In June 2010, Ned Holstein, the president of the national group Fathers and Families, appeared on a Boston call-in radio show to promote a child-custody bill before the Massachusetts legislature. “The message is so simple, he said.
We’re fit parents, most of us. We just want to be involved in helping to raise our children…. [Divorced] children have a hole in their heart. The average child would crawl over broken glass to see their absent parent.…. [This bill] is a very mild nudge in the direction of getting both parents to be involved.[i]
This mild-mannered approach to child custody, a major issue in contested divorces, hides the real agenda of Fathers and Families. What appears at first glance to be an honest plea for fairness is in fact a backlash movement against changing gender-role norms and family structures—cultural shifts that have been influenced by feminist thought and action.
Although Holstein sounds as though he is promoting a new initiative, some form of joint custody bill has been filed in the Massachusetts legislature every year since 1983. Since the 1970s, certain conservative men’s organizations, commonly called fathers’ rights groups, have been seeking to increase their visibility and influence over divorce-court proceedings. While their tactics have changed, they remain a threat to women’s hard-won gains.
Fathers and Families, one of the hundreds of fathers’ rights groups that has sprung up in the past 35 years, uses language that is far removed from the angry pitch of early movement spokespeople. For example, in 1986, the journalist Greg Weston paraphrased the feelings of such fathers: Read More