Fathers' Rights or Wrongs?
In James Osbourne's July 11 piece, "Father, or 'Male Role Model'?" he asks us, basically, if we support the Fathers' Rights (FR) Movement. The answers to his question, fortunately, are far more logical and informed than the replies I got to my articles on the FR guys last year. I'll attribute that to people actually researching the Fathers' Rights agenda. Because on the surface, we are all apt to support fatherhood, but when one delves deeper into this movement, there is a level of hate and contempt that fuels it.
We hear over and over again that courts favor mothers. By anecdotal evidence, we are likely to agree. However, when we look at family courts on closer inspection, it's actually the mothers who are disadvantaged and receive the "raw deal" FR advocates so often claim. Here in the US, most states have some sort of gender task force. In Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court Gender Bias Study reported that "the family law system consistently, and negatively, affects women."
The women studied often lacked legal representation, didn't have access to free services and found it difficult to navigate the system. They were not "on equal footing with men," particularly when they were abused. That confirms what a lot of research has found: that judges, quite often, do not believe women when they allege abuse. Even when there is evidence of domestic violence, abusers often receive custody. Some battered women have even gone to jail rather than hand over custody of their children to abusers.
Now, one must realize something about Family Court. Not all couples use it. The vast majority (85-90 percent) of couples solve their issues without ever going to court. The 10-15 percent that cannot do so use the Family Court system. These couples often have conflict and many of the men have been abusive. That means, a lot of the FR guys, who've gone through Family Court, have more than likely had charges against them.
Now, since FR groups support and lobby for mandatory shared custody, even in high-conflict relationships, that means abusive men would get custody. Some of them believe a violent dad is better than no dad at all. Experts do not, of course, agree with mandatory (also called presumptive) shared custody for obvious reasons. They do support it in low or no-conflict relationships. And, in fact, any couple that agrees to shared parenting can arrange it themselves. Nothing is stopping them. But, in the courtroom, the "best interest of the child" is (often) still the guiding principle.
And although FR groups support shared parenting, I find it interesting they do not start advocating it until after a divorce. During marriage, women still do five times the amount of child care and this is one factor that can influence who gets primary custody.
"Just imagine yourself six months from today... spending meaningful time with your children and paying a fair amount of child support, if at all." -- National Brotherhood of Father's Rights
Some believe the FR guys support presumptive joint custody because they want lowered child support payments rather than actual time with the kids. Indeed, many FR Web sites offer ways of lowering child support and, in addition, many Web sites have sprung up selling books and kits on how to lower or stop child support. Others claim these dads see their children as possessions and want "half." Some claim it's a form of retaliation and a way to further control the ex-wife. Certainly, they hold ex-wives and women in general in contempt. This can be seen by their accusations: women are vindictive liars, women falsely accuse men of rape and imprison "innocent men," women are unfit parents, etc. Even lesbian and gay couples and stepfathers are not spared: they're bashed, too. No one is good enough, save Dad.
FR groups claim virtually all of society's ills stem from single parents (read: mothers) and children being raised by "strangers" in child care. Now, here in the US, we have about 10 million single heads of families, most of them headed by mothers, and we have a population of about 300,000 million. Researchers do acknowledge that single parenting contributes to a small part of social ills (teen pregnancy, drug use, teen suicide, etc), but certainly problems can't be blamed on single mothers alone. Many, in fact, do a terrific job raising their kids. And many, indeed, want men to take a more active role in their children's lives. One would think FR groups would be engaging more with fathers on this issue -- but they're not -- they're too busy attacking feminists for sport. I know, I have often been their target.
"As militant feminists become more and more powerful and well funded, we see a dramatic increase in the use of false allegations of domestic abuse to gain an advantage in contested divorce and child custody cases. Learn how to make this backfire and cause a false accuser to lose custody!! One father went from being falsely accused to winning custody and having the false accuser arrested. Recently an attorney was disbarred for using the despicable practice of making false allegations to gain an advantage in a custody proceeding." www.fathers-rights.com
In truth, then, the Fathers Rights campaigners lead a smear campaign against women, alleging women are malicious liars and unfit parents. The use of this strategy is quite ironic considering they claim feminists have ruined fathers' images. Osbourne quotes Matt O'Connor, founder of Fathers 4 Justice, as saying fathers images are now "dodgy, demonized and deadbeats." So, feminists are responsible for this image and not the actual actions (or lack thereof) of the fathers? Scapegoating is much easier than taking accountability: the problem always lies with the feminists, the mothers, the courts, the judges -- always somebody else but never the fathers.
If anyone has suffered from a negative image, I'd say it would be women: the unwed mother, the knocked-up teen, the single mother, the welfare mother, the spinster, the wicked stepmother, the meddling mother-in-law. We have jokes that begin "your mother..." but not "your father..." So, if anyone has been demonized, it's been women. We have long borne the brunt of shame and blame in society, from the witch hunts to honor killings to rape. And if that is not enough, FR supporters fan another burning flame that still smolders in society: women as malicious or vindictive liars.
"False memory, false sexual abuse claims, vengeance, are all the diseases of women." (www.canlaw.com/rights/fathers.htm )
FR advocates claim women make false allegations of domestic violence, child sexual abuse and rape. Mind you, they have no constructive advice for cases of family violence even though they purport to be caring, concerned dads; they just claim that women are false accusers: pure and simple. They claim women "alienate" children from their fathers in a purported syndrome called Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS). The American Psychological Association says PAS "lacks evidence." While it is not supported by science and it can, in fact, mask child abuse (does anybody else see this red flag?), it is still used in Family Courts today and still highly touted by these angry dads.
Lastly, FR groups claim domestic violence is 50-50. If you notice the pattern of 50-50 in the Fathers Rights agenda, you are observant. It's a good facade for claiming to support "true equality," and bashing feminists for wanting "privileges" and trampling on "men's civil rights." (Some have called their way of thinking "equality with a vengeance" because it's delivered with meanness rather than fairness in mind.) In regard to the claim that domestic violence is mutual, they can be attempting to dilute the problem and to erase the idea of men as perpetrators. It is true that women initiate domestic violence, too, but by credible sources, it is more like 85-15.
The surveys (such as the Conflict Tactics Scale) that finds mutual violence in Western countries is questionable because it does not decipher violence as a means of self-defense nor does it take into account verbal over-estimates of violence. Finally, it does not provide an accurate overall picture of family violence: women are more likely to use emergency rooms, police stations and shelters. They are more likely to be injured, suffer more forms of violence, need medical attention and fear for their lives. Men, on the other hand, often leave danger behind when they walk out the door.
"...there are boyfriends or husbands who make up their mind that they want a physical divorce, but don't want the legal and financial responsibilities attached to such an action." Clint Van Zandt, former FBI agent, in "Grieving husbands or calculating killers?"
Fathers Rights crusaders have an agenda, then. They seek to demonize and discredit women. Some say they seek a return to patriarchy. Others dismiss them as 'angry dads' or the men in tights who perform zany publicity stunts. Those that have researched them say they are dangerous. They have a hidden agenda that holds women and feminists as guilty and contemptible. They have used destructive rather than constructive means to solve their problems. They seek to punish women in some form; many have lobbied for imprisonment or fines for women who make false accusations or who deny fathers access to their children. More frightening, in some countries they have issued bomb threats and death threats, harassed and terrorized separated women and committed murder and murder-suicides.
Because divorce is so common in many countries, these negative FR groups are able to grow in number and gain power. Women also join -- they are often the second wives. And while the men welcome them into the movement, they don't trust them either:
Recently-divorced men often stumble onto the FR Web sites while searching for support on the Internet. When they are most vulnerable -- when they are in pain -- this is when FR groups recruit them. After a while, they turn that pain into anger and hate. They give that hate a target: women, feminists, family courts. The FR movement is churning out angry dads every day. It's time for society to learn their true agenda and to counteract it.
"Be warned these second wives are also ex wives who screwed their other husbands. Be warned that while the Second Wives groups are currently helping men, they are only doing it for themselves. Do not trust them or count on them. If they get into a snit over their new husbands, they will revert to their true vindictive, vicious greedy nature. Quislings and collaborators are useful, but dangerous and never to be trusted." (www.canlaw.com/rights/fathers.htm
The best method of derailing them is to provide support to parents during marriage, to advocate shared parenting starting from birth and to offer more constructive support systems for men and women who are divorcing. Certainly, society is still suffering from forms of family violence and it must be dealt with effectively. Conflict resolution skills, anger and stress management and positive relationship-building skills are all needed. Positive parenting groups do exist and do offer these classes -- we need to support them in their efforts.
Nobody needs to wear fancy tights to raise awareness about the need for fathers in their children's lives. We all get that. Most women, in fact, want that. We don't need another hero....we need genuine caring dads who can be responsible and respectful to the women and children in their lives.
Joan Dawson has a master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University. She's interested in health, human rights and equality. She just finished writing a chapter on the Fathers' Rights Movement for a book, which will be published this fall.©2008 OhmyNews Other articles by reporter Joan Dawson