Amongst other things this week I have been working with yet another father who is being pushed out of his children’s lives through a combination of this country’s slavish adherence to the lone parent model of support and the iron grip of domestic violence allegations. I have also been watching with interest, the emergence of another wheeze to convince the government to fund a pointless project called ‘equal parenting’ and I have been observing the way some in the father’s movement, at the very mention of the word equal, are fooled into thinking this must be good for dads.
Let’s start with this new wheeze shall we, Mumsanddadsnet.com
Mumsanddadsnet.com was launched this week with articles in the Telegraph and the New Statesman. The site, which is badged as being ‘backed by the world’s leading thinkers and writers on equal parenting’ (whatever that means), appears to be populated with articles written by three people, none of whom seems to me to be familiar as a world leader. Given the launch is covered by both the left and the right, one can be sure that the purpose of it, coming ahead of the next general election, is to hedge the bets of the founder in terms of who wins power the next time around. Because whoever holds the power holds the purse strings and given that this venture’s founder is a self proclaimed ‘social entrepreneur’ you can be sure that its mission is not merely to give those of us who are not world leaders, the benefit of his wisdom in the field of equal parenting.
Mumsanddadsnet.com espouses the practice of equal parenting. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept or, for those who have, this week, mistaken the phrase equal parenting for equal parenting after separation here’s a rinse through the concept.
Imagine a life without having to choose between a meaningful career and enough time with your children. Envision that while you are at work, your wonderful children are safe, happy, healthy and growing in the care of someone who loves them just as much as you do. At home, you spend many hours with them each week to connect with and nurture them. There is plenty of time for yourself and your favorite hobbies as well, and you never have to do more than half of the housework. The burden of earning the family’s income no longer falls on just one of you. You are fully competent as a parent rather than an understudy or manager to your spouse, and you have an energized marriage with a fun and happy partner. Are you laughing at this unrealistic dream? Or are you thinking ‘please help me get that’? If it’s the latter, you’ve come to the right place.
We call this equally shared parenting, and it is practiced by a growing number of couples. It stands in sharp contrast to the traditional marriage with children, in which the man works and the woman stays home, or the ‘supermom’ marriage, in which the man works and the woman tries to balance a career with the lion’s share of the childcare and household tasks. Equally shared parenting is more than an extension of feminism; it is more than simply what is fair. Equally sharing the care of your children with your partner is about balancing your life, balancing your family’s collective life and sharing equally in the joys of raising a family*.
All well and good, so equally shared parenting is about sharing the care and sharing the work and both of you being equal in the marriage or relationship in which you have created your children. Sounds like a dream? sounds like an ideal that would protect dads from being dispensed with after separation? Think again. Though it will disappoint those who have salivated at the positive column inches garnered by the launch of mumsanddadsnet.com and may crush the hopes of those who believed that finally the wave of change was rising, equally shared parenting is not all it is cracked up to be. And its not about equality either, though you won’t find many advocates for it being willing to face that fact. What it is, is an unashamedly feminist based approach to making sure that women get a good deal in the marriage by turning husbands into wives who not only do their fair share of housework, child care and dishwashing, they also get to put out the bins, walk the dog and go to work as well. Gone are the differences between men and women, gone is the joy of being able to sneak off to your shed to put up your feet or lounge on a morning drinking coffee and watching kids tv whilst the baby gurgles on the mat beside you. Here is the interchangeable world of parenting, where both mothers and fathers are just the same and are equally invested and involved in every minute detail of the world of the home as well as work.
Utopian dream? Middle class trendy parenting? Nonsensical nightmare that not only eradicates sex difference but the need for one parent altogether? Its the latter that really worries me.
Equally shared parenting is very definitely a middle class trendy idea which like many, has come over to the UK from the states. Written about by various people including Marc and Amy Vachon, ESP as it is shortened to, is about parenting rather than mothering or fathering and about eradicating sex differences and arguing that either mother or father can fulfil all of the tasks of child rearing, house keeping and bread winning in an equally shared approach. As some commentators on the Mumsanddadsnet. have elaborated, they don’t mother or father, they ‘parent’ their children and parenting as such is an interchangeable function which either can deliver without any negative impact on the child. Even the Fatherhood Institute, the only government funded organisation in the UK supporting fathers, believes that this is the way forward for mothers and fathers –
‘fortunately mothers and fathers are pretty well interchangeable: when one goes missing, there is no evidence that the other cannot fulfill essential parenting tasks. If fathers had to be stereotypically different from mothers to be good parents, then presumably you think that a man who is quite fearful or would not cross the road for a football match can’t be a good dad; and a woman who is not gentle and ‘feminine’ (whatever that means) can’t be a good mum! Rubbish of course.‘
Wading through this slightly unintelligble comment, it would seem that the Fatherhood Institute considers that mothers can be fathers and fathers can be mothers and so long as everyone is treated the same that’s just dandy. Am I the only one, or is there something just a little bit chilling in this concept that mothering and fathering can be dispensed with and we are all just generic parents these days?
Now those of you who read regularly will know that I have issues with the Fatherhood Institute. This organisation, set up in the wake of the birth of Fathers4Justice, was unashamedly, in the words of one of its founder members ‘the antithesis of the father’s rights movement.’ It has also been, in my view, the nemesis of fathers rights shoring up as it does the feminist control of the field of family policy and failing to challenge, those things which truly affect dads in our country today. Now I may be a hard task master. I like my insitutes to do what they say they do, I like them to represent the people that they purport to represent. Funded as they are, in significant amounts of tax payers money, I think the Fatherhood Institute should speak for the needs of fathers, should represent them in a way that ensures that their best interests are met and that the children, who are the ones who make men into fathers, should also get a look in. Especially as the Fatherhood Institute’s voice is the only voice that government is currently listening to in any significant way. To have this organisation, enthusing about equally shared parenting therefore, leaves me concerned and worried about the future for fatherhood, even more so than I am already, given that the years ahead could well involve some form of parliamentary control by the Labour party, itself no friend of fathers.
So what’s wrong with equal parenting? Well everything really. From the perspective of neuroscience the attempt to eradicate sex differences is to remove children from exposure to what makes us male or female. From the perspective of the relational world, the difference between us is what creates the cradle of relationships that children flourish in and from the perspective of true equality, it reduces people to bland, often unfulfilled versions of who they really are, preventing children from getting the best of what is different about men and women and replacing it with some kind of homogenous mash up of compromise.
Its no accident that feminism and equally shared parenting go hand in hand. From where I am looking, this is about encouraging men to behave more like women and women to behave, well like women only more entitled to putting their feet up. In a recent article in the Guardian, discussion between men and women who had given equally shared parenting a go, showed that rather than offering fulfillment, many couples spent their time arguing over how to divide up chores and responsibilities. That aside, it seems to me to be somewhat sad that the inherent differences between us, a man’s upper body strength for example, perfect for cradling baby for hours on end or a woman’s ability to breast feed are things to just be dispensed with. Maybe its my age, but as the years pass me by it seems to me that it is what is different between us that makes the world a creative place and it is, after all, still the way that the magic of conception occurs.
And in equalities work it is the difference between us and the honouring and valuing of that which is truly about bringing a more equal world into being. In equalities work, where feminism has dominated the space for far too long, more men are speaking about what it means to be a man, how being helped as a man matters and how men are short changed in the world both of work and within the home. I was reminded of this only recently when working with a father for whom personal wants and needs had never really been explored so completely eclipsed was he by his partner’s needs. I thought about this man as I considered the Fatherhood Institute’s representation of men as fathers and the way in which their belief seems to be that mothers and fathers are interchangeable and how fathering or being a man for that matter in a distinct and different way to being a woman is not necessary. I thought about the single parent lobby and their argument that children don’t need two parents because mothers can father just as well as men and I thought about the way in which this equally shared parenting movement is less about the importance of the difference between fathers and mothers and more about making everything and everyone the same and interchangeable.
Is it not but one small step from here to the place where we dispense with fathering all together? After all, if there is nothing distinctly different about it and men can be just like women, what’s the point of fathering at all, why not simply rename everyone parents and then whether it be one parent or two matters not at all and we will have finally reached the single parent lobby’s utopian dream of a world in which fathering is eradicated and the ‘family’ without a shadow of a doubt comes in all shapes and sizes.
Family used to mean a mum and a dad and children, with extended family members around it. Nowadays family means anything you want it to mean, from one parent to as many as you like and it is taboo or certainly old fashioned to consider that children need a mother AND a father. This eradication of the need for a mother AND a father and the homogonising of both into the role of parent, means that the argument of the single parent lobby that children don’t need their fathers becomes increasingly a powerful one. And the Fatherhood Institute, by embracing the notion of equal shared parenting, are contributing to the very demise of the meaning of the word father as well the belief in the importance of them in children’s lives. Just as feminism has slowly but surely eroded masculinity, compelling men to become more like women to be acceptable, this movement will erode fatherhood in my view and mean that the distinct and important things that men bring to children’s lives will be lost. And you can bet that, if Parliamentary politics moves to the left in 2015, this will be speeded up. Remember, for the left, the family containing a mother a father and children, is a hotbed of danger, abuse and damage which feminist academics and policy makers have systematically undermined, attacked and silenced. Equally shared parenting, in which fathering as such is removed in it entirety and replaced by interchangeable parenting units will be very much welcome in that future.
Which takes me to the first of my observations this week and the tool of choice for eradication of dad which is the domestic violence allegation.
Now I know that there are some nasty people out there both men and women. I know that anyone who needs to control another person through violence, be it word or deed or intention, has got a big problem and becomes a big problem for the people around them, especially those who love them. But I also know that violence in the home is not what it has become in terms of the images that feed the industry which has manufactured it and I know that in this country at least, there is a very big problem with the use of allegations of violence to control outcomes in the family courts. One of the big problems with allegations of violence is that DV is a gendered crime, it is considered to be something that men do to women and it is most often thought about within a feminist analysis of patriarchal power which is held by men by virtue of their birth. In the UK, we still lag far behind countries such as the States, where a more sophisticated analysis of violence in the home is emerging. And it is this more sophisticated approach which will, if followed through, bring about the kind of approach to violence which has been advocated by Erin Pizzey for many years, which is that violence is not about patriarchal power and control, it is about generational patterns of behaviours which are learned and which are normalised. As Haaken (2011) said, ‘it is not ethical to take the position that men are violent simply because they consciously choose to exert power and control over their partners’ a statement which would leave many advocates of the feminist analysis of violence shaking with indignation.
Haaken also goes on to say that not every angry or ugly exchange between people is abusive and that it is the nature and frequency and deliberate use of violence to control which is the truth of domestic violence. This is something that correlates to the work that I do, where many parents are involved in spats which are started by one or the other and which finish with partners knowing that what they have done is wrong.
But the family courts in this country do not differentiate as yet between those types of violence, which lets women off the hook in terms of admitting or recognising their own inherent tendency to violence and which demonises all men and leads them to their doom. For an allegation of violence can take weeks or even months to be heard and during that time, whilst the allegations remain unheard in a court of law, the accused loses freedom to relate to his children on his terms. This in itself brings significant and often irreperable damage to the father/child relationship and creates the fragility which erodes the relationship over time.
Domestic Violence in terms of coercive control is a crime and should be heard in a criminal court without delay. Violence between parents is a behavioural problem and people need help to change those patterns. Both of these scenarios demand more than what we are doing for parents and their children right now and they are contributing to the loss of the relationship between dads and their kids on a daily basis.
Which leaves me with the title of this blog, the female of the species is more deadly than the male, a phrase which has been on repeat for me this working week. From the erosion of the difference between mothers and fathers in the equally shared parenting movement, to the continued lack of support for fathering by the Fatherhood Institute with a huge dollop of feminism and the control of post separation fathering through the domestic violence industry chucked in for good measure. I am reminded again and again that family policy in the UK is controlled by a small group of feminist women from the academic, parliamentary and lobby world.
Those women who got hold of the family policy making powerback in the seventies, have become more powerful than the men that preceded them in parliamentary terms. Their say rules your life and mine and your children’s lives too. Their work has underpinned the control of the family unit for over four decades, they have systematically demonised men as fathers and labelled men and boys dysfunctional, they have controlled your expression of your biological self and they have set rules about what it means to be human in the world.
Some of those women were involved in arguing for the destruction of the family whilst at the same time calling for the lowering of the age of consent to 10 back in their youth, some of them were running single parent charities, some of them said that it cannot be taken as read that families need fathers. Four decades later, their descendents are telling government that men and women are interchangeable, that families come in all shapes and sizes and that there is nothing distinctly different or important about fathers. And some of you, who get excited when the words equal and parenting are joined together, thought that this was about equality.
The female of the species has engaged the male in the construction of his own demise, I cannot think of anything more deadly than that.
Haakens J. (2011) (The School of Hard Knocks). The Psychologist, 24(7) 512-015