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.