Media baulks at pursuing fathers' rights


Views have evolved but an instinctive suspicion of men as uninterested impregnators is hard to shift, writes SARAH CAREY

JOHN WATERS has a point. Last Friday he complained that although his column of the previous week had gained international attention, it was largely ignored in Ireland. In fairness, “Man fathers child with his sister” should have sparked some interest.

Apart from the Irish edition of The Daily Mail,no Irish media outlet followed up on the appalling story of a man who fell in love and had a child with a woman who turned out to be his half-sister. The disaster had occurred because his mother had lied to him about the identity of his real father, and because the courts had endorsed that lie by denying the father access to his son. Worse, though no one doubted the true paternity of the boy, his birth certificate incorrectly identified another man as the father. A clearly fraudulent document couldn’t be corrected without the consent of the mother, the perpetrator of the original lie.

If the media champions itself as a tool with which the country’s dirty little secrets might be revealed, why does it fail to pursue the issue of fathers’ rights with the same diligence with which it goes after the church or the travel expenses of peripatetic Senators?

Part of the problem, as Waters acknowledges, is that he’s writing the story. When he writes about fathers, we throw our eyes to heaven, because there he goes banging on about that issue again. Also, those other fathers who air their grievances in the media are angry, and that makes them look a bit mad. This makes us suspect there’s more to their case than they’re telling us.

The other problem is that Waters argues that the “systematic suppression of the facts about injustices against men in family courts has been effected by a generation of feminist-conditioned journalists”. When men are victims, scandals are ignored. If women are victims, their plight is well-advertised. His explanation requires his colleagues to acknowledge that they are “feminist-conditioned”. I suspect that most would either deny that this is the case, or see feminism as being so self-evidently correct that they wouldn’t accept such conditioning serves to blind them to injustice.

I don’t see myself as being implicitly conditioned by feminist ideology. I am a feminist. Not that many women are willing to admit to such a thing these days. The label conjures up Andrea Dworkin – a fat, dungaree-wearing, unwaxed lesbian who argued that all sex was rape. But to those who disown feminism, I ask: what would you give back? The vote? Equal pay? Maternity leave? The Family Home Protection Act? The pill? Feminism didn’t corrupt me. It liberated me, and frankly, I like it. I think my reaction to John’s campaign is probably common enough – I’m sympathetic, but instinctively baulk when he blames a movement that most educated people see as having a positive influence on their lives.

Having said that, I’m not yet 40, but have had enough sobering moments to realise that the Law of Unintended Consequences applies, and criticisms of the movement are valid.

It wasn’t until I felt it necessary to apologise for the fact that I liked staying at home to mind my babies that I realised how feminism had undermined motherhood. And I’m not sure when I began to feel ashamed about the time I advised a pregnant teenage friend not to name the father of her baby on the birth cert. Having a baby was bad enough. Being lumbered with the unsavoury creep who impregnated her in a stupid drunken moment would only compound the error. Fair enough, I was a teenager myself. But how did I come to believe that her child would be as well off not knowing its father?

I was reared in the relative isolation of rural Ireland in two-channel land, and knew nothing about feminism until I was in my 20s. I hadn’t been corrupted by anything but a folk fear of unfortunate girls who were locked up in those laundries, disappeared temporarily down the country to mother-and-baby homes, having lost any chance of advancement in the world while the men blithely carried on with their lives. We were reared on tales of the farmer or solicitor who couldn’t keep his hands off the domestics. Or women arriving “foal at foot” into marriages whereupon children were reared with entire communities conspiring to cover up their true parentage, and thanks to adulterous relationships in pre-divorce Ireland, muttering about there being blood between certain couples.

Subsequently, my experiences veered between bitterly discovering my gender was a handicap in my corporate career, and listening with dismay and sympathy to the stories of male friends cut out of their children’s lives. Yet, however my views evolved over time, that instinctive suspicion of men as uninterested impregnators and unwilling fathers is hard to shift.

So, even if Waters is correct that feminism conditioned us to see fathers as dispensable, I think that such conditioning succeeded because the narrative lay so neatly on top of the pre-existing reality. We already believed that fathers didn’t necessarily want to know, didn’t need to knowand perhaps were better off not knowing.

Of course, regardless of where we’ve come from, the rest of the media shouldn’t be afraid of admitting that where we are now is a place of terrible injustice. At the very least, if other people started to write about it, then Waters could stop, and for that, I’m sure he’d be grateful.

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