Family Units

Carol Sarler wrote a piece in The Times yesterday in which she questions the proposition that children need a father. She is clearly supportive of non-traditional family units, including same-sex two parent couples and rightly so.

The thrust of what she says is: that the modern notion of the role of a father is just that – a creation of relatively recent social scenarios. That historically, fathers have been absent or distant and children have been raised and nurtured by women. Hence the proposition that having fathers around might be desirable but is not necessary. Poor chaps.

But the fact of the matter is that many many children are raised perfectly well by one parent, often a mother but sometimes a father. But even though many of those mums might tell you they were better off without the feckless, hopeless waste of space that is the father of their child, I don’t suppose many of them would say that a child is better off without a father – just that the one they have is a poor example. 

And the point which really slightly irks me about this piece is that there is a whole lot of effort expended in demonstrating the proposition that men are useful only for their earning power rather than their nappy changing or nurturing ability ‘hunter-gatherers…were off and away garnering the means of survival – a function that, by the way, remains the most useful role for the father’. This rather offensive and limited view of men distracts Sarler from the obvious corrollary of her own proposition – if fathers are not a necessary feature of a successful family unit, and if alternative family units are just as good as traditional ‘mum-dad’ groupings – what makes a mum any more necessary than a father?

The point surely is that children need to be nurtured and loved consistently by at least one parental figure. We all know it is easier and possibly more likely to be successful when there are two people sharing the load, both financially and emotionally. But it can be done and is being done by single parents up and down the country and frankly, the fact that dads have not been hands-on through centuries of history doesn’t seem to me to be at all relevant to a father’s ability to step up to the mark and do the job of ‘mum’ where a mother isn’t around. If fathers are dispensable so then are mothers – who cares which one does the job as long as they do it well? It is traditionally men who have relied on a history in which women are drawn as insignificant to sneer at the ‘limitations’ of the fairer sex – good at baking and raising bairns, hopeless in politics or gainful employment. Of course thats tosh, but its tosh in reverse too. Sarler uses the same technique – conflating historical roles with innate characteristics.

I don’t want to be constrained by historical gender -parenting roles and I don’t see why any man should be either. I am likely to be the ‘hunter-gatherer’ in our family unit when it becomes three and my other half may well end up being the one at the wrong end of all the nappies and the teething and the rest. Who cares about roles. If it works it works. My only anxiety is that my kids may end up needing their father rather more than their mother.

Sarler may well be historically accurate about the development of our notion of fatherhood, but it is rather distasteful to hear her sneer at those who want to cast off the traditional roles and approach parenting from a flexible or less gendered perspective. In writing a piece which challenges those who are anti-lesbian to step forward and out themselves, Sarler comes across as anti-dad. I don’t know if this is what she intended but if its upset me, then I’m guessing some men out there might also be rather irked at her tone and insinuations.

We are ALL potentially far more than our forebears – gay or straight, male or female, single married or otherwise. How does a pro-feminist, pro-lesbian piece manage to sound as if it doesn’t understand that basic proposition?

I HATE MEN (allegedly)

Actually I quite like them. They are very useful. I am married to one and he has been put to work cleaning the house as I type…But I have discovered that these men types are not all as loveable as him upstairs:

I came across a rather unpleasant cluster of websites today whose focus is on the divers ways in which women and feminism are evil / destructive / conspiring with the communists to bring about the apocalypse etc…Your run of the mill women-hating rot? Well, they made me shudder.

Starting at what men are saying about women which is wholly and unapologetically misogynist (perhaps its not considered rude in Oz), I follow blogroll links to the UK based end of men (which includes the very measured claim that feminism destroys not just the family but also destroys whole populations – see ‘why feminism is a fraud’ Nov 8 and the About page which develops the argument from feminists=men-haters to a government conspiracy to global depopulation enslavement and (dun dun DUUUN) THE END OF MANKIND! Crikey. This blog also expresses some incredulity at the suggestion that a father who punched two social workers (one heavily pregnant and one holding his four month old baby) before snatching his child and going on the run (the baby was under a care order) should get a prison sentence. Clearly he should have got a pat on the back and a lollipop for the kid.), and fembot hunter (‘Applying logic, facts and accountability to the mindless droning of the feminist hate movement’ – apparently) and ukmensaid (which purports to demystify the UK law around divorce and children and tells you what lawyers won’t – (lawyers won’t tell you it because much of it is simply inaccurate and mis-states the law or misinterprets data. For example I’m unlikely to write an article on a piece of legislation that doesn’t exist viz ‘Children Act 1991’).

I had to give up trawling through these in the end, the few links above are just my personal favourites. And of course many of these sites link into the more acceptable face of father’s / men’s rights, such as fathers4justice / realfathers4justice (and probably realrealrealfathers4realjustice) etc. (everything’s relative). I think the scariest thing is the idea that men in the process of relationship breakdown who are struggling to understand what is happening to their family and why, and who are looking for explanations will find themselves surrounded by a wealth of sources like these all of which espouse the view that we (that’s women) are out to get special treatment and that the state or the family justice system is out to ensure that this happens. I mean, they have big words in them and everything so they must be right.

So, by way of example uk mens aid suggests here that the reason why the vast majority of divorces are granted to women (about 80%) is a grand conspiracy by the courts (not sanctioned by Parliament I might add – tskk) to deprive the man ‘of his home, his children and his money’ (my emphasis). The reality is that its far more likely to be because it is women who are in the most vulnerable position financially after a separation (childcare responsibilities curtail their earning capacity and they are often left in the matrimonial home with no means to pay the mortgage) and this means that they need to get on with the divorce quickly so that they can sort out the financial situation before the house is repossessed. Often men, feeling there is no incentive to get on with the divorce or the division of assets dilly dally whilst the mortgage company threatens repo. And what uk mens aid omits to mention is that the question of WHO gets the divorce has no bearing AT ALL on how the money is divided.

If this is the kind of information available to men, and the mindset with which men approach the family courts system then their perception of their experience may well be distorted by the kind of suggestions made on these sites – coming from this angle everything that the courts / lawyers do no doubt looks like proof of the argument that the system is biased against them. And the problem with this is that if you approach the system with a chip that big it can obscure your view of what is really happening.

So on the one hand the fathers / mens movement is complaining of the adversarial / confrontational nature of the family courts system and yet discussion boards and blogs are full of the rhetoric of war and hatred, pumping up men who are at a difficult stage in their lives to do battle with this injustice rather than agree with anything the women might say for fear of being branded a namby pamby metrosexual or feminised new man (these are apparently the actual creation of man-hating feminists – a bit like how Nation of Islam think white men were the freaky creation of a mad scientist? Oh…I digress).

I’m all for injustices being exposed and righted, but to suggest – as these sites collectively do – that everything is an example of some sinister and systematic anti-male ideology and to place the arrangements for resolving disputes about the breakdown of family relationships at the centre of this conspiracy, so that every court case is approached as a battle ground, is to encourage father’s and husbands to miss the point. Relationship breakdown involves real individual children with their own individual personalities and needs, and real individual adults with their own individual quirks and strengths and weaknesses. And real pain – hatred may be a byproduct but it should not be the fuel for or purpose of the exercise.

So anyway, now I really have to go and help my entirely equal other half with the cleaning. Or he might get paranoid.

Postscript 16 Nov: Charon QC’s post yesterday has revealed another gem of an anti-women website (see section on feminism in particular).