Breaking the chains that bind…

In the run up to Fathers Day in the UK we seem to have a plethora of new initiatives being launched by the old guard in the field of fatherhood and family separation.  Whilst F4J are hanging up their bat suits and launching a helpline and calling for a Minister for men and boys, Families need Fathers in England are launching a new charter.  Meanwhile in Wales, Both Parents Matter AKA FNF Wales are flirting with Maypole women and wondering whether a joint application for funding to the DWP has any legs (no change there then).  Much as it pains me to say it, it looks like business as usual for dads in distress in this run up to fathers day.

I have worked in this field for the past 23 years and this week I spent a bit of time looking back at the history of the way that fathers have been treated in the family justice system via an excellent not so potted history called An Exercise in Absolute Futility by Nick Langford, ex of F4J and careful and diligent curator of the history of the efforts to change family law in the UK. This book is an absolute eye opener and outlines for me the way in which the battles seen between mothers and fathers in the family courts, are mirrored almost perfectly by the parental rights groups set up to support them.  Whilst it is, in my view, an absolute fact that without F4J there would have been no consciousness raising of what happens to many dads in the family justice system, I have always wondered why there have never been the same kind of sophisticated campaigns and lobby groups supporting dads as there are supporting mothers.  From Gingerbread to Women’s Aid and all in between, the services, training, consciousness raising, campaigning, lobbying and downright overwhelming mighty force that emerged from the women’s movement, changed the face of family separation legislation, support services and public attitudes forever. Leaving dads blindsided and punch drunk when it came to understanding what had happened and why and in garnering a force to fight back.  Whilst F4J took some big steps to raising from the collective unconscious the importance of fathers and FNF muddled by doing what it could in helping dads to cope with being battered black and blue by the ever increasing divorce and separation rate, what has been missing for so long now has been the same kind of joined up thinking, creativity and gritty determination which characterised the women’s movement when it began to consolidate the changes it had stirred into concrete action.  Earlier this week I wrote about InsideMAN and the work being done to collectivise and amplify men’s voices for change, this is the natural next step in my view to generating the kind of movement which weaves a new way forward for men and their issues. A movement which both complements as well as challenges the monumental power of the women’s movement (which to my mind has lead to the fixed thinking that comes with not being challenged) and which creates for men, the opportunities, support and encouragement to change their own future.

This new approach is a far cry from the trojan horse narratives that are popular with some father’s groups. The kind of attitude which leads to unholy partnerships between FNF and Gingerbread but which lead nowhere other than the further empowerment of the women’s rights groups leaving the dads groups somewhat shafted and looking glum.  The trojan horse idea, which I notice this week has turned into an assertion that one cannot change things by being on the sidelines, is based upon a notion that if the women’s groups know how nice the men’s groups and the men’s groups support the women’s groups, the women’s groups will automatically offer their support in return.  Which would be funny if it were not selling an awful lot of dads down the river in the belief their interests are being fought for when in reality they are being sold to a women’s rights group who are fighting for the right of mothers to have primary care of their children.  Sophisticated this argument is not, which is why, in my view, there has been forty plus years without very much changing at all.

But this is not an all out attack on the father’s rights movement, it is an observation of what will bring change and a fairer world for men and women as mothers and fathers and the children they bring into the world. In my view it will not be the flirting, the trojan horse narratives, it will not be the shades of change asked politely for by the feminist Fatherhood Institute and it will not even be, in my view, the launching of helplines and skype lines and chat rooms. The change will come when the revolution begins inside of the soul of men themselves, when the chains they have been bound by internally and externally, are thrown away and their faces are turned to the sunshine. Men are people who hold up half of the sky, they are indispensible, courageous, creative, wonderful, mysterious creatures who complement the lives of women and without whom children could not be born onto this planet (nope, I am sorry, no-one has yet achieved a spermless conception and the arguments about men not being necessary therefore won’t wash).

When men and boys understand the essential nature of their existence, when they understand that without them the world cannot turn, then we will see the changes that so many men over the past forty years or so have waited for for so long.  Will it take a Minister for men and boys to help men connect to that? Will men be able to collectivise in ways that women were able to over the past four or five decades and when they do will they be able to bring to the fore the persuasive power that will overthrow the fixed thinking in the women’s movement? On whose terms will they do that and whose language will they speak when they do? These are all the things the future will bring if men come together in a combined force for change which does not sell their needs down the river but puts them firmly at the heart of a new contract between men and women. The current chains are, in my experience, internalised. And as a famous feminist once said, the revolution cannot happen until those internalised chains are discarded.

When they are, the hope for our world will shine through and we will take another big step forward in what it means to be human in relationship together.

Together, towards dignity, equality and the relationship between us.

Happy Father’s Day UK.

12 comments

  1. exInjuria · June 18, 2015

    Many thanks for the kind words, Karen, although what has affectionately become known as An Exercise in Absolute Fertility could probably do with a bit of an update.

    I agree with pretty much most of this, and certainly with the diagnosis, but I have a different view regarding the cure. I think it is necessary to stop thinking in terms of single-gender organisations and for a focus on gender-neutral campaigning and cooperation in the interests of families and of children. I don’t think men will ever get their act together in the way that women have simply because they are men and that isn’t the way we think or operate. Indeed, the idea of men being able to work together and produce some sort of male version of feminism is quite scary.

    By cooperation I certainly don’t mean a marriage between FNF and Maypole, which sounds absolutely catastrophic, but the provision of child-focused, child-centred support for families and parents regardless of gender. Just as families do not function effectively when one parent is missing or removed, so society cannot resolve its problems through the sort of gendered approaches which have dominated hitherto.

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    • karenwoodall · June 19, 2015

      Hi Nick, gender neutral is problematic because it leads to gender biased outcomes. The family courts are gender neutral, that’s why men feel discriminated against. I think collaboration is vital myself but it needs to be gender aware, only by being gender aware can we deliver the services that meet the different needs of men and women. K

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  2. daveyone1 · June 18, 2015

    Reblogged this on World4Justice : NOW! Lobby Forum..

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  3. Nick B · June 18, 2015

    Interesting why don’t men challenge feminism? My own experience as a teenage boy in the 70s was being shown the clear disparity between old conventions and roles of gender. Although we would occasionally make fun of it, the message nevertheless took root. Male attitudes changed, we understood the concept of fairness and learned to give way. It felt worthy to recognise it.

    Girls dealt with it differently – they simply pointed out those disparities – no empathy or debate or self questioning was needed, simply heads down and concentrate on how best to show the unfairness. It probably felt equally worthy doing this.

    The right attitudes 40 years ago to create a free and equal and open society.The promise of 70s gender equality.

    Society changed. Today all paths are open to women. I cannot think of any woman in my personal circle who has any complaint. Some reached the top of their professions years ago.

    The button to push of ‘unfairness’ however remains and is used in journalism, politics and social organisations relentlessly. Women in today’s positions of power are rewarded by self worth and successful careers when they use it and I guess fearful when they don’t.

    Time to realise they have not only arrived in leading positions but have used the power (they denigh holding) to distort social attitudes into a more fearful and gender divisive one?

    Those debates we had as teenagers were far deeper than is seen on the BBC or in the Guardian etc. The blackout on the hypocrisy of equality within family life and the distortion seen in reporting ‘gender issues’ that selfish personal power is placed infront of equality.

    If I was a teenager today I’d keep the equality goal but know the old role of giving way or staying silent damages this. The hypocrisy of one legged feminism deciding social attitudes is surely overdue for a full debate?

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  4. Vincent McGovern · June 18, 2015

    How many occasions do I get angry about the wilful impotence and servility of men who kneel at the alter of female power and who then head into paroxysms of anger or depression when they find themselves being shafted royally by the myriad auxillary ‘woman saintly man ogre’ only view of Social Services, Domestic Violence Agencies, NSPCC, and Cafcass who usually do the real dirty work within the family court arena.

    I sometimes say to men who poo poo this possibility to look at the Dodo, a large friendly bird who died out because of an inability to develop and protect itself. Worse, much worse such delusional head in the sand mentality means that men cannot not alone protect themselves, they cannot do the far more important job of protecting their children. I consider modern Western man to be the least capable generation in the history of human existence. Not because he cannot go back to a long gone past, he refuses to understand and accept the present thes denying him the opportunity to shape the future.

    And that is an abdication of responsibility to his children.

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  5. Pingback: Breaking the chains that bind… | PARENTS HEALING FROM ESTRANGEMENT- #PAS
  6. David Johnson · June 19, 2015

    Men and fathers groups certainly have had a lot of experience in doing things wrong from what I have noticed. Obsessiveness regards being “equal” to women and mothers (in claiming victim status and “rights”) combined with a strange tendency to want to hold hands with those horrendous single mother groups has left the average un-neutered father with pretty much no where to go.
    It all looks so gynocentric now. But in truth the fathers groups were always very closely related to the feminists, which was their big weakness and a major turn off for men who like to have the power they need to do the best for their families and kids.
    The law cant fix anything while men and fathers lack confidence in their natural powers which have been basically taken from them by not only the state, but, paradoxically, the very groups which pretend to be helping them!

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    • Vincent McGovern · June 19, 2015

      David Johnson, i/m perllexed by your comment that fathers powers have been taken from them not just by the state but paradoxically the very groups which pretend to be helping them. Please explain what you mean by this, what groups are taking fathers powers from them by pretending to be helping them? And also what groups are giving fathers powers, I would love to know.

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  7. Nick B · June 20, 2015

    Politician parties fearful to confront old social conventions. Backed away time many times in the past maybe from the fear of loosing votes.

    Social organisations that shape social policy as feminist led. An ideology, as gender based, dismisses social disadvantage if the person is one of the unflavoured gender.

    Propaganda – parenting- the picture is always a women, D.V the picture is always a man. Repeat add infinitum by government organisations. Woman’s Aid, Cafcass, NSPCC etc etc. Then add every other mouthpiece – BBC, Guardian etc etc.

    Society is told and therefore we believe. But that’s all. It’s advertising and simply dishonest. If told repeatedly that blue is the best colour we will eventually believe it. Scientific research, how we live our lives today, how previous generations took care of family life, the natures of people all show how bogus this projection is.

    Propaganda used by government organisations/government funded organisations and I as a tax payer pay for it! Are these organisations entitled to manipulate in this way?

    Every child begins life with two parents. Family life -I would like my son and daughter to enter it without fear and prejudice. Both equally valued and respected not by gender but as people.

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  8. Lynne Blore · June 20, 2015

    I read both article and comments, hoping to be inspired, motivated and celebrating the role of fathers. I was disappointed to find myself feeling I had drunk from a half filled glass. I do not pretend to have years of experience in this field, but with 60+ years of life experience and 40+ years of watching over my sons, there is sadly much I have seen which I would sooner have not! I recognise and agree with much of what has been said, particularly
    “if men come together in a combined force for change which does not sell their needs down the river but puts them firmly at the heart of a new contract between men and women.”

    However, I for one will be eternally grateful to the charities/groups FNF England, FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru, FNF Scotland, FNF Northern Ireland and others, purely for their existence. Without their helplines, support meetings and care, I suspect I would still be lost in a very dark place, in common with many others. Not being party to their discussions or conversations with other organisations, I am in no position to comment, other than to say without dialogue there would be no opportunity. What I have learned is that it is the child who has “rights” to have both parents in their lives, where safe to do so and not the other way round, although I feel it is a truism that “Both Parents Matter”.

    It would be a disservice not to make mention too, of the many women and men who volunteer their time to these charities/groups and who are effectively the backbone of the service given. They do what they can and achieve much, limits are only set by the silent, who do not speak out or stand up to be counted, in addition to the woeful lack of funding compared to that which is enjoyed by more favoured groups.

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    • karenwoodall · June 20, 2015

      Oh Lynne how I agree with you in terms of the work of the wonderful volunteers without whom none of the services you speak of would be possible. And yet how I disagree with you on the issue of how some of those seeking more funding are worthy of those same volunteers I so admire. Both parents matter, yes they do and if we lost the horrible by line ‘where it is safe to do so…’ more children would have both parents mattering in their lives…but in order to lose the ‘where it is safe to do so..’ mantra, those charities set up to support fathers are going to have to forego their salaries somewhat and stand up and be counted instead of standing by silently whilst the rest of the charity sector run roughshod over the needs of children and their right to both parents in their lives. Funding doesn’t matter if what is being funded is shafting the people you are supposed to be serving. I am sorry that leaves you with a glass half full feeling but it is a fact. Nothing will change whilst money tempts people away from fighting for change………more is achieved with a determined heart and mind than with the millions that are wasted by government funding. The change we seek is not funded by those millions but is created in the hearts and minds of the people inspired by the wrongs being done. And combining those forces for a new contract is the only way forward and it is being done in places on a tiny little shoe string. One does not need a big fat pay packet to change the world.

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