the near future…..well along with citymanmichael I too was concerned by the news today that suggests feminism may have a grip on our current government……I hope not…..and instead I hope that the women being drafted in have a desire for true equality…..but sadly past experience says not to expect that.

    Perhaps as you say the child abuse enquiry might shake up Westminster and as a result bring about a loosening of the hold feminism has on social policy, I do hope so, for the sake of the tens if not hundreds of thousands of children whose lives have been ruined over the last decades.

    Life in a post feminist world where men and women are finally equal…..and allowed to care for their children on that basis…..has to be a better one…..which I look forward to,,,,but how much longer do we have to wait for it, because for too many children including my own, it will surely come too late?

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    • karenwoodall · July 15, 2014

      sadly J the court is an unpleasant arena and no place to resolve these issues. It is not the first time and it won’t be the last that I have heard CAFCASS efforts to discredit me. Funnily enough though, I also hear CAFCASS speaking highly of me too so it can really be a matter of whether or not the individual CAFCASS officer likes what I say and do (or not). On some cases, where I disagree with a CAFCASS officer, it can be interpreted as ‘acting unprofessionally,’ all these things are subjective and as you say are not qualified. The thing about the court arena is that it is a small world, a stifled world really I suppose, in which gossip and bad mouthing are rife. I don’t think it is really useful unfortunately, to point uninitiated CAFCASS folk to my blog, especially if they are agin you in the first place. It takes quite a journey to get to where I have got to in terms of my thinking and many blocks and barriers in mind and practice have to be faced and dismantled before one can reach the conclusions reached herein. Those who are schooled in feminist thought and women/good men/bad are likely to find it tough going first read on these pages.

      That said I am not willing to not say these things. To not say them would be to not be the person that I am and to not stand up for the children who are so badly affected by the policies and practice which render them so vulnerable to loss of half of their heritage. One day, when the world has moved on, I think the way that we work at the Clinic will be standard and CAFCASS will understand that feminism is just a politicial doctrine not a universal truth.

      Until then I think we just have to keep pressing on with what we are doing, knowing the risks but taking them anyway and being true to what we know children need – people who stand up for their right to know both of their parents in close and intimate harmony over their lives.

      K

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      • karenwoodall · July 15, 2014

        You might like to point the individual concerned to an article I have had published this month in the respected Journal Seen & Heard which is published by NAGALRO for Independent Social Workers and Guardians. I don’t have a link online yet but there will be one shortly. If you direct the individual to the latest copy of the Journal, the article is called ‘Working with the Alienated Child.’ That in itself will establish a stronger academic argument. You will note that we do not link to this blog from the Family Separation Clinic website, that is so that people can direct professionals there rather than here where I am discussing things wider than practice with alienated children. The article will be up on the Clinic website later this week too. K

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  5. J · July 15, 2014

    Yes on hindsight, certainly in respect of Cafcass, I don’t think it achieved anything mentioning your blog, which is a shame when someone wielding so much power should be aware of the issues you raise. It shouldn’t be but sadly is a huge shame, that as you say, people consider you, or in fact any other professional that does not tow the party line, to be unprofessional. Just to finish on that point though, it did do some good as I was looking to get the Judge to appoint someone to do similar work to what you do at the clinic, and the Judge at least understood that and my reasons for suggesting it, even if he didn’t do so with Cafcass so obviously opposed claiming it would have no benefit for the children.

    However, now that my own case is effectively closed, at least for now, I am tempted to send the individual concerned a copy of the research article by Dr Sue Whitcombe that she presented at the British Psychological Society conference at the weekend. Albeit that it is more about the effects of alienation on parents, than about the children themselves, it would be difficult for anyone to claim the author was either a crankpot or anti feminist since it is effectively just a collection of observations.

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  6. Vincent McGovern · July 15, 2014

    Unfortunately in the narrow stifled world of Cafcass and family courts there will always be the likelihood of desperate albeit tactically naive fathers eager to advance their cases by referring to blogs such as Karen’s when they meet unprofessional and biased personnel within the system. The more widely read these excellent blogs are the more they will by used in similar circumstances. Unintended consequences and all that.

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    • karenwoodall · July 15, 2014

      Yes it is definitely tactically naive to refer professionals to this blog, it is for parents rather than professionals. The Clinic website is for professionals http://www.familyseparationclinic.co.uk

      K

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      • J · July 15, 2014

        Tactically naive I guess due to not having seen it as a game but a necessity for professionals in the Family Court arena to keep up to date with their CPD, and thus their understanding of the bigger picture, but yes I do now realise that their reading is probably somewhat selective and confined to material that further reinforces their already entrenched views about children and families. I will wait until your article is available on the clinic website so that I have been able to read it myself, then direct said professional to it there and/or in Seen and Heard, many thanks.

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      • karenwoodall · July 15, 2014

        We have put it up on the FSC we will link it to Nagalro as soon as it is online but you can find it here for now.

        http://www.familyseparationclinic.co.uk/articles/

        It is a game J a lot of the time. Some CAFCASS officers are excellent in what they do and others are not, some like me some don’t, it depends a lot of the on their own experience and how they feel professionally. I have worked with some brilliant people from CAFCASS and some equally brilliant independent Guardians and some less than brilliant too.

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  7. padrestevie · July 15, 2014

    Talk of CAFCASS here reminded me of this piece that I saw the other day,

    http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/cafcass-model-of-evidence-informed-practice?utm_source=Jordan+Publishing&utm_medium=twitter&utm_term=Family+Law#.U8TgGyjnUVR

    The choice of words in the title, “Cafcass model of “Evidence Informed Practice”, struck me immediately: Evidence “informed” and not evidence “based” practice.
    It begs the question, “What has previously provided the basis for practice if not evidence?”

    It goes on to say;

    “Some of the tools, for example the Safe Contact Indicator and the Impact of Parental Conflict Indicator, have been created within Cafcass and as such are not formally validated.”

    In other words, decisions are being made using methodology which has not been rigorously tried and tested! The choice of words is therefore accurate. Practice and reporting is not based upon evidence but upon untested hypothesis, suspicions and beliefs. This is a staggering admission.

    It is little wonder that Allan Wood the president of ADCS (Association of Directors of Children’s Services) recently accused prominent universities of turning out “crap social workers”.

    http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2014/07/09/adcs-president-accuses-universities-turning-crap-social-workers/#.U75YBI1dXR0?cmpid=NLC|SCSC|SC019-2014-0710

    Evidence based practice should be instilled in practitioners from the outset. CAFCASS should not need to retrain “qualified” practitioners in this facet of social science.

    Thank you Karen for a superb and insightful summary. I share your hope and pray that you are right.

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  8. Anthony · July 21, 2014

    Great piece Karen…a (pretty) lone voice crying in the wilderness…keep it up..more strength to your arm!
    Anthony

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  9. Paul Nathanson · April 7, 2015

    I live far away, in Canada, and know nothing of the immediate conflicts in England over family law–except that they occur in an ideological world not very different from the one over here. But here’s a question for you all. And it’s a real question, not a rhetorical question.

    Assuming that fathers and mothers should be equally involved in parenting, what is the precise function of fathers? In other words, given the current reality, are fathers merely assistant mothers at best? Is there anything that only fathers can do, just as there obviously are a few things that only mothers can do? Do we really need fathers as well as mothers, or will any two people (or any single person) do just as well? I strongly suspect that we do need fathers. And yet I see that “father” and “mother” have become almost synonymous in the common parlance of this time, which means that the rhetoric of equality might be somewhat misleading–if “equal” is a synonym for “same” (which it has become in my part of the world).

    My own research is about men. I suggest that men, like every other group, must have a healthy collective identity. And by “healthy,” I mean one that allows them to make at least one contribution to society that is (a) distinctive, (b) necessary and (c) publicly valued.

    In addition, I suggest that of the historic contributions of this kind that men have made (such as warrior and provider), only fatherhood remains distinctive (as something that neither women nor the state acting for women cannot supply) and therefore remains legitimate as a healthy source of identity for men despite current attempts to undermine it.

    Moreover, I suggest that society’s attempts to undermine fatherhood, whether wittingly or unwittingly, will have very grave results not only for men in general and fathers in particular but also for children (especially but not only boys).

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