There can be little argument and debate that Westernised societies are patriarchal and are dominated by male power and control. This patriarchalism is powerfully enforced and reinforced in those societies by governments, political parties, religions, the judiciary and legal professions, and the media which are all male-dominated. In consequence women and children are oppressed and dominated in every aspect of life.
In Victorian times in Western societies, women and children were considered to be the possessions of their male spouses in marriage, and this was embodied in the laws following separation where they were classified as `goods and chattels’, to be disposed of as the male spouse chose. Such a situation still applies today in many countries around the world and is mainly reinforced by religions.
Of course in those times it was extremely difficult for a woman to escape from an unhappy marriage as the whole of society was opposed to marriage break-up, particularly the churches and priests who brought great pressure on women who left their husbands to return to them, no matter what they may have done. Women leaving a marriage were ostracised by society and even by their own families, who often took the view, “You’ve made your bed, so lie on it!” Very few women were employed in those times, so they had few means of self support and no government assistance in supporting themselves and their children if they left the marriage. Divorce laws were extremely restricted and relief from an unhappy marriage was mainly available only where there could be proven grounds of adultery.
Victorian times could rightly be called the `Golden Age of Patriarchalism’, where males dominated and controlled every aspect of society and particularly their families. Their home was their castle in law and all within it were under their control. Most societies in the world had been patriarchies for two thousand years with the advent of religions based around a male figurehead and with texts which placed females in a subservient, suppressed, and often reviled role.
Some changes were made when women were granted the vote in the early part of the twentieth century due to the courage and extreme sufferings of small numbers of women around the world who campaigned for women’s rights. But progress was still extremely slow and it was the Second World War which gave women’s rights an unexpected boost when women were employed in factories and farms to replace the men who had gone to fight in that War. There was something of a setback after the war when the men returned and women had to give up their jobs to the men but even so, women were gradually able to get jobs in many forms of work and even the professions and to thereby attain a measure of financial independence which is essential to a mother and children after marital break-up.
But still there were huge hurdles to be jumped as finance companies and banks were not willing to grant loans to women to purchase properties or other household goods, so separation from an unhappy marriage was still a quantum leap into the unknown with a multitude of risks and condemnations for any woman who contemplated such a step.
In the 1960s and 1970s laws regarding the custody and contact with children began to favour women, as it was looked on as natural that mothers were the obvious primary carers of children and men were required to make maintenance payments for the upkeep of their children after separation.
But in this was the seeds of the patriarchal reactionary movement, now commonly called the Father’s Rights Movement.
Many men failed or refused to pay maintenance for their children from spite or revenge or because they had created a second family and could not afford to do so, even after being ordered by Courts. The Courts were loath to enforce such Orders and because so many children were having to be maintained from taxation, this eventually led to the setting up of Child Support Agencies, which took a more strident view of child maintenance payments and enforced the provisions vigorously. Many fathers took their own lives when they could not meet payments or were deeply offended that their power and control was so severely compromised and they were thwarted in their attempts to retain control.
Also the expansion of methods of contraception and abortion and the liberalisation of laws on abortion gave women control over whether, or not, to have children, which had largely been a male prerogative, and encouraged by some religions as an increased population expanded the influence of those religions. Women’s control over their own bodies – and whether or not to reproduce – has been a huge threat and loss to the patriarchists and to oppressive religions.
Some regard was given to children’s rights when the United Nations created a Charter of Children’s Rights in 1959 but it took over 30 years before Western nations ratified the Charter/Convention (the U.S.A. has still not done so and although the Australian Federal Government has ratified the Convention, the individual States and Territories have refused to do so) and the Federal government has implemented very little of the Convention’s contents in law and custom.
In effect, children are still treated as the `goods and chattels’ of the parents under law and in effect they have no human rights in Australia, except those which the parents or Courts decide they may have.
Changes in Law
Of course this emancipation of women and children fed the patriarchal reactionary movement and they pressed for changes to the Family Law Acts based on spurious arguments that men could be as good as mothers as primary caregivers. But the real issue was about reactionary male dominance and power and control over women and children, and that they saw the liberalisation of laws in favour of women as eroding this position.
So the introduction of Family Laws and amendments to existing laws swung the pendulum back in favour of the patriarchists, with fathers’ rights taking dominance and enforced by a male dominated judiciary and legal profession, ably supported by the medical profession in the form of psychologists and psychiatrists prepared to argue the cause for fathers’ rights and to declare to Courts the unscientific theories of PSA or to diagnose mothers as having personality disorders. These were all ploys in a judicial arena to bring control and power over women and children, back to the patriarchists.
However the law of unintended consequences swung into action and the Family Law became a charter of rights for child sex abusers, paedophiles, and those seeking to evade child maintenance. Fathers’ rights became predominant and paramount within the law and have been enforced as such by the Family Courts. Fathers with records of domestic violence, child abuse, criminal records, mental illnesses, and drug and alcohol addictions, have been able to use the law and the Courts to gain their own ends. This has been done with the collusion and assistance of lawyers, Court Reporters, and `hired gun’ experts such as psychologists and psychiatrists.
Using the Law
Fathers who have never taken any interest whatsoever in their children either during the marriage or partnership, or thereafter have suddenly decided to use the laws favouring them to apply for contact with the children, not because they care about their child but as a means of evading child support, or fathers seeking revenge for being rejected, and driven by spite, have sought contact as a means of further harassing and abusing their former spouses or partners as a mean of control and dominance over them.
If mothers have raised reasonable objections because of the fathers’ record of violence, criminal conduct, mental illness, or drug addiction and have opposed contact, they have been labelled and treated as ‘implacably hostile’ by Courts and have been punished by imprisonment, orders to pay all costs, and worst of all, by the removal from their care of their children, who are placed with the abusers. Courts are not places where fairness, truth, and justice have any meaning or application, only places where the law is upheld in favour of individual rights, usually the fathers’. Legal strategies, cunning, and deception are what win Court cases and not what is just and right in the name of children.
Children’s Rights Ignored
Only a token regard is given in the law to children’s rights and particularly their rights to have their wishes and feelings taken into account in decision-making processes, and to be safeguarded and protected from abuse and exploitation. Children have suffered many forms of abuse and have even lost their lives as a direct consequence of Family Law provisions and its implementation in Courts. Some have become `ping-pong’ children, shuttled between homes and environments on a week-about basis simply to satisfy parents’ wishes and rights, while others have been forced to live in strange surroundings and communities, or have to travel huge distances and for several hours, simply to afford a parent to enforce their right to contact.
Any changes and reforms which may come from the current reviews of the Family Law Act and its implementation in Courts are sadly unlikely to improve the situation for children unless such laws are based on the needs, wishes, and rights of the children and the children are removed from being mere ‘goods and chattels’.