Karen DeCrow, Last NOW President to Support Shared Parenting, Dies

June 8, 2014 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

Karen DeCrow, former president of the National Organization for Women, died this past Friday in her hometown of Jamesville, New York. Her passing, and the New York Times obituary recalling Ms. DeCrow are noteworthy for roughly the same reason (New York Times, 6/7/14).

DeCrow was president of NOW from 1974 – 1977. During that time and after, she was an ardent supporter of shared parenting. Indeed, in 1979, she wrote a letter to the Times in which she said that “women will not gain power in the workplace until they cede power in the nursery.” It’s a point I’ve made many times in different words, and it’s nothing but the obvious. As long as mothers are asking for and being granted sole and primary custody in divorce cases, and as long as standard visitation orders give dads between 14% and 20% of parenting time, there’s not much time left for those mothers to work, earn, advance and save equally with fathers.

Unsurprisingly, they don’t. Single mothers, both divorced and never married, are the poorest adults in our society. Forty-six percent of them live in poverty and their median earnings are $23,000 per year. And their paltry incomes aren’t the fault of non-custodial fathers’ failure to pay child support. Custodial fathers earn over 50% more than custodial mothers despite the fact that non-custodial mothers are barely half as likely to even be ordered to pay support and, when they are, they’re ordered to pay less and pay a lower percentage of what they’re required to pay than non-custodial fathers.

The simple fact is that divorce and sole or primary child custody are bad for mothers and their kids, a fact DeCrow grasped. To her credit, she never shied away from taking her grasp of that fact to its next step – shared parenting. Shared parenting, particularly equally-shared parenting, would relieve mothers of much of their childcare burden while preserving their relationships with their children. So DeCrow argued that mothers should give up their role as sole caregiver and hand part of it to fathers, freeing them to gain real equality in the workplace. It made sense then; it makes sense now.

But DeCrow was the last NOW president to hold such views, sensible as they are. Since then, no feminist organization anywhere has ever supported an equal parenting bill, and many have outright opposed them. To this day, NOW opposes shared parenting on the grounds that it’s in some way “forced” on mothers. I don’t even know what that means, but the important facts haven’t changed since DeCrow led NOW. Mothers would still do better in every way if parenting post-divorce were equally shared between them and fathers. Feminist organizations’ invariable opposition to shared parenting strongly suggests that their anti-dadism trumps even their dedication to women’s financial autonomy, a feminist issue at least since Simone de Beauvoir.  Strange, but what else can we conclude?

Of course it’s possible that their goal is to keep dads marginalized in kids’ lives in the hopes the nanny state will take their place. That’s certainly at least part of what’s behind the usual calls for government-subsidized daycare. Such a thing would certainly make getting Dad out of the picture altogether that much easier.

The problem with that is that there’s no political will to do it. After all, the federal government’s paying for daycare for the millions of pre-school kids who currently attend would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. That’s not an appealing thought to any Congressperson or Senator with an eye to our multi-trillion-dollar-and-climbing federal debt.

Likewise, the movement for fathers’ rights is far ahead of subsidized daycare both in the popular consciousness and in political circles. The fact is the movement for fathers has been growing for many years and now has organizations at the state and local levels everywhere we look. And of course there’s the National Parents Organization that’s leading the charge on the national front and through our many state affiliates. Changing family law to keep fathers and children together in meaningful relationships makes too much sense in too many ways and the movement has too much momentum for politicians to ignore. Every year they’re going to face the same activists demanding equality for fathers until it comes to pass.

And of course fathers’ equality would cost states nothing and in fact probably save them money because child support arrears would decrease allowing states to cut back on their massive bureaucracies.

So DeCrow’s passing marks the end of an era – the last generation of feminists to understand the value of shared parenting to women. As the movement toward equal parenting realizes its goals, those feminists who now reflexively oppose it (and anything else that benefits men) will see themselves and their messages become less and less valid to the great mass of Americans. It was just last year that the Huffington Post revealed that a poll it had commissioned found only 20% of Americans calling themselves feminists. It’s things like opposition to equal parenting that create a climate in which, after 50 years of Second Wave feminism, so few have been persuaded.

Following the HP survey, feminists rushed to point out that the same people who refused to call themselves feminists still said they believed in gender equality. The feminists never paused to think that, far from being contradictory, those two positions – pro-equality, anti-feminist – are anything but.

If NOW’s opposition to equal parenting is the hallmark of its dwindling relevancy, the NYT obituary for DeCrow is more of the same. The Times never mentions her support for perhaps the most important issue of our times, much less current feminism’s stance on the issue or how they’re shooting themselves in the foot. It’s as if the person assigned to write the piece simply never considered the possibility that a feminist could support equal parenting, despite the fact that a five-minute check of their letter archive would have revealed the truth. In honoring her, they ignored one of her most important efforts toward gender equality and in so doing wordlessly said a great deal about both feminism and the Times itself.

It’s not just DeCrow who’s dead; along with her goes feminism’s voice of reason regarding the all-important issue of who cares for the child when Mom and Dad split up. It’s been replaced by an all-encompassing opposition to anything that could conceivably benefit men. From the looks of things, DeCrow’s intelligence on the subject died with her never to be resurrected. Her Times obit strongly corroborates that notion.

All of that is fine with fathers’ rights advocates. Feminism’s enthusiastic support would have been welcome, but, failing that, we’ll gladly accept the issue they’ve handed us. After all, any time someone tells you feminism’s about gender equality, just ask them to explain why feminists invariably oppose equal parenting laws. I’ve done that many times and never gotten a sensible response.

Still, it’s sad to see DeCrow gone.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

Together, we can drive home the family, child development, social and national benefits of shared parenting, and fair child support and alimony. Thank you for your activism.

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