This week I fell into a spat with the Fatherhood Institute, took a closer look at the government’s new relationship support site ‘Love Nuggets’ and started to think more deeply about the lives of men as fathers and the messages they are given by the state via the charity sector.
A long time critic of the Fatherhood Institute, I took to a facebook page to hold FI to account for their continued pattern of releasing briefings to government with pleas for funding for a new campaign attached to them. This latest briefing is no exception and suggests an ‘inspiring men’ campaign in which volunteers will go into places where children are to raise awareness and provide role models for young men who wish to go into non traditional jobs of work.
The response of FI was somewhat predictable and I have clearly both upset and frustrated them with what they termed my ‘continued carping’ about the work that they do and the money that they hoover up to do it. Far from carping however, I consider that any organisation which depends upon large amounts of government funding (tax payers money), should be willing to answer to its critics and be transparent about what it delivers to the people it purports to represent.
The Fatherhood Institute, by its own admission, ‘does not work with fathers,’ which leaves us to wonder what it does do. What it does, as written in reply to my question is train professionals, produce toolkits, talk to the government and, from my observation, run campaigns that appear to come with proposals for more funding attached to them.
On the face of things, the list of things that FI on behalf of fathers appears laudable, they list training of thousands of professionals and they speak of working with Local Authorities to change practice, all excellent things which done properly transform practice and help fathers across the country access better support in order to be more confident in their role as dad.
But digging underneath, which is what we have to do in understanding the range of blocks and barriers facing the nation’s fathers today, a more murky reality emerges, one which is far less laudable and far less convincing in terms of how FI justifies the enormous sums of money it receives for the work that it does for dads.
The Fatherhood Institute is essentially an organisation which views the role of fathers through a feminist lens. The reality of what it does, in training professionals, working with local authorities and advising government, is that it views dads as being deficient and in need of improvement. This deficiency model, which is exemplified by FI’s submissions to the government on child maintenance for example, sees mums as the good parent and dads as the people who need to step up. FI, in its submissions to government on child maintenance, focused almost entirely upon the need to make dads pay child maintenance rather than the way in which the continued conceptualisation of dads as paying parents sets in place barriers to father care after separation. And in this most recent briefing, the introductory headline is –
women in the UK are still substantially disadvataged in relationship to men
Try telling that to the young men at risk of violence, abuse and early death. Or the dads who are pushed out of their children’s lives after separation, or the men at risk of homelessness or the boys who are not going to university.
The reality is that an organisation which calls itself the Fatherhood Institute should, at least to my mind, start from a place where fathers and fatherhood is not viewed through a feminist lens. Whilst the Fatherhood Institute set itself up unashamedly as the antithesis to the father’s rights movement, it should not be allowed to occupy the role of sole spokesman for the lives of men as fathers across the UK, especially when so many other people are doing the work of driving forward equality based work which empowers and releases men from the constraints of a life lived at the mercy of approval of women. Too many professionals in local authorities up and down our land, start from the place where a good dad is someone who does what women tell him to. We don’t need a national institution, funded by tax payers money, confirming for them that fathering is a positive thing but only when it is as close to mothering as it possibly can be.
Fathers are not mothers and they are no less important or valuable because of that. When the Fatherhood Institute stands up and says that, when it represents fathering from a true equalities based perspective, arguing for the liberation of all dads from the suffocating constraints of gendered roles and when it is able to promote and support the many and varied choices that men wish to make in their roles as fathers, I will stop my ‘carping’ and go back to what I do best, which is working with men as fathers and their children. Until then, expect more of the same because my work with families is affected daily by the FI’s fabrications of fatherhood and I do not intend to stop speaking about that anytime soon.
Another government initiative caught my eye this week in the form of a ghastly titled website called Love Nuggets, which has been funded to the tune of £45,000 to provide the most trite round of nonsense I have seen in a long time. This load of bananas (I am sorry not to be more articulate in my description but this is the only way of describing it) comes about through the combined efforts of One plus One, Dad.info and Netmums. I could not quite believe it when I first looked at it but then, encouraged to look closer by a fantastic bit of number crunching by a good friend of our work Katrine (see below), I braced myself for a squint at what is branded as the latest campaign from charity One plus One about the everyday things that people do to make a happier relationship.
Love Nuggets appears to be a site on which you can spin a slot machine and read platitudes from other people about how to improve your relationship. Quite how that fits into the government’s aim of supporting relationships I am not quite sure but the Guardian describes it thus
According to the OnePlusOne charity, such small acts “demonstrate commitment, improve communication, show we care, achieve compromise and even resolve conflicts”.
Revolutionary way to improve relationships or phenomenol waste of money? Golden nuggets of sound advice to couples whose relationships is on the rocks or another round of exhortations to men to change their behaviour to please the women in their lives? (Echoes of the Fatherhood Institue’s deficient dad approach to service delivery).
Well Kat kindly performed a quick gender analysis on Love Nuggets, to get underneath what One plus One calls ‘the science’ behind the site so that we can see what Love Nuggets is really about. Based upon research outcomes, Love Nuggets tells us that it can save our relationships by showing us what other people have done to change their behaviours and save theirs. Here then is Kat’s guide to gender analysis of the Love Nuggets site, showing us who, through the use of Love Nuggets is being asked to change.
Not much of a mystery when it is laid out like this is it? Love Nuggets, like something from Chat Magazine, is nothing more than a set of repeated instructions to men about what to do to save their relationship. Like the deficient dad approach of the Fatherhood Institute, relationship support a la the coalition government, sees men AS problems whilst women HAVE problems and the road to repair is not for the couple to work together or the woman in a couple to understand what she may have to do to contribute to a healthy relationship but for men to change their behaviour.
Until we change this underlying approach to our work with families, nothing but nothing will change for men as fathers and nothing but nothing will improve for children whose wellbeing depends upon their mother and father being able to navigate the ups and downs of relational difficulties together, as equals, both valuable and essential, neither more so than the other.
To show you how a different approach to family services could be delivered and how relationship support costs absolutely nothing at all, here is a fantastic little nugget of information I found on facebook this week. This guide to long term relationships tells it exactly how it is, showing us the ugly truth about ourselves as well as the strategies we all need to employ to run the marathon of staying together. Fearless in the face of the issues that the women’s rights lobby will not allow anyone to talk about, such as fighting in relationships and hating and raging at each other and forthright in its determination to make us face facts, this guide is what every couple needs to stay together. How frank, how refreshing and how very different to the trite rubbish that is produced by the charities that purport to represent families whilst reflecting back to government what it thinks government wants to hear and see, all wrapped up in the women’s rights model of delivery.
What families need is support that reflects the reality of the lives that families live, where dad in all his forms, is loved deeply by his children, who do not care or even know that the outside world in the shape of government funded institutes, think he is deficient and wanting and in need of some self improvement.
When those who spend our taxes reflect that back to government and stand up for the rights of men AND women to be exactly who they are, valued and valuable without exception, I shall lay down my pen and stop ‘carping,’ until then, expect more of the same.
(The hidden narratives of the charities that sit around goverment must be exposed in my view. Until and unless we do this we are not going to move forward. Unless we speak about these invisible intentions, we will not understand why this country has such devastating breakdown in couple relationships and we will not be able to prevent children from suffering the fall out from family breakdown which is driven by the women’s rights campaign disguised as family services).