SHE SAID IT
"Our hope is vigorous and active and it is sustained by the outrageous courage of our sisters/foresisters who are ever more intensely present to us, beckoning and daring us to move further." - Mary Daly

June 1999
Vol. 1 - #4


Said It: Feminist News, Culture & Politics  

in this issue:

Unromanticizing Fatherhood

Who's Looking Out for Moms?

Resisting Without Violence


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Unromantizing Fatherhood
by Adriene Sere

Fathers have a bad record. They have a really good reputation but, in concrete reality, they have a bad record.

It is a historical record, and an indisputable one. As recently as the 19th century, and for possibly more than 5,000 years preceding that, a father was a man who owned his children, as well as his wife, as property. If a man divorced his wife, she had no legal right to see her children again. Ever. Today's family, the traditional family, the nuclear family, the exalted and sanctified family, evolved directly from this history.

In modern times, fathers have a bad record. A great reputation: their presence is said to be the linchpin of all that is good in the universe, not to mention human civilization itself. But still, in concrete reality, they have a bad record.

Fathers are infinitely more likely to abandon their children than are mothers. They often shortchange or fail to pay child support payments. They are responsible for a full 50 percent of all violence against children, though they spend only a tiny fraction of the time with children that women do. In general, they do not caretake children. They do not struggle day in and day out for the sake of raising their children. They do not publish nonprofit "Fathering" magazines that inform men about children's health, immunizations, quality time, better communication, finding the best teacher for their children. They do not strive for equal caretaking work of their children within marriage. They are not organizing for unconditional community support for children.

Yes, a few men are taking equal responsibility, do equal caretaking, and feel as much love toward their children as the children's mothers do. But these men are relatively scarce, and they are not, by and large, organizing a fathers' movement--a movement to better the world for mothers, children, fathers, community. There is not yet a visible grassroots fathers' movement fighting for children's rights and welfare, for a more parenting-friendly world, or for societal changes that would make equal parenting responsibilities a given. The fathers who have organized a visible and powerful movement have altogether different goals. They are fueled by misogyny and a commitment to male supremacist power. They use the pretense of fighting for children's rights and equal parenting rights as a cover for their goals. But with just a quick glance at a random few of their hundreds upon hundreds of websites, one easily finds their declarations of the "viciousness" of women, arguments of the biological inferiority of women, and the "manipulativeness" of women who use domestic violence protection orders and charges of child molestation to keep their children's fathers away.

The father's right movement in this country is, in fact, the gender equivalent of an aggressive, violence-defending white supremacist movement. But unlike white supremacist organizations, the father's rights movement enjoys social legitimacy and mainstream support. In fact, the father's rights movement, in all its various manifestations, has had a tremendous impact in shaping public policy, particularly during this decade of the '90s. Few social movements have had such a profound influence on political and economic legislation, and the enforced values of popular culture.

The ideology of the father's rights movement became the promotional package behind welfare reform--the belief in the child-legitimizing power and irreplaceability of the father, by virtue of his maleness, and the need to use economic coercion against women in order to get them, and keep them, married to these invaluable men. This ideology, which was promoted in the '80s and early '90s by the likes of racist/misogynist Charles Murray (who co-authored The Bell Curve, a "study" of the "inferiority" African Americans), is now the accepted premise of liberal groups, including those that sincerely advocate for children's rights. The focus of liberal groups has shifted onto the "importance" of the father, ignoring the more fundamental need for social respect for the mother, economic equality for women, and unconditional societal support for children.

The fathers right's movement is also wielding enormous influence over courts that determine child custody. The movement is helping to ensure joint custody for men who have done no caretaking for their children during marriage, and who have no interest in caretaking after divorce, but who want the legal power that joint custody gives to them so they can continue to exercise power over their former wives.

According to a study done by Phyllis Chesler, 82 percent of fathers who contested custody between 1961 and 1981, won within two years. Eighty seven percent had done no primary child care. One-third were wife batterers. Nearly two-thirds tried to seriously brainwash children against their mothers. Two thirds refused to pay child support for the very children they wanted custody of.

With the impact of the father's rights movement of the '80s and '90s, mothers are now routinely advised not to tell the truth about a man's violence against her or her children, because the accusation would be used against her--to portray her as manipulative and "anti-father." The widely supported fathers right's movement, then, is actively protecting men's violence against women and children, and forcing women and children to continually have contact with violently dangerous men.

The tragic results of the judicial bias toward fathers can be seen on the local news. Just last December, Carlton Edwards, who had a history of domestic violence, used his court-ordered visitation rights as the opportunity to murder his estranged wife Melanie and their daughter Carli. His killing of his daughter was supposedly an accident and caused the wife-killer distress. The television news stations reported the murderer's suicide a few days later as evidence of Carlton's fatherly devotion to his daughter. His intentional murder of Melanie and accidental murder of Carli apparently pales next to such fatherly devotion. Social, judicial, and economic support for the rights of dangerous and alarmingly unfit fathers has remained unchanged, even after the deaths of Melanie and Carli, and the many other women and children killed before them and after them.

The father's rights movement has thousands of well-funded organizations throughout the country, offering legal services to men, violent and non-violent alike, and disseminating propaganda against mothers. Little effort is being made to challenge this movement, even among feminists. Fathers, as males, are so exalted, and made artificially necessary through social and economic constructs like welfare reform, that most women simply hope that fathers come around, and choose to take more responsibility, and choose to not be violent. Despite the bad record of fathers throughout history, most of us continue to simply hope for the best.

But change isn't going to happen through hope and ongoing accommodation. Fathers will never play a healthy role in their children's lives, and women's lives, and in community and society, so long as they are valued and exalted and privileged and protected for the non-accomplishment of being male.

Change is only going to happen when we challenge father-rule, and challenge political and economic and cultural systems that artificially force the importance of fathers onto women and children.

Men as a group have the potential to earn good reputations as fathers. Fathers are genuinely important to women and children when they are respectful toward women, and are as responsible and committed to their children as most mothers currently are.

But fathers, as represented by the father's rights movement, as embraced by both conservatives and liberals, have not earned a good reputation. All in all, fathers have a poor human rights record, and things aren't looking up. Society, in collaborating with the father's rights movement, has made clear that it wants to cultivate the good aspects of "fatherhood"--or plain old good parenting--within a male-supremacist, father-exalting structure. But in this hypocritical effort, society will fail, in more ways than one, and everyone--children, mothers, and ultimately fathers, too--will lose out.

________________________________________

Copyright © 1999 Adriene Sere - All rights reserved by author.
All work contained in Said It is owned by the respective contributing authors or artists,
including all copyrights contained therein, and may not be copied, reprinted, or otherwise used
in any form without the express written permission of the copyright holder.



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