The Making of Fatherlessness Propaganda [in Australia]


Fathers’ Rights Activist Organisations (FRAO)
Fatherhood Foundation (FF)
Shared Parenting Council of Australia (SPCA)

Fatherlessness--a social crisis?

Some politicians were so convinced about a fatherless “social crisis” as to repeat the disinformation of these FROA on their own websites, and in speeches in Parliament (Cadman 2003, Barnett 2003, Senate Hansard 2003). This information was the stimulus for other politicians actively lobbying on the need for family-friendly (father) policies, and other inquiries into the status of fatherhood (FF Issue No. 57- 29th September, 2003, Cadman 2003, SA Hansard Evan AL 23/9/03, Burke 2004). Accordingly, some politicians continue to use the fatherless assertions as part of their wider conservative reassertion of boys’ and men’s rights that covers such issues as boys’ under-achievement at schools, boys (not children’s) role models, along with increased violence, men’s suicide and other arguments that FRAO support, (Bouchard et al 2003, Nelson 2002, Oakes 2004, Stepfamily Zone 2003).

The political strategy of building an alarmist discourse about the problem “fatherlessness” aims to stem the perceived permissiveness of marriage breakdown by stigmatising single mother families as “fatherless” while at the same time promoting marriage by comparing social outcomes between the traditional families and single mother families (Mead 1999). A key contributor to the FF’s The 12 Point Plan, Meuhlenbeg claims that “85 per cent of sole parent families are fatherless families” (Fatherhood Foundation 2003, Appendix), when in fact 83% of sole parent families in Australia are headed by a woman (ABS 2003). Fatherless homes/families as defined by the National Library of Australia refers to single mother families (NLA 2000). Muehlenberg’s insults discount single mother capabilities, ignores fathers who have regular residency but not primary residency, ignores those fathers who have no contact orders due to a past history of violence, and overlooks those fathers who abrogated contact with their children, or those widowed. Consistent with the remainder of The 12 Point Plan, Meuhlenberg argues in the context of the absent parent, that a “growing body of evidence... to ensure the healthy development of children is the setting of the biological two-parent family. By a number of indicators, children from intact, stable two-parent will do much better than children from broken homes of single-parent families” (Muehlenberg 2002).

Blaming single mother families for poor social outcomes of children, in part based on data from other countries is again simplistic and but avoids intersecting issues like poverty, violence, health, housing, lower economic status of women, and resilience (Flood 2003). This political strategy of creating a social panic about fatherlessness reinforced by similar statements of “worry” made by the Prime Minister, which was echoed by politicians and media and that coalesce to undermine the image of single mother family capabilities, negatively influencing the socially mediated attitudes that may be personally internalised (Perry and Whiteside 2002).

In all this “fatherless assertion” there is little acknowledgment by FRAO or politicians that some ‘male role models’ (or some female) may not be useful for boys and girls, particularly in those highly dysfunctional families where entrenched conflict, domestic violence, serious mental illness or child abuse occurs. In their pursuit of father-centric and pro-marriage agenda FRAO have ignored that it is important for children to have effective, safe and healthy parenting, which most women are quite capable of, particularly if they have adequate support and resourcing (Flood 2003). Where there are negative outcomes among children who grow up without their biological fathers, these are explained in part by selection effects – by systematic differences between the people who divorce or never marry and those who marry once and stay married. Again these differences show up as high parental conflict, substance abuse, violence, mental illness and other forms of anti-social behaviour which are associated with divorce and with poor outcomes in children, not because the parent is a single mother (Rodgers et al 2003 p6, Flood 2003).

The FF, the SPCA and many FRAO involved in lobbying for family law reform have consistently sought to link suicide rates of separated men to blocked contact with their children and/or family “disintergration” (FF2003vi). The charge that either it is the mother who blocks contact or moves too far away or to the court who decide residency (and no-contact) arrangements (King 2003, Daily Telegraph 2003, Rhoades 2002). Dads In Distress (DiD) claims ”up to 5 men suicide each week”, while the SPCA claims up to “3 fathers suicide every day” as a result of family separation” (and being unable to father daily) (SPCA 2003i p17, Miller 2003). Miller who convenes DiD arrives at his weekly figure by assuming all 1817 male suicides in Australia in 2002 are due to separation distress, a totally bogus invention. This casual link and statistical issue was investigated by the Inquiry, and the Committee’s report stated “there are no reliable statistics on why men commit suicide. The committee has made considerable effort to obtain this information but it is not available.” (HRSCFCS Parliamentary Inquiry Report 2003). The FRAO suicide assertion puts the argument that these children of separated parents grow up fatherless but if a rebuttable presumption of shared care is not implemented there will be an epidemic of suicides (Miller 2004, SPCA 2003 submission p 17). This suicide assertion seeks to make children a cure and hold women responsible for deeply depressed mentally unstable men. Such an assertion does not advocate for better mental health accessibility and affordability for men, some of whom do experience distress in the separation process (Robinson and Rodgers 2004). Further, it presents an unacceptable risk of women and children’s safety as evidenced by the distressing cases where fathers have murdered their children, occasionally the ex-wife (or other family members), and then suicided – most often in the context of their ex-wife complying with contact arrangements. Post-fatality the connection is made that many of these men had past histories of domestic violence (Passmore 2004, Jackman 2003, Flood 2003, Rathus, Rendell and Lynch 2001, Astor 1994).

Therefore, the implications of fatherlessness claims and father suicide assertions in the context of arguing for the rebuttable presumption of shared care has its largest impact on those most vulnerable families, women and children who experience violence and abuse is at the hands of their partner/father.

Please read this entire paper on xyonline.net: The Politics of Father Rights Activists – Do persistent critics of the Family Court behave in a way which stands up to scrutiny?, By M. C. Dunn, Presented to National Abuse Free Contact Campaign (NAFCC) 2004

Fatherlessness rhetoric is so easy to believe because it's so simple and it just sounds rights. It makes good PC material. We have some of the humanitarian organizations talking about it. We have our own President, Barack Obama, talking about it.

Do these people have critical thinking skills, or do they take all information at face value?

I have seen many an Australian news report speak of of men "suiciding" and how its the wife's fault, the family court's fault, the feminazi's fault...When do these men take responsibility? Why do men think that they must annihilate their families to solve their problems (which especially makes no sense when they kill themselves)? When are men going to get the mental help that they need?

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3 advocates for peace:

Melissa Mar 17, 2009 5:40:00 PM  

I think back in '96 there was a particularly nasty FR group called The Blackshirts , they hired a PI to track down women and children who were in hiding.

Yes , Randi you read that right. Google this group and I guarantee you what you will read will make your hair stand on end.

Rj Mar 20, 2009 7:23:00 AM  

I'll look that up. I swear FRs are a hate group. I wonder how many are former/actual members of the KKK?

Melissa Mar 20, 2009 10:30:00 AM  

One has been cited as a hate group. Fathers manifesto I believe it's called.

These particular lunatics had a petition to repeal the 19th amendment. On top of the misogyny there are also quite a few racist , homophobic and anti semitic postings.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell



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