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MENZ Issues December 1999 Volume 4 Issue 10

Dear Minister for Courts – Men Are Being Unfairly Treated In The Family Court (more)

Parents Reject Judge Mahony’s Views Pro-family groups are appalled at the latest statements from Chief Family Court Judge, Patrick Mahony, that the judiciary believe they should be able to more freely order unequal division of Matrimonial Property. This strikes at the fundamental concept of marriage and the family being an equal partnership between parents.

Can Judges be Impeached? This proposal [about unequal division of matrimonial property] is so biased against men that I think it merits impeachment proceedings. In many/most cases neither partner simply "ends up with the custody of the children", as Mahony so euphemistically suggests. One partner is often ‘awarded’ custody as a direct result of the intervention of the Family Court.

Canadian Judiciary Out Of Touch William Gairdner says the court must come to terms with the reality that it is increasingly alienated from the views of everyday Canadians. "They mirror the values of one very small but incredibly powerful segment of Canadian society – the liberal educated elite."

Courts Minister Unconcerned About Bias On 11th November, Minister of Courts Hon Georgina te Heuheu told the Palmerston North Evening Standard said she had not received many complaints from fathers about their treatment under the Family Court system. If protesters waving banners and placards, and shouting into a megaphone are not enough to alert the Minister to the fact that people are unhappy, is not clear just what kind of feedback it will take to get her attention.

There’s None So Blind… The Minister for Courts doesn’t detect anything coming to her office to show that men are not fairly treated in the Family Court. She cannot have looked very hard. Here is just a small selection of the readily available information. Why is the Minister is so ignorant of her portfolio?

Hands Off? Teachers Touching Children This excellent one-day seminar was organised and chaired by Dr Alison Jones, Director for the Institute Research on Gender, and Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Auckland. As well as Dr Jones, the seminar was addressed by six high-calibre speakers, four of whom had come from overseas especially for the symposium. It was sad more people did not take the opportunity to participate in this important and long-overdue discussion of the ‘no touch’ policy which has invaded our schools.

Gender Stereotypes for Primary Pupils The other night for homework my five-year-old read me a school book called ‘I Like Shopping’. It seems this is the sort of book they use to educate Family Court Judges.

Kelly – a Fathering Story For Teens Excerpts from a short story by Joanna Knowles in ‘The Amp’ NZ Listener. "All through her life, her father had dominated her decisions, and his ‘discipline’ had threatened her every move".

Father Successfully Kidnaps Children! Don’t believe the hype, guys. Any attempt whatsoever to exercise the patriarchal power and control we are told we have by media stories like this one will almost certainly lead to disastrous consequences.

Women Who Kill I am amazed at the sweeping sexist quotes in your article on ‘Women Who Kill’. The implication of these comparative opinions is that men are somehow socially inferior to women.

Book Review: Fathers After Divorce by Michael Green QC. A self-help book outlining the plight of the separated man today, and discussing what it means for men. "You can get all the orders in the world from the Family Court and yet get little or no compliance from your ex-wife, and therefore little or no satisfactory contact with your children. The inability or unwillingness of the Court to deal with this is a scandal."

Keith’s Story Throughout their relationship, Sally had always been abusive. Psychologically, she needed to maintain the upper hand, and Keith always felt dominated by her. Most of the time they got on all right, but every few weeks she would ‘flip out’ and exploded into violence. Invariably, Sally would continue to hit Keith until he eventually retaliated. Being a man, it was always Keith who was arrested and always Keith who was charged. He now has three ‘male assaults female’ convictions.

Women – the Inside Story In many ways now I am glad I have never had children because I could never conceive of having my offspring easily taken away from me if a woman chose to at her own whim and be totally supported by the legal system in 90% of cases.

No Help, No Hope Coming up four years I have seen one of my sons for 70 hours on and off. It has been over 12 months [since the last visit]. My other boy I haven’t seen since 1996 because the supervisor [at the access centre] upset him. I am very tortured inside.

Chairman’s Vision of Men’s Centre Future I feel a need for MCNS to mature, to tidy up our grass roots, and to build a vision to work towards over the next 1, 5, 10 years.

Family Court protests Photos: Angry protesters draw attention to family law injustice.

Parents Reject Judge Mahony’s Views

Pro-family groups are appalled at the latest statements from Chief Family Court Judge, Patrick Mahony, that the judiciary believe they should be able to more freely order unequal division of Matrimonial Property. This strikes at the fundamental concept of marriage and the family being an equal partnership between parents.

Judge Mahony is not only acting out of place by suggesting such controversial social policy changes, what he is suggesting is also a very bad idea that will greatly increase the inequality between separating parents and multiply the amount of litigation in the already overloaded Family Courts.

The source of his idea comes from the Family Court judges’ ownmisinterpretation of the Guardianship Act 1968, which affirms that children have two equal parents who are to have an equal say in their upbringing. Instead the judges favour unequal sole custody, which gives one parent effective ownership and control of the children to the exclusion of the other. This terrible inequality between parents makes family law into the adversarial and contentious issue that it is.

We insist that judges start applying the law as it is written and that the only way to interpret the current legislation is to have a preference for equal joint physical and legal custody by both parents as every child’s right. Fifty-fifty sharing of the day to day care of children must always be the starting point.

Legislation to this effect would render the Family Court and a fair few lawyers mostly unnecessary!

It would also greatly reduce child abuse, domestic violence and legal aid costs.

New Zealand has had equal sharing of matrimonial property between parents for over 20 years. The logical next step is to extend this concept to equal sharing of the physical care of the children. Judge Mahony is using one inequality (sole custody) to justify another inequality (unequal sharing of matrimonial property). Any responsible official would advocate reducing the inequality between parents, not increasing it.

In our democratic country laws are made by Parliament – the people’s elected representatives – after due consultation, and the judiciary must learn that they are not above this process. The judiciary must listen to the people, not follow their own unjustifiable ideas that will increase the misery of children and the cost to society.

Robert Murray

For further information please contact:

Families Apart Require Equality

(04) 970 2175

Mana Men’s Rights Group

(04) 232 3775

Can Judges be Impeached?

I wonder if it is possible to impeach a Family Court judge.

This proposal [about unequal division of matrimonial property] is so biased against men that I think it merits impeachment proceedings.

In many/most cases neither partner simply "ends up with the custody of the children", as Mahony so euphemistically suggests. One partner is often ‘awarded’ custody as a direct result of the intervention of the Family Court.

Bearing in mind that legislation under consideration is designed to extend marital property rights to de facto couples as well, Mahony’s declared support for giving "one person" "more than half of the property or a portion of future earnings" of the other partner, will impact on a very large number of separating couples.

Child support already constitutes payment of "a portion of future earnings", so he can only be suggesting a larger portion of future earnings.

While it is a crude measurement which does not include all separating or divorcing couples, the fact that 90% of DPB recipients are women with physical custody of dependent children, indicates that the suggested increases will be paid to women by men, in spite of Mahony’s gender neutral language.

The effect of a policy change of this type would be a vast increase in men living lives of indentured servitude. To make matters worse, men paying more will not increase the amount being received by women, unless or until the man is earning almost double the median wage, or the woman is not receiving the DPB. When she is on the DPB, his contribution reduces the cost to the government, but does not increase the income available to the mother for the children – assuming that is what she wants to use the income for.

Ten years ago I was involved with a Nelson initiative to support fathers. When the service was advertised, the others who were involved anticipated that it would appeal to men in stable relationships who wanted to learn to be better fathers. Virtually all of the calls received following the launch of the service were from men pleading for help with access and custody issues.

The service collapsed when the other supporters created policy preventing volunteers from offering support to any man who was contesting custody or access orders. Committee members actually stated the view that: "Men do not really want to spend time with their children after divorce. They just go for custody to ‘get back at their partners’".

If Mahony gets his wishes, men who go for custody in the future will be portrayed as ‘only being interested in protecting their assets and their future income, and not really interested in the welfare of their children’. The measure of a father’s love will become his willingness to give money and resources to the children’s mother.

That is one of the most bitter ironies of Mahony’s proposal: women will continue to be seen as motivated only by what is best for their children. There will be a continuing presumption that all mothers who have been awarded custody deserve more support for their children, and that they will manage additional resources awarded to them in the best interest of their children.

In many cases, once the Court helps the women to abduct the children, they will then be able to dictate not only how much the discarded father will pay, but also how much he must earn. Failure to live up to the expectations of the ex-partner or the requirements of the Court, could lead to imprisonment as it already does in America.

And the Chief Judge of the Family Court is the chief advocate of legal and attitudinal changes which will probably be very harmful to a large number of children as well as their named fathers.

Is impeachment a possibility?

River

Judge

Canadian Judiciary Out Of Touch

Many Canadians are beginning to wonder who is governing Canada, says Senator Anne Cools. Is it an elected Parliament, or is it the nine Justices who sit on the Supreme Court? "There is enormous confusion in the public mind as to the distinction between the legal and the political," she states, according to Neil Seeman, writing in the National Post (Canada) on 24 July 1999.

One of the mandatory courses at the National Judicial Institute where Canadian Judges are trained is in "gender sensitivity." The study materials include a section on the definition of ‘equality,’ prepared by Shelagh Day and Gwen Brodsky, two feminist who helped found the Women’s Legal Education Action Fund (LEAF).

Gwen Landolt, president of REAL Women of Canada, a conservative women’s group, is concerned that "The whole course is rife with feminist propaganda." She believes this is one example of the many ways in which a left-wing, feminist and intolerant bias creeps into the judgements of the Supreme Court.

In a recent interview, Chief Justice Antonio Lamer, insisted that the bench simply echoes the wishes of mainstream Canadian society. He criticised Parliament for failing to pass laws on topics as abortion and assisted suicide. The chief justice summarised his thoughts by saying: "Thank God we’re here . . . . People say we’re activist, but we’re doing our job."

The Supreme Court’s activism has appeared since the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the first decade of the new Charter, the Supreme Court voided 41 statutes. A growing army of critics maintain that the court regularly stomps on the will of Parliament.

William Gairdner, a well-known conservative author who is working on a book called ‘The Trouble with Democracy’, says the court must come to terms with the reality that it is increasingly alienated from the views of everyday Canadians. "They mirror the values of one very small but incredibly powerful segment of Canadian society – the liberal educated elite."

There is no public selection process or elections for incoming judges, who are therefore unaccountable. Each of the nine justices of the Supreme Court hire three law clerks to assist them with legal research. The average age of a clerk is 27. They are mostly women. Just out of law school and generally without any legal experience outside the classroom, clerks often find themselves drafting memos which form the substantive basis of the judge’s final decision.

At the University of Western Ontario, law professor Robert Martin, is concerned about the role of these women. "The clerks manage to capture the judges. They come along with the latest fancy ideas fresh out of law school. The judges then think, ‘I may be old, but I’m still hip,’ so they latch on to illiberal ideas." He says that a new clerk from his law school with strong feminist credentials – her work experience includes running a battered women’s shelter – is about to begin working for Madame Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dube. He says the clerk in question will "shortly be writing decisions for all of Canada."

Jacob Ziegel, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto law school, recommends that Canada adopt a U.S-style public nomination and confirmation procedure in order to instill greater transparency and accountability in the selection of judges. Only 8% of Canadians agree with the current procedure of allowing the prime minister, on the advice of the justice minister, to single-handedly appoint judges to the Supreme Court.

Canadians must decide where the legal ends and the political begins. As Mr. Justice Francis Muldoon of the Federal Court of Canada points out: "Canada proclaims itself to be a democratic country, but democracy itself is imperilled when judges arrogate the role of legislators."

Courts Minister Unconcerned About Bias

Georgina te Heuheu Photo: Hon Georgina te Heuheu

On 11th November, Minister of Courts Hon Georgina te Heuheu told the Manawatu Evening Standard said she had not received many complaints from fathers about their treatment under the Family Court system. She said if there are strong feeling among fathers that their position in the Family Court on custody matters is inferior to that of mothers, she wants to know about it.

The Evening Standard informed her that the paper has received calls from more than one father expressing some understanding of the Family Court-associated stresses that convicted courthouse murderer John La Roche had referred to in his police interview.

"I have no feedback that would cause me significant concern," the Minister insisted. "There’s been a long-standing belief that (a bias toward the mother of the child in custody cases) is the case, but I don’t detect anything coming to my office that says that is now a major concern. " Mrs te Heuheu said: "If it is that there is a perceived pressure on men that’s not on women, and they’re not being fairly treated, as the minister I want to know about it,"

A copy of MENZ Issues is sent to the Minister’s office each month, recently with photographs of angry fathers and supporters outside Family Courts around the country. If protesters waving banners and placards, and shouting into a megaphone are not enough to alert the Minister to the fact that people are unhappy, is not clear just what kind of feedback it will take to get her attention.

She is not entirely unaware that sections of the community are concerned. Just three days before the Evening Standard interview, she made the following reply to a father who had recently written to her expressing extremely strong feelings about gender bias in the Family Court.

Dear Mr Murray

"Thank you for your letter of 20 October 1999 regarding comments made on radio by Judge Mahony, the Principal Family Court Judge.

I am advised that, in the interview to which you refer, Judge Mahony was discussing concerns raised by judges at the recent Australasian Family Court Conference. Although I appreciate that you may not agree with the opinions expressed at the interview, I am unable to comment further. This is because the independence of the judiciary is a fundamental principle of our constitutional system and, accordingly, it would be quite inappropriate for me to take this matter further.

While I have noted your concerns about the intention of the Guardianship Act and its interpretation by Family Court judges, I think it is important that I explain that one of the judiciary’s primary functions is to interpret legislation as passed by Parliament, by reference to established principles and parliamentary intent. Where that intent is not clear, Judges may exercise their own judgement and discretion and, thus, take cultural, family, economic and international matters into consideration in order to give effect to the best outcome. Therefore, there is wide scope for the Courts to apply and interpret the law in accordance with the needs of society, while remaining subject to Parliament and its will. It is important to remember that judges are held accountable for their decisions through the mechanisms of the appeal system. I trust this clarifies the situation for you."

ENDS

As one of our members commented: "Ms te Heuheu says that she does not hear about problems faced by fathers. When she does, she says that it is not her role to interfere, so why should men contact her?"

John Potter

There’s None So Blind

According to a report in the Manawatu Evening Standard of November 11, Georgina te Heuheu, Minister for Courts, doesn’t detect anything coming to her office to show that men are not fairly treated in the Family Court. She cannot have looked very hard. Here is just a small selection of the readily available information.

A recent study by the Office of the Commissioner for Children found that "almost half the men and a third of the women in the sample thought that the Family Court discriminated against men".

A recent Ministry of Justice study on the Domestic Violence Act found that not only fathers, but also, "Custodial parents and professionals frequently believed … the law was unnecessarily harsh."

At last year’s Family Law Conference there was some discussion of separated fathers’ problems with ongoing contact with their children. There were well-received remarks from one judge that the Court did not want to be troubled with "stupid and obsessive fathers". There was similar support for another judge who dismissed the problem of fathers not seeing their children due to false accusations of domestic violence on the grounds that the overriding objective was to stop violence.

We would hope that the Minister would also be aware of the following:

It is widely recognised that access orders are not enforced, and available penalties for obstruction of access are not used. One judge has said that there is no provision for such penalties, despite this being the express intent of section 20A of the Guardianship Act.

The Principal Family Court Judge has emphasised that children should have one home base. The Office of the Commission for the Children has stated that this should be with the mother because few fathers have "practically demonstrated their nurturing skills through providing full-time care for their children". This does not stop men from being granted the sole care of their children for up to 40 percent of nights while being called "absent" parents and having no allowance made for the costs of "enjoyment of access".

If a custodial mother does not want the father to be involved, she simply has to generate enough conflict and the father will be excluded from the children’s lives. This approach is long-standing, as demonstrated by a 1994 Department of Justice report and supported in a recent publication by Rhonda Pritchard. The Court clearly places a low value on fathers’ involvement. We see this also in an assertion by Judge Boshier that, "the mother’s enhancement as a primary care-giver is more important than the father’s wish to have ready contact".

Why is the Minister is so ignorant of her portfolio?

The Minister says that she does not hear about problems faced by fathers. She would hear about problems faced by women, gathered as part of the Law Commission’s Women’s Access to Justice Project (WAJP). Consistent with gender analysis, it started from the unchallenged assumption that women are disadvantaged, and then gathered expressions of dissatisfaction from women. Analysts who conducted the studies that found views of bias against fathers dismissed their own results. They claimed that participants did not really understand the issues.

A critique of the WAJP was published in the May 1998 issue of the New Zealand Law Journal. Law Commissioner D F Dugdale responded in June that it was premature to criticize the project before the final report was published. This may be too late. In the preface of the final report, the President of the Law Commission stated that, "The study has already had considerable effect in bringing the issue to attention and influencing change".

As Minister of Women’s Affairs, in 1996 Jenny Shipley launched the Ministry of Women’s Affairs guidelines for gender analysis. She has written supportively of the WAJP reports, saying they "provide a source of information, but do not pretend to be the only matters to be considered." However there is not the funding provided for other, balancing reports.

Paradoxically, as Minister of State Services in 1997 she expressed concerns about the quality of policy advice tendered to Ministers. This resulted in a project aimed at "Improving the Quality of Policy Advice".

Ms te Heuheu would not comment on recent public statements by the Principal Family Court Judge, Patrick Mahony as this would violate the "independence of the judiciary". The Judge’s statements did not relate to a particular case, they were public statements on national radio and television advocating changes in matrimonial property legislation.

Patrick Mahony has said that, "It is not normal for a Court to contribute to publications on policy issues", but he is prepared to participate in judicial activism. He has also said that, "The philosophy of the Court in exercising its jurisdiction is referred to in various pieces of legislation." Given the terms of the Child Support Act, most of its objectives cannot be met. He also mentioned international conventions, but clauses in the conventions refer to fathers and families, children having two parents, and gender stereotyping of men.

Patrick Mahony was Principal Family Court Judge in 1991 when he said he would like the Court’s work to be put more before the public, so people could see the different decisions made. This year calls for more information and debate and for judges to do a better job explaining their work have come from the Office of the Commissioner for Children and the new Chief Justice, Sian Elias. It is to be wondered how genuine these calls are.

In April 1999 Judge Johnson stood in for Judge Mahony at a Social Policy Forum on fathers in Wellington. She said that, on the evidence heard in custody hearings, no one would disagree with the Court’s decisions. We have a long way to go when the Court does not see the problem. Before we consider the decision reached, we have to agree on the question being addressed. The question many fathers are asking is, why should the Court only allow their children to have one parent? Without open debate, there may never even be reasoned consideration of basic issues such as this.

Stuart Birks (look at his excellent site here, for further information on gender issues.)

Role Models Super Strong, Super Bad or Super Rich? Girls have mums and teachers – where do boys find role models today other than television?

Hands Off? Teachers Touching Children

Saturday 6th Nov 1999, University of Auckland.

This excellent one-day seminar was organised and chaired by Dr Alison Jones, Director for the Institute Research on Gender, and Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Auckland. As well as Dr Jones, the seminar was addressed by six high-calibre speakers, four of whom had come from overseas (England, Australia, USA and Western Samoa) especially for the symposium. Unfortunately, attendance numbers were relatively low, and it was sad more people did not take the opportunity to participate in this important and long-overdue discussion of the ‘no touch’ policy which has invaded our schools.

The first speaker was Assoc Prof Erica McWilliam from the Queensland University of Technology, talking on ‘Pleasures proper and improper: a genealogy of teacher/student intimacy’. Dr McWilliam identified important changes in educational thinking over the past 30 years. It used to be considered important for teachers to fix a distance between themselves and students; part of the teacher’s role was to ‘make children good’, and physical discipline was an accepted part of a teacher’s resources in this regard. These days children are presumed to be inherently good and innocent (and not deficient, as previously believed). The teacher’s role is to make children better, and assist their learning along a linear developmental pathway. Teaching now draws from a psychological rather than a philosophical or ethical register, and employs behavioural techniques for shaping behaviour. Deviant behaviour is now seen to originate from the home and discipline problems are addressed with new forms of therapeutic engagement rather than caning. Teachers develop a personal relationship with the child, and a major component of their work in meeting children’s needs is keeping them ‘safe’ Teachers now act as quasi-therapists or ‘corridor- counsellors’, and they are taught to read the significance of children’s behaviours as possible indicators of maladjustment. She gave examples of a child with her head down believed to indicate low self-esteem; a boy who had a preference for drawing in black indicating possible depression, and masturbation being seen as a sign of sexual abuse – what Dr McWilliam called the ‘psychologisation of the mundane’. She said we have come to know children as potential victims of abuse, and the role of the teacher is seen as a saviour of the child, a liberator of the oppressed, vigilantly looking for signs of victimisation.

The move towards a child-centred friendly approach and the elimination of corporal punishment means that teachers punish less but intrude more in children’s lives (in the name of the development of the normal child). Although we live in an age where it appears that children have never been safer, there is a prevailing massive anxiety or panic about the safety of children, which Dr McWilliam says stems from disillusioned adults living in an era of uncertainty and loss of hope, with nostalgic for the imagined innocence and promise of childhood. The term ‘child abuse’ was invented post-war. We then discovered child abuse and have filled our world with it. This has resulted in great anxiety regarding touch and every physical contact is seen as potentially dangerous.

The second speaker was Professor Richard Johnson, University of Hawaii, whose talk was entitled ‘Of containment, risk management and dangerous desire: re writing the body in the era of no touch’. Prof. Johnson reinforced Dr McWilliam’s message about the new level of fear that has been introduced in society about children at risk of abuse and how this has translated into the ‘no touch ‘ policy in schools, especially for male teachers. He discussed the importance of touch in early child care – nappy-changing; holding a child back from racing after a departing mother; rocking a distressed child or assisting a baby to get to sleep.

Prof. Johnson said that although sexual abuse in US schools is very rare (only about 1% of child sexual abuse cases) there has been a moral panic about its occurrence, especially in early childcare centres. He drew parallels between the McMartin and the Christchurch Crèche (Peter Ellis) cases, where allegations were fuelled by parent anxieties and zealous interviewing, resulting in extreme and absurd allegations of satanic ritual abuse. Such cases have contributed to the ‘no touch’ policies such as not allowing children to sit on caregivers’ laps, no hugging of children, nor male workers cleaning or changing young children who have soiled themselves.

He identified the costs of this overzealous prevention strategy as children becoming more distrustful of adults, especially teachers, portrayed as possible abusers; of children being subjected to inappropriate sexual abuse curricula; of dedicated teachers, particularly men, leaving the profession en masse; and money being fuelled into preventative programmes and liability cover that could otherwise be more effectively spent on children’s education.

Professor Johnson was followed by Dr Sarah Farquhar, Massey University, talking about ‘The disappearance of caring in New Zealand Education’. Dr Farquhar also discussed the moral panic about touching within society that has taken a strong grip on education in New Zealand. This has resulted the ‘no touch’ policies in schools, and teachers avoiding being alone with a child for fear of false accusations of child abuse. Her research has shown that this fear is the main reason for the steady decline in the numbers of men in the teaching profession, especially in the early childhood and primary school sectors.

She presented the NZEI policy which advises that any physical contact with students presents a risk to teachers, and recommends practices such as never being alone with a child and removing themselves from contact which a child initiates (such as hand-holding or putting an arm around the teacher). Following on from the other two speakers, Dr Farquhar also expressed her concerns about the effects of these ‘no touch policies: that they teach children not to value touch, which is seen as akin to abuse; and tell students that teachers are not to be trusted. These policies also give children the message that teachers are uncaring people. Ironically, these policies might also endanger children by not providing a ‘safe moral environment’. Teachers may be loath to offer physical assistance to an injured pupil until a second adult has arrived on the scene. In some early childhood centres they are forced to change nappies and clean children who have soiled themselves in open public places, which denies the child the right to some privacy. She also spoke of children remaining in wet or dirty underclothes until picked up by their parents because staff dare not change them.

Dr Farquhar recommended that teachers should be putting children first, that it is vital that students respect and trust their teachers, and that teachers must be allowed to care. Children’s needs for privacy, respect, safety, care and emotional warmth should be met and must come before concerns about teacher protection. In discussion, Dr McWilliam told of an Australian school which has publicly declared itself to parents that they will touch the children, and it was seen that such a collective response has great merit, reducing the risk inherent in isolated teachers choosing to ignore ‘no touch’ policies. Dr Farquhar called for a neutral system for teachers, especially men, to be able to voice their concerns about the policy without drawing attention to themselves as possible ‘suspects’.

The Mäori and Pacific Island perspective was also presented. Dr Margie Hohepa, Lecturer, University of Auckland, gave a paper entitled ‘The cultural touch: Mäori educational settings and touch’. Dr Hohepa discussed the importance of touch in traditional Mäori life, including the practice of massaging infants and children. Mäori views and values incorporate many dimensions of ‘touch’, not just physical but also in relationship to wairoa (the spirit), hinengaro (the mind), whatumanawa (the emotional realm) and whanau (the extended family). Te Kohanga Reo are based on reconstituting Mäori child socialisation and education practises of pre-colonised times and focus on teaching and nuturing children as a complex corporate entity, not on the individual child. As such, Te Kohanga Reo do not fit the model used by the educational monitoring and reviewing agencies which want Te Kohanga Reo to adopt early childhood education ways of operating, including policies and practices around touching.

Dr Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop, Lead of Continuing Education, the University of the South Pacific and National Council of Women, Western Samoa, addressed a very different issue. Her talk was entitled ‘Tetee Atu: to hit or not to hit – is there room for a third space?’ She identified the hitting of children, often to extreme levels, as a major issue in every Pacific country. She is currently involved in research regarding the beating of children by their mothers.

She feels that this practice is grounded in the FaaSamoa chiefly system, a highly ordered structure where everyone has a place and role determined by their status, gender and age. The physical disciplining of children appears to be related to parents’ desire to make their children abide by these rules and for them to be seen as ‘good’ parents in their community. The problem may have been compounded by the move towards nuclear families and urbanisation. Previously there was a dispersed system of control and love, with the extended family providing many ‘parents’, and peer socialisation a major component of child-raising.

Although she originally wanted to advocate a ‘no hit’ policy, she now sees this as unrealistic, and her goal is to reduce the amount and severity of hitting of children by parents. The issue of physical punishment in schools also needs to be addressed. Where hitting is seen as the preferred form of controlling children’s behaviour in the home, teachers have experienced difficulties in using other forms of punishment in school – Pacific Island students may not respect teachers who do not cane them.

The final speaker was Professor Sue Scott, Department of Sociology, University of Durham, UK, who talked on "Children, ‘risk anxiety’, and the sexualisation of risk." Dr Scott gave the sociological viewpoint, looking at the phenomenon of the current ‘risk anxiety’ in relation to children, particularly as this relates to sexuality. She says that we have gone beyond a moral panic, which is a relatively short-lived event, to risk anxiety, which is a pervasive, persistent ‘every-day’ concern about our children being in grave danger, where constant vigilance is required to guard against possible adverse events. This includes an excessive anxiety about being around strangers, as their being potential sources of sexual danger. The sexualisation of risk focuses on relatively rare events – the probability of a child suffering such a sexual attack is very low.

Dr Scott feels that the modern-day view of children of children as vulnerable innocents who need to be kept safe entails keeping them ignorant. Children are warned about the dangers of sexuality without knowledge of sexuality. Parental fears can limit children’s activities and opportunities which help develop their autonomy and independence – such as going to the shops or walking to school on their own. This gate-keeping of children maintains power over them. It may reduce their physical activity and render them into ‘couch potatoes’ who spend much of their time watching TV.

Risk assessment needs to weigh some risks against others, for example fears for children’s safety against the concomitant dangers of over-protection.

In conclusion, Dr Jones said that there is never going to be a single or static answer to these problems (pendulums always keep swinging) but it is important that we address the issues. This seminar sought to embrace ambiguity and debate. This message was echoed by Dr McWilliam’s final comment that naming the intolerable pre-exists change. In this instance, some of the ‘intolerable’ that we have not dared to be talk about until now include the notion that some of our practices of protecting children might not be good for them; that no culture or era is a site of innocent practices (there are always the ‘swings and round-abouts’ relating to what constitutes good child-rearing practice); and that when we deny the sexuality of the child, much else is also denied.

This seminar was seen as a beginning, an opening up of some previously taboo topics for examination, and ongoing international communication and research is planned between many of the speakers. It was very refreshing to hear some of the issues about which I have been expressing concerns, such as the moral panic about child sexual abuse, and the dangers of over-protection policies, addressed in such a forum.

Felicity Goodyear-Smith

Gender Stereotypes for Primary Pupils

The other night for homework my five-year-old read me a school book called ‘I Like Shopping’ by Steve Pattrick. The book was created and designed in 1995 by the Wendy Pye Team here on the North Shore.

“I like shopping. Everyone in our family likes shopping.”

man shopping Illustration by Don Dyen from ‘I Like Shopping’

An inspiring tract on the psychological benefits of consumerism perhaps? Nope, it turns out to be yet another put down of male care-giving abilities.

“When Dad takes us shopping, he buys things he shouldn’t buy. He buys fancy cans of food, expensive after-shaves and soap that smells like pine. He also buys things for our car. Sometimes Dad buys us a nice juicy hamburger.”

“Yuk” says my daughter spontaneously at this point in the story. She usually asks for sushi when the two of us eat out together. She continues reading:

“When Mum goes shopping, she buys ‘healthy’ food. She buys fresh fruit and vegetables. She buys meat, eggs, bread and milk. Mum looks for all the bargains. Sometimes she buys us a sandwich and fruit juice.”

Well, good for Mum! What a relief to learn that at least one type of parent knows how to look after children responsibly. No doubt this is the sort of book they use to educate Family Court Judges.

J.P.

Kelly – a Fathering Story For Teens

Excerpts from ‘Kelly’ – a short story by Joanna Knowles in ‘The Amp’ NZ Listener Nov 6th 1999.

This morning that smile was gone, and her eyes looked far from happy. A large welt had formed down the side of her face and the bruising around it spread across one cheek, under her eye and halfway across her nose. Kelly had been hit many times in her life…..

It was a beautiful day, and she would have preferred to be in short sleeves, but if she did all the other bruises and cuts on her back and arms would show.

She’d felt the plates beginning to slide…but three of them crashed to the floor. Bending to pick up the pieces, she’d felt the belt lash across her back, her arms. She turned to him, tried to explain, tried again and again to apologise, but her father wasn’t listening, he was yelling and swearing and hitting her again and again.

…but instead of steering her car into the curve, she continued straight ahead. ….her wheels caught momentarily before the edge disintegrated and joined her on the journey to the hard ground below. All through her life, her father had dominated her decisions, and his ‘discipline’ had threatened her every move. Ironically, the first decision Kelly was able to make without fear of his reaction was also her last. She broke free at the ultimate price.

Father Successfully Kidnaps Children!

In the November 1999 issue of Directions, the NZ Automobile Association Magazine, an article by Gordon McLauchlan starts: “Nothing in her experience prepared Kelly Tikao for the ‘powerful reality check’ of her first interview as reporter for [the TV programme] AA Insurance Police Alert”

The story that follows is one that nothing in the experience of the Men’s Centre North Shore would have prepared us for either.

Kelly spoke with a Rotorua mother whose two young boys had been kidnapped by their jealous father who had a serious criminal background. "What amazed me about this interview was how well the mother was coping", she says. "Yes, it was painful, yes, verbal abuse was still happening over the phone from the boys’ father; and yes, she desperately wanted her children back; but her frustration had turned to anger and she was prepared to use the media to get some action."

No doubt there is more to this story than was reported in the AA magazine; after all its relevance to motoring is not immediately obvious. However, any men who might conclude from this article (or from the TV programme) that kidnapping children and verbally abusing an ex-partner on the phone is an effective separation strategy would be tragically mistaken. The idea that the authorities are powerless in this situation and that only the media stands like a knight in shining armour between oppressed women and their violent husbands is far from the truth.

In the real world, a father attempting to kidnap his children will find that police turn up very quickly, with guns if necessary, and the end result is likely to be that he proceeds directly to jail. Any woman will get a protection order issued automatically if she tells the Court she is afraid for her safety. Verbal abuse on the phone is definitely a breach of a protection order, and prosecution is likely. Repeated, or serious breaches by a man will also lead to imprisonment.

If the article is suggesting that a serious criminal background confers a degree of immunity from police action, it offers no further evidence for this. So what is the real message here? In the next paragraph, McLauchlan writes about the programme:

“But, although it doesn’t bring victims into the unreal world of a television studio, it doesn’t just home in on righteous anger on the streets either. The aim is to learn what people and organisations are doing both to prevent crime and to cope with it.”

The unreal world of TV is the key to this story, and the dishonesty created by the hidden commercial agenda. Let’s be honest here, the aim is to sign up customers for AA insurance. Don’t expect to learn about any men’s organisations working to prevent and deal with crimes like female assaults, false accusations of abuse, or abuse of children through parental alienation. Producer Mark Everton says:

“We want the programme to be a call to action” [ie: pick up the phone and call AA Insurance now] “on behalf of the victims of crime and the police and, more generally, on behalf of ordinary people everywhere who want to keep themselves, their families and their property safe in what they perceive to be an increasingly dangerous world.”

Well, I guess you would say that sort of thing if you are working for an insurance company. You would clearly have a direct financial interest in encouraging the perception that crime is increasing and that people’s safety is threatened, even if the official statistics and the Minister of Justice say otherwise. Fortunately, most people are probably media-savvy enough to recognise conflicting interests and hidden agendas at this level. But how many people will be disturbed by the fact that a programme that clearly has a high degree of official police involvement and endorsement also seems to be promoting messages that are most likely to benefit the thriving father-removal industry?

Don’t believe the hype, guys. Any attempt whatsoever to exercise the patriarchal power and control we are told we have by media stories like this one will almost certainly lead to disastrous consequences.

J.P.

Women Who Kill

Dear Editor, TV Guide.

RE ‘Inside Story on Women Who Kill’ by Keith Sharp 24 Sept. 99.

I am amazed at the sweeping sexist quotes in your article on ‘Women Who Kill’ of 24 September, quoted as follows:

"The judicial and prison systems have different effects on women as opposed to men," he [producer John Harris] says. "I think the prison manager Ces Lashlie, articulates it most clearly. She describes how when a man goes to prison, often it’s a break, a respite. The world carries on without him. But when a woman goes, it probably means she’ll lose everything. Her partner will most likely run off with another woman, her children may be taken into custody, and even if they’re not, she’s separated from her children, which is a huge wrench. So there’s a whole lot of things which mean that prison has an enormous impact on women which is not necessarily the same for men".

The implication of these comparative opinions is that men are somehow socially inferior to women. Apparently men are generally not missed by society when they are incarcerated, but women are. Women it seems tend to suffer greater losses than men do when they go to prison. Women are separated from their children but seemingly with men it’s not such an issue.

These opinions are simply not based on the facts. They seem to reflect some sort of strange orthodoxy about the relative roles of men and women. We should be building bridges between the genders, not seeking to widen the perceived gap with such ridiculous utterances.

Bruce Tichbon

Book Review: Fathers After Divorce

by Michael Green QC

wpe2B.jpg (2931 bytes) Photo: Michael Green QC

Finch Publishing, Australia, 1998

Australian barrister Michael Green QC begins this self-help book by outlining the plight of the separated man today, and discusses what it means for men. Relationship break-ups hit men hard he says, because usually:

  • they are separated from their children;
  • they lose importance in their children’s lives;
  • they love their children and believe they can contribute to their lives yet are frustrated in their efforts to do so;
  • many still love their wives (65% of divorced men say they did not want a divorce);
  • they lose their homes;
  • they often lose part of their extended family;
  • their support network is often divided or falls away;
  • they have difficulty in talking about their separation;

He points out that most men feel that everything is against them: their ex-wives, the legal system, society itself. Some men remain angry and bitter for years. Green suggests we need a change in the current ‘divorce culture’, to get rid of the negative connotations of failure, and to instead recognise that ‘changing’, or ‘moving on’, has become a common feature of contemporary relationships. He has many positive and useful suggestions on successfully negotiating the difficult areas of custody, access, matrimonial property and child support.

Green goes on to look at the reasons many fathers lose contact with their children. He points out that only a quarter of Australian men paying child support are happy with their access and custody situations. 50% of the divorced men had no contact with their children at all. Green lists some of the reasons why fathers lose contact with their children:

  • The separated man feels marginalized as a father when the Court, counsellors and his ex-wife minimise his worth for his children;
  • he does not care, won’t pay maintenance, takes no interest;
  • he is poor, unable to pay and withdraws;
  • he meets rejection, is unable to cope, and stays away;
  • he finds contact difficult, receives no support and gives up;
  • he feels incompetent as a hands-on parent;
  • one of the parents moves to different town or state;
  • one or both parents re-partner and create new families which absorb their attention and energies;
  • the custodial parent obstructs or destroys the relationship.

Fathers After Divorce cover

Green is particularly critical of the Family Court. He says that the court’s attitude to access and contact is disadvantaging children and their fathers. He argues strongly for joint custody, and discusses the success of law changes in the USA a decade ago which mean that many American children now spend roughly equal periods with the two separated parents. He includes useful information about parenting plans, and gives practical advice on setting up a new home, learning to manage it properly, and being a good single parent.

While the general tone of the book is positive, Green does not pull any punches when he discusses the all-too-common scenario where the woman obstructs access. He says "You can get all the orders in the world from the Family Court and yet get little or no compliance from your ex-wife, and therefore little or no satisfactory contact with your children. The inability or unwillingness of the Court to deal with this is a scandal."

He writes: "When a mother unnecessarily denies her child contact with the father and puts the child through emotional turmoil this is a form of child abuse and should be recognised as such."

Tips on re-partnering and step-parenting are presented in part three, then part four looks at men and the law. His first suggestion is that men shouldn’t rush to hire lawyers. He points out that mediation is less expensive than lawyers and Court, and that considering the current anti-father bias in the Courts, more likely to be successful. Green also admits that if the wife is totally uncooperative, there comes a point where continued efforts to obtain justice via the court become futile. While he warns about giving up too soon, particularly in the early stages of a divorce, there comes a point where men have no choice other than to ‘let go’ of their children.

After a discussion about the operation of the Australian Family Court, Green concludes that the adversarial system should never have been applied to family law. He says that in its present form, the Court system either does not work or is superfluous. He argues that there should be a new forum (a Family Commission) be established to settle disputes and sort out parenting plans.

A chapter on false allegations of sexual abuse and domestic violence follows, then Green criticises the child support regime, which he claims drives many men into poverty. Finally, the book returns to a positive note with chapters on ‘looking after yourself’, and success as a separated father’.

The book is very easy to read. Sprinkled generously throughout are small vignettes of men’s experiences that provide personal perspectives to illustrate the points made. There are pages of ‘tips’, and regular summaries of ‘the big picture’. At the end of each chapter is a list of useful questions to ponder, next to a list of positive thoughts and resolutions.’ There are over 150 references to studies and articles discussed in the book, four pages of scientific research, a list of related books for future research, and most usefully, a listing of contact details for men’s and fathers’ support groups in Australia and New Zealand, (including Men’s Centre North Shore).

Last but not least, the book contains a number of delightful but politically incorrect cartoons from Phil Somerville. This is probably the most useful book available to divorcing Australian and New Zealand men at the moment.

J.P.

Keith‘s Story

Keith Leighton’s [all identifying details changed] wife Sally left him in 1995 after being married 11 years. The couple had a 5 year boy, a 2 year girl, and she was pregnant with child number three. Throughout their relationship, Sally had always been abusive. Psychologically, she needed to maintain the upper hand, and Keith always felt dominated by her. Most of the time they got on all right, but every few weeks she would ‘flip out’ and exploded into violence. Invariably, Sally would continue to hit Keith until he eventually retaliated. Being a man, it was always Keith who was arrested and always Keith who was charged. He now has three ‘male assaults female’ convictions.

Because he only ever used enough violence to defend himself, he has never been imprisoned. He has had some small fines and been sentenced to 6 months community service. Each time he was convicted he was sent on an anger management course, and did his best to follow their instructions but not surprisingly this made no impact on Sally’s behaviour. After the first anger management course he tried to leave an argument before it escalated into violence and have ‘time out’ in a shed as he had been taught. She followed him all the way to the bottom of the garden and continued to provoke him until he hit her back. After the second course, Keith rang the police to say he was being assaulted, but they just wanted to talk to her. "Do you want us to come around and arrest him?" they asked.

Each time they fought she threatened him: "I’ll make sure you end up broke, lonely and lose your kids." She wasn’t kidding. In the past two years he has paid $21,000 in legal fees, and seen his children a dozen or so times at a supervised access centre. Sally’s lawyer’s fees on the other hand are paid by legal aid. Keith earns $16.50 per hour, so it took lots of overtime to pay for his lawyer. Working over Christmas one year, he found it especially difficult to know Sally and the children were going off on holiday with her lawyer and children who had just split from her own husband.

He tried to get custody of his children but Sally simply responded with non-molestation orders, accusing him of physically abusing them. Eventually he was convinced by his lawyer to concede defeat in order to get even the minimal access he now receives. Although he has never really mistreated his children, and there has never been any evidence other than Sally’s false accusation, he was sent on a parenting course before being allowed to see them. The Judge ordered him to have 2 supervised sessions of 2 hours each week with the baby, but Keith told me he doesn’t feel like they have been able to develop a real relationship.

Keith currently gets to see the older kids for an hour and a half once a fortnight at a supervised access centre. He has to pay for this service. Although his hands-on fathering role is extremely limited, he still has to pay for them. Because of all his overtime to pay the lawyers bills, his gross earnings last year were $52,000 so his Liable Parent Contribution is over $200 per week.

At his last court hearing, the judge ordered him to have a series of individual counselling sessions, which the court is paying for. The counsellor can’t find anything wrong with Keith apart from the horrendous stress caused by the way the justice system is treating him, and suggested that contacting a group like Men’s Centre North Shore and working to make the system more equitable might be his best option.

J.P.

Women – the Inside Story

Dear MENZ,

Re: The Tuesday Documentary: Women – the Inside Story 2nd Nov 99, 10.30pm, TV1. This documentary up-ends the notions of female monogamy and male supremacy in both humankind and the animal kingdom, with research which shows women are more likely to conceive through unfaithful than faithful sex.

I’m thankful that I’m not a male spider who gets eaten by its mate when she’s finished with him, or a male preying mantis who gets its head ripped of by the female before she copulates, or the species of kangaroo that get their balls ripped off by the female if she doesn’t want to copulate!

What the documentary didn’t talk about was the hundreds of millions of male babies who get circumcised at birth. No wonder males have become genetically programmed to safeguard the paternity of ‘their’ children when it always seems to be the male who has to pay the mortgage, lose the house and access to children if a woman chooses to go off with another man!

Life and procreation on this planet is governed by natural selection and furthering of the species and nature has programmed women to be ruthless (mostly unconsciously) in this selection of genes that serve nature’s ends. Women give life, men are only needed for a few minutes ( and perhaps afterwards only to pay the bills!)

What the doco also didn’t explore was the relationship of sex to power. As men I think we are subjected by social mores and ‘sociability’ to have our power milked by women – and we give it away too easily don’t you think. I know that it totally devastated me when the woman I loved two years ago chose to have a termination of the life we had conceived together and I had absolutely no say in the matter. It was totally her choice, and recognition of my love for her never got acknowledged.

In many ways now I am glad I have never had children because I could never conceive of having my offspring easily taken away from me if a woman chose to at her own whim and be totally supported by the legal system in 90% of cases.

Pretty heavy stuff .

name withheld by request

No Help, No Hope

Peter’s (identifying details changed) story of his life with a violent woman appeared in the July 1998 MENZ Issues. He wrote recently:

Dear Men’s Centre,

coming up four years I have seen one of my sons for 70 hours on and off. It has been over 12 months [since the last visit]. My other boy I haven’t seen since 1996 because the supervisor [at the access centre] upset him.

Not bad for being abused, battered, and scared. I’ve had every accusation known to man used against me. This week I’m off to the High Court. The women’s [Family] Court wants me to pay my ex’s lawyers’ bills and all the other costs.

This should be a warning to all men. We have lost the right to see our kids. I have to pay $168.00 per week Child Support. What children?

I wish I had some good news, there is none. The women’s Court thinks I’m going to give up – they are dreaming. My sons saw what [their mother] did to me. This is coming right back to the women’s Court as soon as my kids are old enough. They are 7 and 13.

I am very tortured inside. There is no help. There is no hope.

Peter Brennen

Chairman’s Vision of Men’s Centre Future

wpe2D.jpg (3202 bytes)Photo: Men’s Centre chairman Jim Bailey

Men’s Centre North Shore is in its 6th year. The records tell me we have done well and worked within our constitution for the good of many men. I also feel a need for MCNS to mature, to tidy up our grass roots, and to build a vision to work towards over the next 1, 5, 10 years.

Quite frankly that is a task that I want all members involved in. I ask each one of you to very seriously consider:

  • what it is that you have got from our organisation?
  • where it has failed you?
  • where could it have been better?
  • what could have happened?

Place yourself back to the days when you where in deep, confused anguish and draw on what could of happened to speed your recovery.

To start the ball rolling:

I personally needed to get out from under the false cloud that I was living under regarding my impression of who I was and what was expected of me. I needed to discover who I was, what I felt. I had to turn the TV off. I had to stop allowing others to tell me who I was and what I should feel.

I found people, the law, the institutions and society took advantage of my anguish and despair. The Family Court tried to tell me I was not necessary to my son. Child Support tried to tell me I was to put all into supplying money to them rather than myself to my son. WINZ tried to tell me fathering was secondary to mothering. Society tried to tell me that mother was more important than father, particularly in the early years. My family and friends tried to tell me I was wrong to stand hard against the system.

Today I know that our Family Court is destructive to our families in anguish and too often our family law is interpreted in a gender biased manner which puts the man on the back foot.

Today I know that Child Support and WINZ are not there to support children but to support themselves.

I have met many very fine people with their hearts in the right place in all three organisations that are strangled by a nightmare of administrative functions, gender biased interpretation of law and policy.

Today I know that father and mother are equally important. You take one from the other and you have neither. Our young ones desperately need equal input from both mother and father or at least mature male and female mentoring.

Then, I desperately needed help to be myself, to be OK with being who I am, to care for myself in my anguish, to be supported through my growing. To be respected for who I was, to be listened to.

My vision is built from my anguish and remembering what I needed. Next month I will place my vision in print. I ask you also write and to be prepared to have your anguish and the vision that has built from it published.

The management team of MCNS is planning a day in March next year to brainstorm and clarify MCNS vision. Start dreaming.

Hey !!! Have a great break, Enjoy Xmas and New Year. Work towards being OK with yourself, stay safe.

Regards, Jim Bailey.

TOWARDS POSITIVE MALENESS AND NO COMPROMISE FATHERING

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