Why Would a Dad Deface the Queen of England?

Fathers’ Day, Fathers 4 Justice, Glen Poole, International Men’s Movement, The Queen of England, Westminster Abbey, Philip N Cohen, Pew Report, Suffragettes, Divorce, Separation, Family Breakdown, Breadwinner Moms, Shared Parenting, Deadbeat Dads, Fathers Rights, Custody Battles,

Fathers’ Day is an opportunity to remember the challenges faced by dads as the shape of the modern family keeps shifting.

The British campaign group Fathers 4 Justice hit the headlines again this week after one of its members defaced a portrait of The Queen as it hung in Westminster Abbey.

According to media reports, the father suspected of spray painting the word “help” onto the artwork has been denied contact with his two daughters in the family courts.

Having been through the court process myself I know just how painful this can be for all involved.

I was saddened by the news for two reasons. Firstly, having been through the court process myself I know just how painful this can be for all involved. I now use my experience to support fathers who are caught in lengthy court battles and have met many good dads who are being denied a role in their children’s lives on the way.

I don’t know the personal case of the dad who felt driven to such high profile vandalism to further his case, but I do understand the desperation and helplessness that can lead to such seemingly senseless acts.

I see dads who carry on fighting to be part of their children’s lives for months and years after other less resilient fathers have given up and whatever the rights and wrongs of any individual case, it’s never a happy occasion to see another dad suffering in this way.

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Secondly, it’s now 10 years since Fathers 4 Justice first hit the headlines in the UK with its controversial direct action stunts which are designed to drag the media spotlight onto the shortcomings of Britain’s family courts. And yet for all the column inches the campaign has inspired, it hasn’t prevented a new generation of separated fathers being shut out of their children’s lives.

I was personally involved in the early days of this campaign and met many fathers from different backgrounds who spoke with one voice about the unfairness and discrimination they had experienced.

Detractors still say there isn’t an issue. They claim that only dangerous dads are removed from their children’s lives and the courts should be doing more to protect women and children from such men.

And it’s certainly true that men and women are capable of horrific acts of cruelty when caught up in custody battles, but this is no reason to ignore the unique experience of separated dads.

It’s only by getting under the skin of the problem that we can hope to find solutions that work for everyone.

It’s only by getting under the skin of the problem that we can hope to find solutions that work for everyone and most importantly help children have the best possible relationship with both parents.

 

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The way that most advanced economies handle separation is still largely based on the “man hunt, woman cook” model of parenting. This means that if mum and dad are separated they are placed in two distinct boxes—‘carer’ and ‘provider’.

The ‘carer’ is given ‘ownership’ of the children and then the money—in terms of joint assets and ongoing maintenance payments—follows the children. The ‘provider’ is required to provide money to the carer on an ongoing basis while the ‘carer’ is required to give the ‘provider’ access to the children at agreed times.

The system was built in response to the rigid binary roles of 1940s and 1950s.

This system was built as a response to the rigid binary roles that most men and women in modern economies adopted in the 1940s and 1950s, but has failed to adapt to the gender transition that has taken place in family life since then.

According to the recent Pew Report, mothers are now the primary breadwinners in 40% of American families, a headline figure that masks the complexity of the shift that’s taken pace.

What hasn’t happened is a mass role reversal with 40% of men now staying at home baking bread while their partners go out making bread. The shift is certainly substantial and it’s also a highly gendered one.

Two-thirds of those breadwinner moms are lone parents, usually on low incomes, but if we want to understand what happens when parents separate, then we have to first consider what’s happening when they’re together.

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According to the American sociologist, Philip N Cohen, the proportion of married families where women are the main earner has risen from 4% to 23% in the past 50 years.

If mothers are the main financial provider in nearly one in four married families then why do family courts give mums the ‘carer’ role in around 90% of custody battles?

Rather than reversing roles men and women have diversified their roles.

Well, the reality is that rather than reversing roles men and women have diversified their roles. Dads, for example, are doing more childcare than ever before while still earning 81% of the family income when they are the main breadwinner.

In families where mum earns most, dad is also a breadwinner bringing home 31% of the family income on average. Meanwhile, in the minority of homes where couples still have one parent staying at home full time, the breadwinner is still dad in around 96% of cases.

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The big change that has happened is that men and women have diversified their roles with over half of married couples in the US now sharing the earning role at a ratio of somewhere between 50:50 and 70:30—with most sharing childcare at different levels in the process.

And yet the proportion of couples being awarded equal custody of their children is said to be around 5% or less—and that’s where the problems arise.

Most couples with kids are sharing the responsibilities of earning and caring to a greater or lesser extent.

The way that the majority of mums and dads build their families together is no longer binary. Yes there are still breadwinner dads and stay-at-home mums. There are also some breadwinner moms and stay-at-home-dads. But mostly, couples with kids are sharing the responsibilities of earning and caring to a greater or lesser extent that evolves over time in response to the changing needs of the children (and the adults).

Which is why a binary family court system imposed by the state simply doesn’t work. Our modern family law systems are confusingly discriminatory. They’re confusing because the letter of the law is seemingly equal and gender neutral and yet the reality is they require men and women to be boxed into a defined role—‘carer’ and ‘provider’—when most modern families consist of two ‘carer-providers’.

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Divorce and separation is rarely easy for anyone involved and bringing up children alone can be an enormous challenge. There is no question, however, that there are more separated mums in the ‘carer-provider’ role than there are separated dads.

Part of the reason for this is that it is easier to create a post-separation “carer-provider” role for yourself from the state-sanctioned role of “carer” than it is to do so when the state designates you as the “provider”.

Given the binary choice between ‘carer’ or ‘provider’ when they separate, the majority of mums opt for ‘carer’ and then find a way to define their role from there. Some dads will also play this game, climb into the ‘provider’ box offered to them and find a way to make it work.

Many dads get completely confused by this system, uncertain of what role they want to play.

But many dads get completely confused by this system, uncertain of what role they want to play, but clear it isn’t simply the role of ‘carer’ or ‘provider’. The human messiness of separation, combined with the harsh theatre of court, simply adds to the confusion.

Once they come to terms with what’s happening, most separated dads want to be carer-providers, but they generally don’t know how to make that work either emotionally or practically.

Even if they do, the court system doesn’t offer a box called ‘carer-provider’, it offers a binary choice and as mums generally opt for the ‘carer’ role, that leaves dad with one choice—‘provider’.

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The court system is not the only cause of this problem. Mums and dads rarely behave at their best when they separate and that doesn’t help with the complex challenge of working out how to share parenting with someone you no longer want to live with.

We are also part of a culture that still places a huge expectation on men and women to conform to gender roles when it comes to parenting. The Pew poll found that half of Americans think that children do better when their mum stays at home full-time, but only 8% say children are better-off with a full-time stay-at-home dad.

There is a lot of cultural and legal pressure on a separated father to be the provider.

There is a lot of cultural and legal pressure on a separated father to be the provider, but very little understanding or support for separated dads who want to be “carer-providers”. The discrimination experienced by women wanting to break out of the “full-time mum” mould is mirrored by discrimination against dads who want to be more than just a full-time breadwinner.

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Some will see a disenfranchised dad daubing the word “help” on the portrait of the Queen as a clear demonstration that he isn’t a fit father and conclude it is no wonder he isn’t allowed to see his kids.

There were people who said similar things when the Suffragettes marched down Oxford Street in London smashing shop windows. The fact that they resorted to such acts, said their critics, was more proof that women weren’t fit to vote.

You may think that a dad vandalizing a painting or a Suffragette smashing a shop window is an unforgivable criminal act or you may think it is a justified action in the fight for sex equality.

What actions can we take to help all children have the best possible relationship with their dads.

Either way, history records that in the binary laws defining who can and can’t vote, men and women are now equal. Fathers’ rights campaigners want a similar black and white law that says all biological parents can be involved their children’s lives, with the exception of mums and dads who are a proven risk.

The lesson of the Suffragettes is that there is a massive gap between an equal right to vote and equal participation in politics. Similarly, there is a huge gap between an equal right to be an involved parent and being equally involved in your children’ lives.

As we celebrate Fathers’ Day and take time to consider our relationship with our own fathers, it’s also worth considering the many different challenges men face as parents and asking ourselves what actions we can take to help all children have the best possible relationship with their dads.

Happy Fathers’ Day!

 

Read more on Father’s Day.

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—Photo credit: Flickr/fjfungo

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About Glen Poole

Glen Poole is an international expert on men and boys and author of the book Equality For Men. He is Director of the consultancy Helping Men, UK co-ordinator for International Men Day and host of the National Conference for Men and Boys in Brighton and Hove. You can follow him on twitter @equality4menUK and at www.equality4men.com.

Comments

  1. Karen woodall says:

    At the Centre for Separated Families we have said the same thing for fifteen years, the core of what is wrong with our post separation policy is that the role of who will be carer is defined, if there is conflict about it, by the one who receives the Child Benefit (CB). CB is paid almost 100 percent to mothers, it was designed to be that way when it was first brought into being as Family Allowance under the Wallet to the Purse raft of social policies which were based upon the idea that women spend money on children whilst men spend it down the pub. The social policy around separated families was deliberately designed in such a way to give women who wanted to leave relationships, the out that they needed after divorce laws were changed in 1973. feminists, seeing that women struggled to leave relationships because of the fear that if they did they would lose custody of their children, reformed policy to ensure that women could leave and take their children and, in the reforms after the Finer Report in 1974, also be supported by the state instead of the father of their children. Current policy remains exactly the same, whoever holds the CB has the upper hand and what woman, even today, is going to hold up her hands and say, ‘I will be the non resident parent’ you be the carer. This straight jacket of legislation (CB cannot be split in any circumstances) means separated parents have a choice or a fight on their hands. If we want to tackle anything in the future in this arena, we have to a) value men as fathers and b) demonstrate that fiscally through benefit system changes. I cannot see very much of either in the upcoming years for the UK, despite all efforts on all fronts. Which, after 15 years is pretty bleak but some people with whom I work have been trying since 1974 and are still trying now to bring about the changes we know that we need to bring better outcomes for children. Its a god forsaken area to work in, it reflects the god forsaken feelings of the parents who suffer (and their children, who, as they come to adulthood, are talking about the way in which the loss of a good enough parent has blighted their lives). I firmly believe that our society will, one day, look back and realise that the men who are suffering, the appalling sorrow of their forced separation,from their own beloved children, by the state were done a great wrong. Any society based upon true equality in which men and women are valued for the difference between them as a basic right, would not tolerate what is happening in the UK, in this arena today.

    • Alison M. says:

      All well and good Karen but will you now lobby for Shared Parenting legislation? Without a change in law nothing will happen.

      A change in law is only the start of course, it would then need to be pressed home for further changes in the system and laws but we have to start somewhere.

  2. Eagle35 says:

    Karen: “I firmly believe that our society will, one day, look back and realise that the men who are suffering, the appalling sorrow of their forced separation,from their own beloved children, by the state were done a great wrong. Any society based upon true equality in which men and women are valued for the difference between them as a basic right, would not tolerate what is happening in the UK, in this arena today.”

    Call my cynical but I’m not holding my breath.

    You said yourself that people in your circle have been working since 1974 to change the laws. That’s thirty-nine years, close to four decades now. So far, nothing has changed and society still sees fathers as holding no value and men as disposable.

    You have to wonder if society just doesn’t want men and fathers to be valued anymore. Think about it: Close to four decades and nothing’s changed. What does that say?

  3. KAren Woodall says:

    The reason why our society does not allow men and fathers to be valued anymore is four decades of feminist social policy, starting with the wallet to the purse and continuing to this day with the Child Maintenance Act as well as the Children Act.

    A Gender Analysis (this is part of what I do in my work at the Centre for Separated Families) demonstrates clearly that social policy, written by feminists and underpinned by feminist academic research, has built gender bias into the policy. It began with the gateway benefit which is Child Benefit and has continued ever since. In societies where gender equality is active and underpins all social policy, the legislation around separated families drives different behaviours. Ours, in the UK, is unfortunately not gender aware, it is gender neutral which when it is operated in a gender biased society (how many mothers can you think of who would willingly be the non resident parent?) delivers gender biased outcomes. The Gender Analaysis of family separation policies was written by me and published by Oxfam as part of their UK Poverty Programme. We discovered, in our work, that children living in non resident parent households for part of each week were living in more poverty than if they were living with their single parent (state supported) resident parent. The incentive for fathers to provide care is thus stripped away. The incentive for mothers to care is stacked high. Then, when fathers inevitably fall at the post (usually because they cannot make ends meet or because the criticisim of their parenting is so high especially when they cannot afford food or clothes for their children because they are paying child maintenance AND paying for the cost of caring on their own for their children) they are vilified and called absent. Its a shocking and deeply distressing state of affairs that no-one but no-one, including I fear the Good Men Project, really wants to take a deep look at. I would love this not to be about feminist social policy, believe me. I have resisted the reality for a very long time but, having gone through another two years of trying to change the system so that this ghastly outcome will stop and been defeated by the entrenched and terrifying fixed nature of the social policy around the family, I can no longer stay quiet on the matter. I hope that the Good Men Project will see fit to publish this comment which, after all, in a society which embraces free speech, is the only right and fair thing to do.

  4. I agree with Eagle35. And it would have been better for there to have been outright support of Tim’s action in the article.
    Actions will have to be both constant and high profile for any change to stand a chance. But it does stand a chance; because you find if you speak with veteran campaigners that actions are, still, constant. The courts and their staff are genuinely, and deservedly, under threat, but the press have been conned into classing these less-than-suffragette style disruptions and protests as ‘terrorism’, so they default to the no publicity position. As so many in the established media are either feminists or conformists or people with mortgages, they either genuinely or tacitly support this censorship.
    What’s needed is for every action to be as cleverly considered as was Tims autonomous strike – by which I mean – choosing an action that it is impossible for the press to censor.
    It would only take a handful of people prepared to go to jail to ensure that wretched painting was not shown in public again until the law changed. A handful more could occupy the police in London almost constantly. It’s at once a recruitment problem – and a genuine problem of the entire movement being censored and undermined.
    Most people of all opinions know we’re right from experience, even if they won’t acknowledge it, or deliberately don’t admit it to protect their interest. Most let the whole issue pass for fear of being branded anti-female.
    So better to force our enemy to declare their outright sexism and force people to take sides – because in the climate we’re creating, our opponents are going to find they’re more and more in an unacceptable reactionary position.
    Ultimately there’s a parallel with race. It needed the whole issue to come to a boiling point and for battle lines to be drawn for liberalism to prevail on race, and I think it’s going to be the same with gender.
    At the moment, all the people – mainly women but an alarming majority of stupid or cowardly men, let’s be honest – who oppose fathers rights, get away with saying ‘of course i agree the system is wrong’, before mindlessly attacking any protest, in just the same way as most racists used to say ‘lots of my friends are black’, before saying the most atrociously racist things.
    And if I had a penny for every abusive, evil single mother who ‘so agreed’ with fathers rights but whose own ex, by some statistical miracle, ‘just abandoned the kids and doesn’t want to talk to them’ – I’d be a millionaire.
    It’s frustrating, because it represnts the duplicity of the cover up of the whole massive issue.
    We can’t get round the fact that almost half the population – women – now have an absolutely enormous vested interest in maintaining injustice, and that most of the other half – men – are too busy, or too ambitious to succeed come hell or high water (and of course despite the odds), or ultimately too much wanting – like everyone – an easy life and to keep their feminist girlfriends – (a seemingly silly point that can’t be overplayed, as no-one wants to be single and taking a fathers rights view will immediately freeze you out of a great number of womens prospects) – to campaign significantly against it. It’s being left to honest, principled men who are willing to sacrifice, and an almost equal number of bright and brave women who are supporting them, to start this whole ball rolling. We’re a tiny minority who could easily command majority approval because we’re right. But most people are still totally full of shit on the issue, because of conformity – and of course propaganda. In my local newsagent today, six national papers pictured charles saatchi ‘throttling’ his wife on their front pages, and two regional papers ran with a 20 something schoolmaster arrested for a consensual – very possibly non sexual – relationship with a 15 year old girl (branded an evil paedo naturally), and a priest on suspicion of same kind of charges.
    We have to be on the front page as often as that bullshit it.
    So I say just take action again and again and don’t think of the short term consequences or disapproval. We’re right. Everyone knows it. They’re being blinded by media. That’s the first battleground.
    http://bombeveryone.com

  5. Alison M. says:

    Great article Glen and so true, until Shared or Equal Parenting is emphasised in legislation then we will not move much further forward. The law needs to change first.

    Karen Woodall,
    I notice other people have asked you this question previously and you have avoided giving a straight answer.
    Karen, will you now say there must be Shared Parenting laws put in place by this government? Yes or no?

    It’s good to hear about all the good things you do once again from yourself and they are tremendous but please now confirm if you and your organisation will at last now support Shared Parenting legislation or are you going to continue to lobby against it as you did in your response to the Family Justice Review?

    Thank you

    • Karen woodall says:

      no Alison M I shall not be drawn nto the argument that you and others perpetuate around me, you follow your path and I shall follow mine. Your belief in shared parenting laws is something you must put faith in yourself, it serves no purpose for me to engage in pointless arguments with you about this issue because you are blind to the reality of the wider issues that must be tackled.

      • A big ‘yes’ to shared parenting laws in the UK, the news would be huge as it was in Oz and in itself would help to change attitudes towards dads. The ozzies benefited from new laws, so would we.

        Whatever the wider issues, supporting shared parenting laws does not hinder dealing with them, it would make it easier to deal with them for sure. So lets all get onboard and drive this presumption of shared parenting train into the outdated family courts station.

  6. OirishM says:

    But just to clarify, men have privilege via the patriarchy, right?

    I mean, why on earth would the all-powerful oppressor class need to perform desperate stunts like graffiti or dressing up as Spiderman to climb monuments to get people’s attention when they have all the power anyway?

    -_-

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Fathers 4 Justice has had a colourful month heading to Westminster in June to launch a political petition sponsored by the Respect Party MP George Galloway and subsequently declaring that it was “refusing to deal with the government” after two high profile protests targeted works of art including a portrait of the Queen and Constable’s Haywain. The issue has sparked media debate include commentary by Ally Fogg in The Guardian, Iain Dale at Conservative Home and Glen Poole (part of national conference team) at The Good Men Project. [...]

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