Opinion - by Sue Price, Director, Men's Rights Agency, 1998
The rise of fathers' rights groups in Australia is obviously causing great concern among feminist academics, prompting the production of a 50 page critique paper about the groups.
The paper, " Fathers' Rights Groups in Australia and their Engagement with Issues in Family Law", was written by by Miranda Kaye and Julia Tolmie, feminist lecturers at the Faculty of Law, Sydney University. It was published in the Australian Journal of Family Law in 1998.
Kaye and Tolmie interviewed father's / men's rights groups under false pretenses and supported their paper's feminist conclusions with selective content from some submissions provided to government inquiries.
Kaye and Tolmie displayed their lack of impartiality in their paper's lead-in paragraph by featuring one of the most objectionable statements every made by Alistair Nicholson, the Chief Justice of the Family Court.
Nicholson publicly accused those who disagreed with his views on the practices of the Family Court, mostly men, of being "discontented litigants, sometimes obviously dysfunctional".
Nicholson further abused his advantaged position, (i.e. protected from rebuttal under the secrecy provisions within the Family Law Act), when he said "most persistent critics behaved in a way which cannot stand up to public scrutiny, particularly in relation to issues of violence against women and children". That was an outlandish statement with no substance, which discriminated against all male victims of domestic violence, all children abused by women and was indicative of the anti-male views held by too many in the Family Court environs.
At the time that Nicholson made his statements in 1995, even the feminist friendly newspaper, the Brisbane Courier Mail (editorial 21/9/95), came to the defence of those who have to remain silent about their experiences with the Family Court by declaring "the fact that the court has decided that a father should not have custody of his child does not mean he is dysfunctional, nor that he cannot agitate for changes in the system".
Kaye and Tolmie's limited analysis attempts to define the groups' attitudes to issues concerning family law, contact with children, child support, and domestic violence. Paying particular attention to the divergence of opinions that naturally occurs when submissions are made by various branches, even though, the same organisations over different time periods, they portray this to be a fatal flaw upon which to question the logic and validity of the groups' public positions.
Men's/father's groups do not enjoy the stability of continuous leadership, primarily because they are totally unfunded by governments. Whereas women's groups, who have been well funded for many years, have been able to establish a hierarchy and agenda that remains relatively unchanged. Kaye and Tolmie are well funded and part of that hierarchy.
Obviously, submissions put forward by most groups will vary year to year according to the opinions of the volunteers who at that time take on the role of "submission writers". Their ideas vary because their experiences are varied. That should not be seen as a fault, but an advantage, presenting the opportunity to examine many differing opinions and develop solutions.
It is indeed fortunate that fathers' views have not been subjected to the rigid dictates that feminism demands of their followers. One issue, however, does not vary ... the welfare of their children. The vast majority of fathers want to play a role in the upbringing of their children, not be relegated to the sidelines as "an every other weekend dad".
If and when fathers' groups receive funding, an opportunity will be given to formulate strategies that encompass the views of most groups across the nation. This is now happening to some extent via the Internet which has allowed father's groups to exchange ideas and formulate coordinated strategies.
Considering, the difficulties faced by fathers' groups, I believe they have excelled with the number and quality of the submissions put forward ..... all without the benefit of paid researchers. It's certainly shocked the feminists out of their complacency and belief that they control the "system".
Comments like "the movement appears to have gathered momentum, credibility and popular support as a political and media force in more recent years." or "the apparent success fathers' rights groups have had in setting the agenda for family law reform in Australia" shows Kaye and Tolmie's great concern and their view that father's rights groups are and will be a serious voice for change in the future.
The standards normally expected from university faculty members writing such "scholarly papers" appear to have been forgotten in their attempts to grasp at straws to belittle the men's groups.
I cannot speak for other groups, but in our own case, I well remember the conversation I had with the, so called, researcher. As an example of the errors or deliberate misinformation contained in the report, I refer you to the following;
Under the heading "Custody/residence", Kaye and Tolmie wrote: "Men's Rights Agency CLAIMS that, of the men who actually go to court, only 18% get sole custody" and then they commented "these statistical claims are generally unreferenced by the groups and so it is unclear what their data sources are".
Firstly, I found the interviewer who questioned me, under the guise of compiling data about men's groups for government reference, to lack even a basic knowledge of family law issues.
I attempted to education the interviewer about custody statistics by referencing Sophy Bordow's study of 1994, which stated that in the case of custody "agreed to by consent" ... in 18% of the cases, the father would have custody and of the cases "decided by the Court" then in 31% of the cases the father gains sole custody and that figure rises to 39% when joint and split custody are involved. I am VERY familiar with Bordow's research. We featured Bordow's study on the front page of our newsletter in July, 1996.
Kaye and Tolmie incorrectly published the facts that I provided to them in the interview. The best they could have stated to cast doubt on any information provided by MRA was that MRA made an "unreferenced" CLAIM. And then they had the gall to correctly quote the Bordow study, for their own purposes, in the next paragraph!!
Secondly, and this is a classic, under the Legal Aid section, note 313, the authors wrote "The Men's Rights Agency CLAIMS that the legal aid dollar is split 2:1 in favour of women". Once again when they used the word "CLAIMS". Kaye and Tolmie again attempted to cast doubt on the information I provided to them, but only 6 lines later they confirmed that what I said about the 2:1 split was correct. According to Kaye and Tolmie's version, "men receive approximately 32 - 39 percent of all Legal Aid funding in family law matters", as stated in Legal Aid in Australia 1993-1994, Statistical Yearbook. Now doesn't that equate closely with what I stated about the legal aid dollar split 2:1 in favour of women?
Kaye and Tolmie described their work as a "basis for future critical engagement". (pages 20/21). They have an inflated sense of self. If those are their best arguments, as illustrated by the two examples above concerning MRA, I don't think we'll have much of a problem countering them and their paper. Anyone with a critical mind who reads their paper will pick out their contradictions and the misinformation they spewed.
It isn't an objective impartial research paper, in my opinion!!! But don't take my word for it. You can judge the quality of their work yourself. Read the paper on this website.
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Paper by Miranda Kaye and Julia Tolmie, 1998, feminist lecturers at the Faculty of Law, Sydney University
There is a constant and persistent view pursued by people who are often discontented litigants sometimes obviously dysfunctional, that the court is in some sense designed by anti-family groups to destroy the institution of the family in society... An unfortunate concomitant of this approach is that some people and some politicians with limited knowledge of the issues involved, tend to latch on to such dysfunctional persons for apparent political gain. This has the further unfortunate effect of empowering such persons to feel that their behaviour is not only acceptable but is the subject of sympathy and approval by politicians and government. It is all too often the experience of this court that its most persistent critics have behaved in a way which cannot stand up to public scrutiny, particularly in relation to issues of violence against women and children.
Such persons, who often espouse the rights of fathers, do very little for their cause. There are legitimate matters that can be advanced on their behalf and it is equally as important that the court and those within it do not adopt stereotyped attitudes towards men as well as women.
However, the behaviour and attitude of those who espouse so-called fathers' rights leaves little opportunity for rational discourse. More..