chapter  7
47 Pages

On fathers’ rights, law and gender: Recasting the questions about men, masculinities and personal life

I began chapter 5 with an observation made by Martha Fineman in her 2004 book The Autonomy Myth. What has been missing from policy and reform discussion, she suggested, is a debate about the nature of fatherhood and ‘the transformation of the role of the father in response to changing expectations, norms and practices’.1 ‘How’, she asked, might a ‘desire for gender neutrality and the ideal of egalitarianism have played a role in the creation of a new set of norms for fatherhood’?2 This chapter, building on the discussion of law, gender and policy in chapter 5, explores these questions in the context of recent debates in England and Wales concerning post-separation contact. More specifically, focusing on contemporary fathers’ rights activism, it considers the gendered politics shaping organised claims for recognition of men as ‘active fathers’ and the interrelationship between gender, rights and responsibility within this high-profile, and politically sensitive, area of law. A growing body of work on fathers’ rights politics,3 troubled by the arguments advanced by and the impact of fathers’ organisations,4 has suggested that there is a pressing need to articulate what significance fathers’ adopting a rights-based approach might have had upon the idea of welfare and its practical application

1 M. Fineman, The Autonomy Myth, New York: The New Press, 2004, p 195. 2 Fineman, op cit, 2004. 3 For example J. Crowley, Defiant Dads: Fathers’ Rights Activism in America, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008; R. Collier and S. Sheldon (eds), Fathers Rights’ Activism and Legal Reform, Oxford: Hart, 2006; B. Featherstone, Contemporary Fathering: Theory, Policy and Practice, Bristol: Policy Press, 2009, ch 7; E. Dermott, Intimate Fatherhood: A Sociological Analysis, London: Routledge, 2008, pp 120-23; A. Gavanas, Fatherhood Politics in the United States: Masculinity, Sexuality, Race and Marriage, Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2004; R Collier, ‘Fathers 4 Justice, Law and the New Politics of Fatherhood’, Child and Family Law Quarterly, 2005, vol 17, p 511.