I’ve often wondered about NOW’s apparent antipathy for fathers. It’s always seemed crystal clear to me that NOW’s interest in promoting work and careers for women goes hand-in-hand with family court reform that increases fathers’ parenting time. After all, the more time fathers spend with their kids, the more time mothers have to work, earn, advance in their careers and save for retirement. It’s always looked to me like the classic win-win situation.
And, as I’ve pointed out before, it’s not just me. Years ago, when she was president of the national National Organization for Women, Karen DeCrow said the same thing – that if women are ever to gain power at work, they have to cede power over children. To me, that was nothing more than the obvious.
And some people thought the worm was beginning to turn when NOW and other feminist groups went to bat for fathers in the Supreme Court case of Flores-Villar. Several amicus curiae briefs said all the right things about the value of fathers to children, that men are taking up their parental duties as never before and that attitudes toward parenting roles are changing.
Now, the Flores-Villar case, however it turns out, will impact an impossibly small number of immigrant fathers. It’s an important issue, but the immigration law it challenges will simply never affect many fathers. So the question arises, “how can those organizations be so correct in the Flores-Villar case and so wrong on fathers’ parental rights everywhere else?”
I still haven’t figured that one out, but right on schedule, NOW’s Tracy Simmons recently issued a statement on Parental Alienation Syndrome that’s riddled with the same old nonsense we’ve seen so much of before. NOW followed that up with an Action Alert breathlessly pleading with its members to kill the rampaging beast PAS.
Fortunately, there are cooler heads with actual facts in them. One of them belongs to Cathy Meyers who, in this articlehoists Simmons and NOW on their own pitard (Huffington Post, 1/25/11).
As usual, Simmons wants her readers to believe that parental alienation and PAS are the same thing and therefore that questions about the validity of PAS as a diagnosis being included in the APA’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual are equally questions about the reality of parental alienation. Put simply, that’s just not true.
I’m not qualified to opine on whether PAS should or should not be included in the DSM. I’ll confine myself to recognizing the fact that there are many qualified professionals who argue passionately on both sides of that question.
But no one would argue that some parents don’t sometimes try to alienate children from other parents. Sadly, divorce courts see that regrettable practice every day, and, as Meyer points out, it’s not one sex alone who’s guilty.
Parental alienation syndrome is not a gender specific issue. It was once believed women were the main perpetrators of parental alienation, but no longer. “Fifty percent are men,” said Judith Ray, a licensed family therapist in Colorado Springs.
“Those who are men tend to be narcissistic, characterized by a sense of entitlement, arrogance and low empathy. Female alienators often have borderline personalities, marked by insecurity, neediness, a strong fear of abandonment and chronic emptiness.”
When we speak of parental alienation we aren’t talking about abusive fathers trying to further their misguided, ill treatment of a mother. We are talking about damaged parents, both mother and father whose children need to be protected from a different kind of abuse.
That of course is where NOW’s knee-jerk opposition to the concept of parental alienation makes no sense on NOW’s own terms. Even if NOW isn’t interested in fathers and their connection to their children, you’d think they’d be interested in mothers’. And given the fact that parental alienation is indeed an equal-opportunity abuser, evidence of it and/or PAS stands an equal chance of helping a mother in court as it does a father.
Why Simmons and NOW don’t grasp that simple concept is far beyond my poor powers of comprehension.
What they do, having nothing else to say on the subject, is to try to get their followers to believe that there’s some connection between domestic violence and parental alienation. It’s an incoherent theory at best, but as far as I can make out, it goes something like this: men commit essentially all of the domestic violence that occurs in relationships; PAS gives fathers who commit DV an opportunity to get custody of their kids despite their violence; family courts routinely ignore claims of DV when made by mothers; family courts take at face value claims of PAS when made by violent fathers; all of which results in violent fathers getting custody of children – which otherwise they wouldn’t get – due to their allegations of PAS.
What pretty much anyone who’s informed about family law, family court practice, parental alienation, PAS, etc., can tell right away is that essentially none of the above bears much resemblance to fact. Cathy Meyer is at pains to point that out. I would add that, though many have tried to locate one, I know of not a single case in which the NOW scenario has in fact played out.
There’s a minor cottage industry devoted to the notion that family courts routinely ignore mothers’ complaints of domestic violence and award primary custody to abusive fathers. That industry names many cases in which that has supposedly occur and in each one, closer examination reveals the utter falsity of the claims. Undeterred they soldier on, themselves ignoring the fact that, for a family court to ignore credible allegations of domestic violence would be (a) contrary to law in every state and (b) political suicide for elected judges.
NOW and other organizations that oppose fathers’ contact with their children are on the wrong side of history; they’re on the wrong side of empirical science relating to child welfare and, remarkably enough, they’re on the wrong side of women’s ability to achieve and advance in the workplace.