Wednesday, 4 July 2012

ASA rule against Fathers 4 Justice ad

The Advertising Standards Agency have ruled against the controversial Fathers 4 Justice ad that ran in national newspapers this Mother’s Day. The ad was targeted at brands who advertise with the Mumsnet social network, which Fathers 4 Justice believe paints men as rapists, paedophiles and wife beaters. 

Fathers 4 Justice argue that Mumsnet is full of distressing misandry that’s as unacceptable as homophobia and racism. However ASA instead found that there are 1000s of comments on the web forum, some which may be more extreme than others, and that Mumsnet did not endorse sexist comments. Therefore the site was not at fault.

I kind of had to laugh a little bit at this. I mean, if women asked for brands to withdraw ads every time we experienced incredible levels of unpleasantness below the line, we would be on the march against CIF, the Daily Mail, every gaming blog, every political blog… every single day!

But that’s beside the point. 

I don’t believe it can be a co-incidence that Fathers 4 Justice produced this ad around a similar time that Mumsnet launched their ‘We believe you’ campaign. This was a vital web space for women to share their experiences of domestic abuse, rape, sexual abuse and violence. It was a space for women to be supported and believed, as they detailed the terrible crimes committed against them – yes, by men. For some women, the silence had been maintained for years. For some women, when the silence was broken, they hadn’t been believed. The We Believe You campaign gave women the space, the time and the support to speak out about the violence, the horror, the torture. It said to women that they were safe, that they could speak and, most importantly, that they would be believed. Whoever hadn’t believed them before, Mumsnet and the women online would believe them now. 

I think there is something singularly wicked about taking something as strengthening and empowering as the We Believe You conversation, and turning it into a weapon for Fathers 4 Justice to hit women with. 

Many of the men talked about on the We Believe You space are rapists, are paedophiles, are wife beaters. But never was it said that all men are. Never was it implied or suggested by Mumsnet that all men are. Because as we know, not all men are these things. Some men choose to commit these crimes. 

It isn’t Mumsnet’s fault that these men chose to commit these crimes. Mumsnet didn’t label the men who committed these crimes as rapists, paedophiles and wife-beaters. They took that label when they chose to rape, to abuse, to hit. 

Despite fervently supporting equal parental rights for years, I’ve never been a fan of Fathers 4 Justice. This is a campaigning group who use criminal actions to get noticed. Who, as well as publicly threatening Mumsnet, have also had members send threats to offices of domestic abuse support services (a friend of mine who’s mum works in the sector confirmed this). Who's members once made statements around 'No More Lesbo Dads'. And who now have targeted women sharing their experiences of male violence, in order to silence those women, to take away their safe space. 

There are of course terrible situations where divorcing parents use their children as weapons to harm one another, and where women withhold access to punish their ex. This needs to be tackled, and dealt with, so that the children are cared for and are safe. But, as a recent consultation commissioned by the government has shown, these incidents are far, far rarer than the public believe. Of all the divorces that happen, only 10% seek custody through the courts. A tiny percentage of these then lead to contact orders. In 2010, 300 litigated custody cases out of 95,000 resulted in the father being denied access to his child. Considering the British Judicial System is built on centuries of patriarchal rule, where only 170 years ago women were completely denied custody of their children in every case, there’s generally a very, very good reason for denying access. Considering it is so rare hopefully shows that it’s not a decision the courts take lightly.  

Contrary to the beliefs of F4J and much of the general public, the government-commissioned consultation found that there was no bias against fathers in the family courts. There was, rightly and of course, a bias towards the primary caregiver, and in our current society that is the mother. However, in a situation where the father was the primary caregiver, the bias would be towards him. 

The idea that feminists are at fault for ‘promoting’ the mother in the courts system is a long-standing myth. In fact, equal parenting is something that feminists have been campaigning about for a long, long time. The assumption that women are the primary caregiver has been a feminist issue since before F4J were in short trousers. For decades now we’ve been arguing for equal parental leave, so that mothers and fathers are involved in child rearing from the start. We argue for more flexible working, for a reduced pay gap, for an end to the ‘mother gap’, so that all parents in a family are equal, involved and caregiving.  

Fathers 4 Justice have congratulated the government for ignoring the findings of their own consultation. This is despite advice from lawyers, who have expressed concern that changes to the law will not be beneficial to children. And surely that’s what has to matter in the end? That the safety and welfare of the children is paramount? Surely that’s more important than rhetoric about Walton family values, and political point scoring? Surely what matters is that children are safe, and happy, and protected. That they are not failed by the system, by their families. 

I’m glad ASA have found against F4J. I hope this means they start to understand that bullying tactics that defame women will not help the cause for equal parenting. I hope they understand that using the words of survivors against them is not acceptable. We Believe You was never about misandry. It was never about calling men rapists. It was about naming the crimes committed against women. It was about raising our voices, together in solidarity. If F4J want to blame anyone for building a world where men can be called rapists, blame those men who choose to rape.

This piece has been cross posted in a shorter version at Liberal Conspiracy 

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