I was reading recently about the American Civil War. Interesting. I came across this bit about Lincoln:
“Historians have overwhelmingly praised the “political genius” of Abraham Lincoln’s performance as president. His first priority was military victory. This required that he master entirely new skills as a strategist and diplomat. He oversaw supplies, finances, manpower, the selection of generals, and the course of overall strategy. Working closely with state and local politicians, he rallied public opinion and (at Gettysburg) articulated a national mission that has defined America ever since. Lincoln’s charm and willingness to cooperate with political and personal enemies made Washington work much more smoothly than Richmond, the Confederate capital, and his wit smoothed many rough edges. Lincoln’s cabinet proved much stronger and more efficient than Davis’s, as Lincoln channeled personal rivalries into a competition for excellence rather than mutual destruction. With William Seward at State, Salmon P. Chase at the Treasury, and (from 1862) Edwin Stanton at the War Department, Lincoln had a powerful cabinet of determined men. Except for monitoring major appointments and decisions, Lincoln gave them free rein to end the Confederate rebellion.”
What has this got to do with Parental Alienation?
Well, what this piece about Lincoln teaches us is simply reinforcement of the old adage that ‘you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’. How did black people get emancipated? They needed white people. How did women get the vote? They needed men. How did we eventually sort out Northern Ireland, and South Africa? By talking, respectively, to the IRA and the ANC. In other words, you have to talk to the enemy, or go to war with them in order to achieve your objective. Well, you certainly have to do one of these two things if you want to do something about it and your enemy is more powerful, or, at least, currently holds the power. If you are in the power position, you can simply crush your enemies. Why talk to your enemy if you can simply defeat him?
When do the powerful ‘see the light’? It seems that they do so, eventually, when they sense that they are losing the argument. Change is inevitable, and you can fight it, or learn to live with it.
In the PA discussion, judges are:
- The Enemy;
- In the ‘Power Position’.
So, it follows that they do not need to absorb our message, as they can simply ignore us. They will talk only when they can see that the writing is, as it were, on the wall. So, as the groundswell of public opinion grows, judges are more likely to listen (no choice). Assuming that we don’t want a revolution (?!) we have to talk to the enemy.
In order to do get the just result, we have to persuade, not rant or take to the barricades.
There are two big issues, I think. The first is justice. The second is the Paramountcy Principle (that the interests of the child trump all other factors).
Justice is the wrong ‘lens’. The wrong paradigm. If the system were just, both parents would be given equal contact time with the child, or something a lot more like that than we currently have. This, I believe, is the error that Fathers for Justice makes. Justice is not the issue. Fairness is not the issue. Because the law says, regardless of issues of justice, that the interests of the child are paramount, so why even bother with justice? You’re aiming at the wrong target.
THE PARAMOUNTCY PRINCIPLE
What the law says is clear. The interests of the child are paramount. Judges and the law itself, do not care about justice between the parties. The law is not about delivering justice. It’s about doing right by the child.
The problem then, is not solved by ranting on at judges for doing the wrong thing, the unjust thing. They don’t care about that. Nor do they care about your opinion. Nor does the law. The problem is that judges have paradigms that need to be changed. The following springs to mind:
- Judges, and society at large, think kids belong with mothers. Fathers are an ‘optional extra’;
- Judges pretend that they are acting in the child’s best interests, where in fact they are simply cowards who don’t do the ‘right thing’ – the just thing – because they don’t want to appear on the front page of the Daily Mail when the father is given contact, or residence, and then takes the kids away and abuses or kills them (cos that’s what men do, right?).
KIDS BELONG WITH MOTHERS
I get this. Women carry children in their wombs. Their bodies are built to rear infants (breast milk). It seems that women are ‘designed’ to be pregnant, and nurse children. It’s obvious, right? Women have round squidgy cuddly bodies, built for nurturing.
Men, on the other hand, have slimmer, more angular, athletic bodies, for hunting stuff, fixing domestic appliances and putting up shelves.
And yet, we all know women who are not nurturing. They want careers, in important and influential disciplines like law and medicine, and politics. (I don’t think I have seen many protests from legions of women who feel excluded from being soldiers, dustmen, oil rig workers and so on…). And to succeed in the world of work, female characteristics are not helpful. You have to be ruthless, career-driven. You have to put job before family if you want to get to the top. And you have to put in a lot of time.
Additionally, we all know of men who are not that bothered about careers or their job, and are far more family and child-orientated. These men, perhaps the best kind of men, have female characteristics. In fact, according to HL Mencken (“In Defence of Women”) the best women are those that have plenty of male characteristics, and the best men are those that have some female characteristics. Logical, really, because these individuals are presumably more ‘complete’. In fact, if you have read any Aristophanes, humans were originally half man half woman, and the Gods became threatened by this and split these creatures in half, to create man and woman, neither of which, on their own would be threatening to the Gods. (This is where the expression “my other half” comes from).
So, presumably, females with male characteristics will do better at work than women with entirely female characteristics. Men with more female attributes will be better parents than those (including women) who do not have those characteristics.
THE PATERNAL MAN, AND THE WORKING WOMAN
How many women want to be world leaders, surgeons and corporate lawyers? How many men want to eschew the world of work and care for kids? My guess is that the answer to both questions is (perceived to be) “not many”.
I am a paternal man. I don’t care much about money or work (other than as a means to get money). I care about my son. HE is everything, not some boring old job. That sounds like it might be quite unusual, but I wonder…On all of these forums, you will repeatedly see men like me. We love our kids more than anything else. Some may love their jobs too, of course, but our kids take priority (like with the law – ostensibly). How unusual ARE we?
And of course, there are caveats. Women who want powerful jobs still care about their kids, but work takes priority. These women think like (most?) men. That is, because kids are so important, I MUST keep my job and do well at it, because without my career, everything falls to bits. So, working women and paternal men are not so different. Both are putting the kids first but in a different way. These are people who do not comply with gender stereotypes (? archetypes?). They don’t care about stereotypes.
I say let women work and let men look after kids. If they want to. Why not? This, after all, is the 21st Century.
THE CHILD’S BEST INTERESTS
Now judges, as we have seen, are cowards. They SAY that they are motivated by the child’s best interests, but that’s a lie that’s very easily seen through just by reading the case law. But if they want to pretend, to hide behind the ‘child’s best interests’ argument, let’s go with that for a moment.
Is it in a child’s best interests to have their father involved in their lives? Well, apart from it being pretty bloody obvious (!) it’s written in law. Section 2 of the Children Act 1989 says this:
“(2A) A court, in the circumstances mentioned in subsection (4)(a) or (7), is as respects each parent within subsection (6)(a) to presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.”
Problem with these words is that they are weasel words. The Tories had promised in their manifesto that dads would be given 50-50 contact, but when it came to putting this into practice, we got this meaningless, watered-down drivel that leaves the judges plenty of room to deliver unjust verdicts. Well, we all know the value of a political promise, don’t we?
CONFLATION AND SYNERGY
What we need to do is to conflate these arguments and get some groovy synergy going. What I mean is that we need both justice between the parties AND to look to the child’s best interests. This is done easily by recognising that doing justice will necessarily (?) mean putting the child first and that putting the child first necessarily involves doing justice between the parties. That is, by giving fathers equal contact with the child, this is exactly what is best for the child. If it’s not in any particular case, the judge can massage contact arrangements until they get to a point where they determine that a level of contact other than 50-50 is apposite. So, if they want to arrange contact in anything other than a 50-50 kinda way, they should have to justify why, in this particular case, 50-50 is not appropriate (like in Australia).
But in order to get to this Utopian state of affairs, judges must be made to recognise that some men make better carers than some women. Or even that ALL men are just as capable as ALL women of looking after kids – I mean if all women are just as capable as men in the work world, why can’t men be just as good as women in the role of child-carer? Do men and women not have equal overall value?
Well, yes, you might say, they do. But that doesn’t mean that one gender can’t be better than the other at work/childcare, does it? You might feel that women are better at child care than men. But how ready would you be to say that men are better at the business of working, than women?! Women are MADE for child care. Men are made for bringing home the bacon. Maybe it’s the case that the best female parents are better carers than the best male parents. But then, are the best male workers better than the best female workers? That’s a bit more contentious, no? In order to be consistent, though, you must agree with that. Some feminists would not, of course. Yes, we accept that women are better at childcare, but we are also better employees, or at least equal to men. Such women are no different to those men who say “Yes, women are better at childcare but rubbish at work”. Presumably both claims are false, or at least too generalised.
But we do not need even to convince the establishment that men are better carers than women, or even as good. All we want (as most women want in the career debate) is a fair crap of the whip.
Perhaps it works like this: The best workers are men, but there are some women who are as good as men, some who are better. The best carers are women, but there are some men who are as good as women, some who are better. Perhaps the best female parent scores say 9/10 on the ‘caring scale’ (where most score 7/10) and the best male parent manages only 8/10. But that still leaves the best male parents as better carers than most female parents. And the 7/10 male workers are not as good as the 8/10 female workers…But – the 8/10 women workers are not as good as the 9/10 male workers, and never will be because women are made to rear children, and men to provide. Just as, presumably, the best male parent will never be as good, qua parent, as the best female parent.
Well, if we want consistency. But do we?
We either accept the truth we observe every day that men and women are different creatures with different attributes suited for different tasks, and differing interests, or that women and men are precisely equal in all attributes, with exactly equal ability (which is obviously, demonstrably, not so). But either way, we cannot avoid these truths:
- Women are disadvantaged in the workplace;
- Men are disadvantaged in family matters.
Let’s ALL have a fair crack of ALL whips.