Scary Stuff – BNP White Paper on Family Law

No doubt the BNP are hoping to capitalise on the general disillusionment with mainstream political parties in order to gain seats in the forthcoming european elections and further down the line. (I have received a rather unpleasant leaflet through the door myself, plastered with respectable white people and unpleasant slogans.) For anyone contemplating casting a protest vote in the direction of the BNP READ THIS FIRST: the BNP White paper on Family Law (nice pun) is a little something I came across last week quite by chance. I read it through spluttering expletives and general disbelief at almost every paragraph – I will spare you a blow by blow commentary as it really does speak for itself.

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I don’t usually post on Politics on this blog but this document is a detailed set of proposals about family law, including that residence decisions where parents are divorcing should be automatically be granted to the parent who successfully petitions for divorce on the grounds of adultery, repeal of the Civil Partnerships Act and banning of same sex adoptions, to give just three examples, along with a number of quite serious misrepresentations of the current law and its effect. Given the subject matter of this blog how could I not comment?

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The BNP would have you believe they are so much more than a bunch of xenophobic crackpots – well, if this document is anything to go by they are much much more:  they are also mysoginist, homophobic, regressive and revolting. What they are profundly NOT is at all child-centred. I’m not quite sure what the status of this document is, but although I note it is the work of one former F4J activist (and as such may be borne in part out of the narrow perspective of personal experience) it nonetheless seems to be well on its way to being a fully ratified policy document, and the BNP appear to be quite happy for it to be freely available on the internet associated with the BNP logo. As such it represents a surprisingly candid snapshot of the types of people who are actively involved in the BNP and the views that they really hold when not polished and dressed up as respectable by their more PR savvy leaders. If their views on immigration were not enough to turn you off, their apparent views on family law ought to be ample reason for you to cast your vote elsewhere.

Who Cares?

At a wedding over the weekend my other half got chatting to the very pregnant lady on our table about parenthood. Overhearing him describe himself as the ‘primary carer’ to her provoked an unexpected reaction. It’s a term I throw about at work myself, and one which used in respect of my other half fairly describes the balance of care in our home set up, and yet…I didn’t like it. I use it myself at home, but out loud and in public? It barbed me to think that another mother might think of me as the ‘secondary carer’. I was suddently very conscious that the term implied some sort of hierarchy of parenting. I felt somehow diminished as a parent, guilty. Perhaps even potentially a little bit competitive. 

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This I suppose is the guilt of the working mother. But it’s also something more specific: we are all used to the scenario where both parents work to make ends meet and professional childcare is a necessity. That is one thing, but somehow when economics permit one parent to stay at home and it is the mother who goes to work, leaving the father holding the baby – it is harder for society to understand (in fact my other half works part time and we do use some childcare, but he is the one responsible for the balance of care in the working week and I flit in and out as my unpredictable job permits). I am, I now realise, torn between being incredibly proud of my other half for doing the ‘Mr Mom’ thing, proud of us as a couple for not feeling constrained by gender stereotyping, and subconsciously ashamed that people might think I have opted out of what I ‘ought’ to be doing, namely raising my child. Whatever I might think intellectually, as I inadvertently eavesdropped on the conversation between my other half and the pregnant woman I imagined her wondering what kind of mother would choose such an arrangement, and concluding that such a woman must be very selfish or somehow not a proper mum.

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Of course it’s not so straightforward. We set up our particular home arrangements because of what work was available to each of us and what made economic sense. It would have been financially foolish, indeed impossible, to have worked the roles the other way around. And one of us had to be reliably able to drop and collect at childcare – which is pretty much impossible in my line of work. So it’s not like I couldn’t be bothered. And as many fathers will tell you being the breadwinner is not an opt out of responsibility – I feel the weight of financial responsibility very heavily as I know my own father did when in my shoes. And it’s not like I don’t do the mummy bit either – of course I do my share whenever and wherever I can. But why do I feel the need to justify? Shouldn’t it just be ok that this is the way we do it in our family? Evidently it’s not quite so simple.

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I am clear in my own mind that I have nothing to feel guilty for, but it’s both impossible and undesirable to strip out the emotion from such issues – parenthood after all is about love and emotion not philosophy or intellectual argument. But I will be more aware in future when bandying about the term ‘primary carer’ that such terms can raise powerful emotions, and engage complex issues about how we still continue to understand and articulate our roles as mothers and as fathers and our value as parents through the prism of gender. We might use ‘primary carer’ as a gender neutral term to avoid the limitation of role inherent in traditional usage of the terms motherand father (is my other half the ‘mummy’ or just a daddy who does the majority of the care?) but those underlying social issues and prejudices are still there, even for those who have embraced non-traditional set-ups.

Less is Moore

Yuk yuk yuk. What an obnoxious woman! I had the misfortune last night of watching ‘Mums who leave their kids’ last night on telly, a ‘documentary’ by Jane Moore a writer for the Sun. I say documentary, but in fact this was really just an opportunity for Jane Moore to pour forth a whole load of misogynist bull about women who do not conform to a particular stereotype of womanhood or motherhood – opinion without a balanced journalistic investigation to back it up.

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The show has aired before on Sky and has met with a similar response from other viewers (in 2006 and in response to yesterday’s showing).

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One of the programme’s core propositions was that there are two types of women – those who have it ‘in them’ to abandon and those that don’t i.e. good / proper women and mothers (like Jane Moore and her perfectly manicured lady friends) and aberrant bad women with some kind of inherent defect. The show seemed to me to be an exercise in reassuring Jane Moore and women like her that they were different from the awful women who were pilloried in the programme, more than it was a genuine attempt to understand why women are driven to take this extreme action.

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The programme was based upon the proposition that the Mother-Child relationship is somehow more significant than the Father-Child relationship, and that there was something unnatural in the breaking of that Mother-Child relationship by abandonment that did not apply to absent Fathers. Any parental abandonment must be heartbreaking and damaging for a child, but can we really say more than that abandonment by a primary carer is more awful than that of a less involved one? What is it about women’s abandonment of their children that rendered Jane Moore so utterly unable to understand her fellow women? I suppose the difficulty is that if one really explored all the myriad reasons why a mother might feel she had to leave her children, if one really understood that women may leave because of depression, mental health difficulties, violence, loss of self-confidence in her ability to parent, as a temporary arrangment which becomes for reasons outside her control permanent, or simply to reduce the conflict in the family home in times of relationship difficulties….if one really understood and accepted that these ‘environmental’ factors can affect any women (or any man) – one might then have to accept that it could be you. You could be one of those BAD mothers.

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Moore briefly flirted with the idea that postnatal depression might explain some of the unfathomable behaviour of the mothers who commit this sin of abandonment, but her obvious viewpoint from the outset as confirmed at the end of the show was that this was simply an excuse for selfish women who weren’t prepared to martyr themselves in the way that proper mothers like Moore were doing.

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The saddest thing in this programme was the lack of insight, the lack of solidarity, and the inability to admit that all mothers, all parents, are human and flawed and can buckle under the pressure of parenthood or difficulties in the home. The turning of her back in order to protect her own sense of self was truly depressing. Where do women like Jane Moore go for support when they are struggling with motherhood, for they surely don’t talk to their friends? The inability to perceive one’s own potential vulnerability is in itself a risk factor.

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And of course only just below the surface was the evident belief that the reason that Fathers are less important than Mothers – we simply accept that Mums pick up when Dads abandon and that abandonment by dads is simply a fact of life, but the premise of this programme is that abandonment by Mums is of a whole different order. That devalues Dads and oversimplifies the explanations for female abandonment.