From: John Waters
To: Niall Crowley
Before we begin, allow me to thank you for engaging in this discussion. My objective is to try to get at something I think important rather than create vast reserves of heat.
My opening question, which I’ll outline in an attempt to define the central issue as I see it, relates to the concept of “equality” as referred to in contemporary socio-ideological discourse. I don’t mean the dictionary definition, with which I have no quarrel. My problem, as someone who has for many years written about issues affecting men, women and children, is that “equality”, as politically defined in contemporary society, is a construct that excludes men. You and I have had various ding-dongs in public about this and always seemed to end up in a fruitless discussion about, for example, how many men the Equality Authority had represented under different headings while you were CEO. My point was, and remains, that those who promote the so-called equality agenda do not see men – as men – as in any way qualifying as potential beneficiaries of their interventions. On the contrary, in many instances they see men as the demographic and human entity at whose expense this concept of ‘equality’ is to be furthered. Now, I have no problem with the idea that equality, by its very nature, implies an evening-out. In any given area, where there has been an uneven distribution of benefits, it is right that this be corrected. But, where men are concerned, there appears to be no area in which this concept is deemed to exist to favour them and particular of their key needs as men.
Most of this argument happens in a landscape in which a new division of labour and responsibilities is being negotiated. Since we are in a period of adjustment and indeed of transition, there has been an enormous amount of intervention on behalf of women, to correct a situation whereby it was more difficult than it should have been for women, generally speaking, to work outside the home. Nobody objects to this. But there has been no interest whatsoever in looking at the other side of this equation, which has been greatly disrupted by recent developments. The domestic sphere – family relationships – has in recent decades been subject to enormous change, particularly in the context of the growing fragility of male-female relationships, and this mainly rebounds to the detriment of men in their role as fathers. My postbag over many years has indicated that men are increasingly brutalized in situations where the State intervenes to make and enforce solutions when a family breaks down. As a result, there is a range of headings under which male human beings are grotesquely discriminated against: the family courts, social work policy, domestic violence policy, as well as in more general contexts where discrimination exists for other reasons, like health resources and so on. It is bizarre that these issues have not yet broken above ground. Either bodies like the Equality Authority do not attract complaints from men on these issues; or they are receiving and suppressing them. I am hard pressed to say which of the two I would consider the more grave situation.
Having written about these matters since the mid-1990s, I have never encountered among those who have become known for promoting what is called “equality”, any preparedness even to acknowledge that inequalities have developed on the other side of the so-called “gender” equation. Indeed, studying your own reports as CEO of the Equality Authority over many years, I have always been struck by the fact that, when you got to the heading (which to my fleeting exhilaration you always did) “Equality and Men”, your analysis invariably went on to replicate your previous cataloguing of society’s wrongs against women. “Equality” for men, you made quite clear, was “equality for women” in another guise.
From: Niall Crowley
To: John Waters
Thank you for the opportunity to exchange with you in this manner.
You say that equality is a construct that excludes men. You refer to dictionary definitions and political definitions of equality. However, you don’t give your own definition and, as such, it is difficult to explore this issue with you.
It is useful to start by moving away from constructs and looking at realities – the reality of the experience of inequality. Inequality finds expression across four inter-linked areas of access to resources, influence, status and caring relationships.
In the area of resources women experience a large gender pay gap. Women are concentrated in low paid, low status and part time occupations. The 5% of the population who hold 40% of the wealth are predominantly men.In the area of influence it is women who are under-represented in the Dail, local authorities, the judiciary and senior management in the public and private sectors. The lower status and standing of women is evident in the sexual objectification of, and persistent stereotyping of women as passive, dependent and nurturing. In the caring domain women continue to take on the bulk of unpaid work, in particular caring responsibilities and household chores. In terms of access to caring relationships it is predominantly women who experience physical and other forms of abuse from men – domestic violence, rape, trafficking and prostitution.
The reality is that equality is not a construct that excludes men. Inequality is a reality for women. Equality is the necessary and urgent construct to eliminate this inequality. It is also relevant to remember that men will also be the beneficiaries of this equality as will the wider society.
When you make a suggestion that the Equality Authority might suppress discrimination claims from men and when you label men’s experiences as grotesque you are taking on a role as a proponent of backlash.
Men and men’s organisations working on men’s issues can, and have, made a valuable contribution to the wellbeing of men. Valuable initiatives have been taken in response to male suicide, early school leaving among boys, rural isolation of men and the disadvantages that accrue to men from the machismo required in this gender unequal society. The language and approach of your intervention place you in a very different tradition – that of men and men’s organisations who promote backlash.
Backlash tries to tell us that equality has gone too far when it remains a distant aspiration, that equality does not benefit men when it clearly could, or that the dominant group are actually the real victims of inequality when they are not. Backlash is not a reaction to change or to the achievement of equality by women. It is a reaction to the promise of change. It is in effect a defence of male dominance.
A key tool of backlash is to pose men as the real victims of gender inequality. One example of this lies in your exaggerated language in relation to men’s experience of domestic violence. Some men do experience domestic violence. It would be inaccurate however not to acknowledge that the vast bulk of domestic violence in our society is experienced by women. Some men and some men’s organisations have, somewhat dishonestly tried to deny this. However, we need to be clear that domestic violence is a particular phenomenon where the objective of the perpetrator is to control the victim. It is not about two people in an intimate relationship being in conflict. To establish the reality of domestic violence you have to take account of the level of injury, the level of control excercised, and the level of fear and powerlessness of the person being abused. When looked at with this clarity and precision it is clear that most of the claims made by men’s organisations about this issue lie outside of the field of domestic violence.
Reconfiguring the truth to pose men as the real victims of gender inequality only serves male dominance. Is this then what the debate on equality is to become – an effort to maintain an unjust status quo, rather than an examination of valuable concepts and unacceptable realities?
From: John Waters
To: Niall Crowley
The tone and thrust of your response serves to vindicate my argument, to an extent that quite shocks me. I had expected at least some token protestations about your commitment, when you were CEO of the Equality Authority, to a genuine, by which I mean dictionary-defined concept of equality (I’ll come back to that). But your instantaneous summoning-up of this concept of “backlash” not merely reveals your hand a little earlier than I expected but indeed answers pretty much all my questions. Right until reading your response, I had, I have to admit, retained a lingering sense that, deep down, Niall Crowley was on the side of the angels. On the occasions when we discussed these issues, I always found you affable, courteous and seemingly anxious to help if you could, though I always came away feeling that I had been smothered in words. I would go to you with a simple question – why, for example, does the Equality Authority not support men who have been unjustly treated by family courts? I would come away somewhat dazed, unsure whether you were saying that the law did not allow you to do it or that no man had ever asked you to do it. But, deep down, I felt sure of your good intentions, and would always resolve to be on the lookout for a suitable case that might enable us to make a little history.
But your persistent and obsessive reference in this response to this odd idea of “backlash” brings a clarity to the matter that leaves no room for optimism. The concept is, of course, instantly recognizable as the equivalent of some familiar ideological constructs – “counter-revolutionary activities”; “enemies of the working class”, etc. It conjures up an enemy in a way that serves two functions simultaneously: it deflects any potential questioning of the progress of the “revolution” and seeks to change the terms of the debate.
My question was about men, which is to say real live, breathing, loving, working, laughing, adult male human beings. But you, it is clear, see something else: a horde of barbarians at the gate seeking to tear down your ideological citadel.
Thus, your response not merely confirms my worst fears, but in doing so brings the debate to a shuddering halt for me. I have my answer: you do not wish your concept of equality to become available to men. This places beyond recall any residual hopes I might have had that you were frustrated by the law or the lack of suitable cases in your desire to promote a genuine concept of equality. In this 700-word response you lay bare your thinking, proving a vivid insight into the mentality that clearly governed your period as CEO of the Equality Authority. Your response is deeply eloquent about how you see the equality project and how you see men fitting into it. Men, for you, are not really human beings, but representatives of an ideological opposition, backlashers who might seek at any time to undo your crusade. This explains for me why you could never bring yourself to champion the case of a man brutally deprived of the society of his children, or to ask why it really is that the vast majority of suicides are by men. Any man in pain who came knocking on your door would have immediately revealed himself as the backlashing stooge of a counter-revolutionary conspiracy of lashers-back, intent upon tearing down your State-sponsored revolution.
I am not now nor have I ever been a member of a men’s group or organization, lasherbacks or otherwise. I am a journalist and writer who writes about what he encounters. I do not see the world through an ideological gauze, but as the human drama in which the nature of men and women is defined not by academic texts but what actually is, what the community ordains and, most of all, by the force of nature, red in tooth and claw. I am not a backerlasher, a lasher-of-backs or a backers-of-lashes. I do, of course, recognize the tactic and indeed recall it from my early attempts to raise these issues in the 1990s. I recognize, too, that it is a hermetically-sealed device which becomes its own proof, so there is little point in my expending energy trying to answer it. It is a tactic designed for the consumption of those already in the loop, to marshal their energies against the possibility of a challenge, but also to demonise the challenger from the outset. It worked well for Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Joseph McCarthy, so why not for Niall Crowley?
But I come back to my question: why are men – by which I mean any one individual man, or the sprawling legions of wounded men who find themselves in sometimes fatal trouble in our society – not entitled to avail of your concept of equality? You have already confirmed that they are not, and now I wish only to ask: why? Here, I take out my dictionary, which defines “equality” as: “the state of being equal”; and “equal” as (the relevant entry in this connection, I believe): “having identical privileges, rights, status, etc.”.
In another familiar tactic, you immediately hold aloft a straw man: the idea that “equality” is a zero sum game in which women will lose by every concession of fairness or justice to a man. Nonsense, naturally. A man’s love for his child, or a child’s love for her father, is not a resource to be divided between the father and the mother, any more than the mother’s love for the same child, or the child’s love for the mother, is a matter to be divided up like furniture. It would be possible for those in charge of the equality agenda to promote conditions in which the mutual bonds of father and children could be nurtured and protected by society and its agencies, rather than sundered and brutalized as at present, without in any way diluting the intensity of their revolutionary programme. But you have chosen not merely to decline men access to justice and equality, but to suggest that even to propose that you might have had such a responsibility as CEO of the “Equality” Authority, is an attempt to drive women back to the sculleries and the boudoirs.
Arguably the most fundamental denial of equality in this society right now arises from the fact that a single father, by virtue of a historical interpretation of the Constitution rooted in the deepest prejudice, has no automatic right to be named as a Guardian of his own child, but must either get the mother’s support for his Guardianship or go to court and make his case to a judge. This means that, unless a mother is prepared to make a concession, an unmarried father has no legal standing in the life of his own child. This results in widespread abuses of some of the most fundamental of human rights, as well as avoidable trauma to both fathers and children, and a State-operated ransom system which bleeds good fathers dry. These grotesque abuses will have profound consequences into the coming generations. Yet the Equality Authority under your stewardship had nothing whatever to say about any of this, even though at the same time you were enthusiastically supportive of a demand for adoption rights for gay couples. Perhaps you can explain to me the logic of advocating an entitlement of two strangers to adopt a man’s child, while remaining silent on that man and that child’s right to the bond and relationship that God/Creation/Nature/The Stork/Richard Dawkins/Don’t know (Tick as appropriate) has proposed? And here there is actually something of a zero-sum game. For, unlike the situation pertaining between fathers and mothers – there is indeed a context in which there exists a clear conflict between what are self-evidently the natural rights of two categories of citizen – fathers and children -– and the arguably discretionary if not entirely arbitrary ‘rights’ being extended to another, gays. Whose side does the so-called ‘equality’ lobby rush to? Not those whose natural rights are being trampled into the dust of history but those who claim a fabricated entitlement with little basis in reason and none in nature, a “right” that in many instances will be claimed at the expense of disenfranchised children and their fathers.
No one group has a monopoly on inequality: some groups or individuals suffer inequality in some areas, others in different ones. The point of an equality agenda, surely, is to address inequality wherever it occurs, rather than to see the issue in terms of a contest between groups. How, to put it another way, could a genuine concept of equality “go too far”? Genuine equality is simply enabled to find itself, like a string brought into tune. If it “goes too far” it becomes, again, inequality, which is not the objective of anyone I have encountered among the thousands of men I have tried to help in 15 years of writing on these issues.
I thought the purpose of this exchange was to discuss equality for men, but you have again spoken only of equality for women. That initiative is proceeding apace and nobody that I know of is seeking to stand in its way. Of course, your purpose of invoking the backlash bogeyman is not purely to protect your favoured cause but to imply that the battle will require your presence and energies for a long time yet. The truth is that, ideologically speaking, you are a radical feminist whose work begins and ends with the concerns not of equality, nor even of women as human beings, but of radical feminism which seeks to use the incremental gains of your revolution to punish men for what I believe Marx called the “notorious crimes” of the past. Among the problems with this approach is that you end up punishing not those who were guilty of such past crimes, but the innocents of the present who just happen to share the sex of the phantom patriarchs who continue to monopolise your waking hours.
Whenever I am challenged on these issues nowadays – usually with some secondhand version of a contrived straw-man argument someone has come across in an attack by one of your ideological fellow-travellers – I have found I can bring the discussion to a shuddering halt with a simple question: have you any sons? To imagine the backlashing bogeyman, it is necessary to see in the mind’s eye the oppressive patriarch of feminist legend, the robed judge on his bench; the pinstriped millionaire in the back seat of his Bentley. But invoke instead the spotty teenager who strikes an ironic pose as a defence against a world that seems more threatening than anyone, including his father, told him it might be, and it becomes possible to restore the dictionary to its proper place as the arbiter of the meanings of words.
If we fully open up the domestic-violence debate, we risk swamping Village with statistics and counter-statistics. Again, I have to concede that the position you outline is the established one, carefully nurtured over many years by determined use of propaganda. I fully accept that what I say on this subject appears, as your fellow-travelleres have many time assured me say, “counter-intuitive”. But since “counter-intuitive” is not the same as “untrue”, I will briefly repeat myself: every indendent two-sex survey of domestic violence the world over has concluded that about one-third of domestic violence is initiated by men; one-third by women, and one-third is mutual violence.
I reach into my desktop folder and pull out one cutting. A 2006 TCD study of patients attending family doctors , published in the European Journal of General Practice found that 52 per cent of men and 43 per cent of women had experienced domestic violence. Dr Susan Smith, one of the study’s authors, said that it was “inappropriate to continue to address this issue as solely a woman’s problem”.
But, really and truly, none of this is even the point. The point is that if one man is the victim of a bullying female, he is as entitled as any woman to the protection of the law and the support of the State. This protection and support is not forthcoming, and the ‘equality”’agenda, far from seeking to bring us closer to truth and decency, contrives to see every potential client for its advocacy as the stooge of some fiendish counter-revolution.
As for dishonesty, we will have to see what the future brings. Your assertion that “we need to be clear that domestic violence is a particular phenomenon where the objective of the perpetrator is to control the victim” and “is not about two people in an intimate relationship being in conflict” seems to me to be yet another example of a hermetically-sealed ideological position that refuses any response that does not suit its logic. These are words constructed in space without root or wire to actually existing reality. Why should violence be different because it happens indoors rather than out, or because the participants are a woman and a man rather than two men or two women? But if you decide, as you say you have, that any man who claims he has been the victim of domestic violence cannot be so defined on the basis of his maleness, then there is clearly no point in us trying to argue these issues at all. Your position is clearly constructed to repel any suggestion or proposal that does not fit into your ideological position. Anything else is “reconfiguring the truth”, and/or “an effort to maintain an unjust status quo”. You and I are therefore engaged not in a genuine democratic exchange of opinions, but a remake of Alice in Wonderland.
I will ask you again: do you believe that men should be treated fairly and equally? Perhaps it may prove possible to answer yes or no without demonising me or returning to your specialist subject.
From: Niall Crowley
To: John Waters
It is hard to know how to reply to that. Where I am critical of your position you feel demonised. When I seek to pose a challenge you merely dismiss it as “a contrived straw-man argument” whatever that might be. Argument put forward for debate you can only see as some form of tactic deemed too recognisable to merit response. You cannot really be in any doubt from what I wrote that I believe both men and women should be treated equally and fairly.
You appear to limit debate on equality to individual experiences, behaviours and attitudes. Individual men can and do experience unfairness and injustice as men. Such unfairness and injustice can and should be addressed. Individual men do experience domestic violence. These men should and do have access to support and such violence should be eliminated. Individual men do experience discrimination on the gender ground. These men should and do have access to supports such as those provided by the Equality Authority and any such discrimination should be eliminated.
There are however issues of scale that you seek to deny. Hyperbole surely when you refer to “the sprawling legions of wounded men who find themselves in sometimes fatal trouble in our society”.
Inaccuracy when you suggest that “every independent two-sex survey of domestic violence the world over has concluded that about one third of domestic violence is initiated by men, one third by women and one third is mutual violence”. A brief look to The National Crime Council and the ESRI report on domestic abuse in Ireland in 2005 contradicts this. They found that 15% of women and 6% of men have experienced severely abusive behaviour from their partner at some time. Women were over twice as likely as men to experience severe physical abuse, nearly three times as likely to experience severe emotional abuse and seven times more likely to have experienced severe sexual abuse. Women were ten times more likely to require a stay in hospital after the experience of abuse.
Misleading surely when you raise the issue of the Equality Authority not supporting “men who have been unjustly treated by family courts”. You must know by now that the Equal Status Acts exempt any action that is required under a court order. You must also be aware of the Family Law Reporting Pilot Project which reported to the Courts Service in 2007. Dr. Carol Coulter reported that the project “saw no evidence of systematic bias against fathers or anyone else in the courts”.
As regards your point on legal guardianship for unmarried fathers, such issues fall, as you know, outside the remit of the equality legislation and therefore fall beyond the mandate of the Equality Authority. You pose a number of issues in terms of a failure by the Equality Authority to address particular challenges. Yet, despite being aware of the limitations, you never sought the necessary changes to the scope and provisions of the equality legislation. Such an approach merely serves to polarise the debate and divide initiative for equality. The pursuit of men’s issues in a manner that is divorced from, and even posed in competition with, achieving equality for women has also served to polarise the debate. This diminishes potential for progress that would advance equality for women and address these issues for men. Again I believe your approach in these matters has contributed to such a polarisation.
Issues of legal guardianship for unmarried fathers should be addressed. These issues should, if they are to be effectively addressed, be seen and understood in the context of the structures and systems in our society that create and sustain inequality for women. These structures and systems do privilege men and disadvantage women but they do also create serious issues for some men. When we seek to organise society such that equality is achieved for women, these issues for men will also be addressed as part of that restructuring. That is why gender equality will benefit women and men and that is why approaches that polarise debate should be avoided.
Your reliance on the dictionary definition of equality is strange, limiting and even disingenuous when there are such rich and evolving philosophical and academic sources of reference on this theme.
Any examination of equality in our society has to go beyond individual behaviours, experiences and attitudes if it is to assist in eliminating inequality. We need to examine the structures and the systems of a society – how we organise our society. The structures and systems in our society are currently organised to privilege men and disadvantage women. I have already set out the evidence for this in the distribution of resources, influence, status and caring in our society between women and men. That is why the search for gender equality is concerned with securing equality for wome as a group. That is why your assertion that this gender equality is about blaming or punishing individual men makes no sense. Gender equality is about re-organising society for a more equal distribution of resources, influence, status and caring. It is about changing structures and systems. It is about creating a better society for women and men.
You resort to personal abuse in advancing your position. This might serve to intimidate but not to convince. Therefore, I choose not to respond to that but you can take it that I do not accept the accusations that you make.
From: John Waters
To: Niall Crowley
Have no fear: I do not feel in the least demonised. I was merely seeking to call your tactic and make it visible. I have for years encountered this approach employed by people whose arguments are otherwise threadbare. But it tickles me that, having started off by playing the man rather than the ball, you then accuse me of engaging in personal abuse, a classic and instantly verifiable instance of what a shrink would call “projection”.
But nowhere, in any of what you wrote, or indeed in any of your statements – never mind actions – while CEO of the Equality Authority, did you intimate that you believed men and women should be treated equally. Except, that is, if we accept your definition of equality, which goes something like: women should be treated at least as well as men, but men have no entitlement to be treated, in any context, as well as women. Orwell could hardly have put it better.
In fact, you put it even better yourself in the following quote from a speech you made while heading up the EA: “The primary objective for work on men in gender equality must be to strengthen the role and contribution of men in challenging and changing the structures, institutional policies and practices, and culture (including stereotypical attitudes), that generate and sustain the inequalities experience by women”. We really do not need to go beyond these words to see what the problem is, although this correspondence is leading me to think that the real problem is that you don’t see what the problem is.
I’m intrigued that you have brought up the 2005 ESRI/National Crime Council survey. At the time of its publication I raised some questions about its methodology, which I felt left it open to legitimate allegations of institutional bias, but let us leave this controversy aside and focus on the broad picture outlined in that report. Let us put in context, too, that it arrived into a climate in which there was a widespread denial that female-on-male violence existed at all. a culture that, for obvious reasons, makes it difficult for some men to report, or even admit to, being assaulted by a woman.
With this survey, we “discovered” – almost literally overnight – that nearly a third of domestic violence was perpetrated by women against men. Our sense of the scale of this problem went from zero to 30 per cent in one fell swoop. Yet, the funding for services for male victims and their children, allocated by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (under whose auspices the Equality Authority operates), has since reached the princely level of 2.5 per cent. This, of course, is just one of several streams of funding for domestic violence, but I have chosen this one because it has by far the highest proportion of funding allocated to male victims, amounting to a female/male ratio of 40:1.
I know that, following the publication of the ESRI/National Crime Council survey, representations were made to you as CEO of the EA by at least one men’s group, citing precisely this imbalance and seeking your support in addressing it. What did you do? Nothing. The unequal funding paradigm remains in place.
There is not one single bed in this country for a man and his children fleeing a violent woman. Not one. Recent litigation in Wales and the US has successfully exposed this imbalance in those jurisdictions and we are likely to see similar cases here before long. The legacy of your stewardship of the Equality Authority, therefore, will almost certainly include the shaming of Ireland in the European courts. And your responses in this present exchange tell us exactly why.
There is no longer room for the possibility that this gross instance of inequality was allowed to persist because you did not have the full facts, or because nobody asked you to intervene. We know that this happened because of your ideological position, which, under your leadership of the EA, excluded men suffering discrimination as men from any benefit of what was laughably the State’s instrument for promoting equality and fairness in Irish life.
You say that men “should and do” have access to the Equality Authority and that any discrimination “should be eliminated”. Very well; what did you do, as CEO of the EA, when approached by a man seeking your support in exposing the grossly inequitable administration of Child Benefit, a payment all but invariably made to women, sometimes regardless of biological relationship to the child from whom the entitlement derives, and paid only to fathers when there is no woman to be found? It’s a rhetorical question. You did nothing. I have seen the correspondence.
You disingenuously suggest that your zeal to help men was hidebound by the law. Had you indicated any willingness to overturn the legal impediments you speak of, I would have more than willing to respond to your crusade. But the model suited you and you never made the slightest attempt to change it.
In fact, the taking of strategic test cases are just one element of an armoury which includes public advocacy and campaigning, and in which the most powerful function is the opportunity to advise the Minister for Justice Equality and Law Reform in pursuit of legislative change. What advices did you offer your minister in respect of discrimination against men? That you never sought to represent men’s interests is obvious from your own descriptions of your objectives and perspectives, but we can gather this in other ways also: from the independent testimony of men who sought your support and were either politely rebuffed or coldly ignored, and from the fact that, since your departure, the Equality Authority has been able to install as a central item of strategic policy the objective of dismantling legal and societal discriminations against single fathers.
You say that “when we seek to organise society such that equality is achieved for women, these issues for men will also be addressed as part of that restructuring”, but you do not explain how this will enable fatherhood to be respected or why it is that the alleged failure to deliver full equality for women (a debate we might have another time) necessitates continuing denials of the most fundamental rights of fathers and children. Among the implications of your position is that extending just treatment to father-child relationships involves taking something from mothers. Perhaps it does, but it does not involve taking anything from mothers that is rightfully theirs. The withholding of equal parenting rights to fathers results in mothers being awarded, by either default or conscious deed, powers to destroy the relationships between children and fathers. And this goes to the core of your error. What you seek for women is not equality, but preference and priority in any matter on which a woman seeks to stake a claim, regardless of right and wrong. Implicit in your position is the idea that any claim by a woman must be yielded to, as a form of compensation for any of the alleged residual shortfalls in the female equality agenda in other areas. You are saying that grievous wrongs against fathers and children must continue while a single women anywhere feels dissatisfied for any reason. This is a preposterous and amoral position.
The fact that you think I am engaging in hyperbole in referring to “the sprawling legions of wounded men who find themselves in sometimes fatal trouble in our society” indicates the extent of our communications difficulty. Every week, I get roughly half a dozen letters, phone calls or emails from desperate men who have no one else to turn to. That’s more than 4,000 men since I started writing on these subjects, and I should note that, since most of the men affected by these discriminations would be unlikely to read the Irish Times, this is but a tiny proportion of the total. These men have been brutalised by family courts, robbed by swashbuckling judges playing Sir Galahad, thrown out of their homes without a scintilla of substantiated evidence of any wrongdoing – very often in situations where they and their children are being terrorised by someone enjoying the felt omnipotence instilled by our corrupted family law culture – and sometimes driven to the brink of suicide. (Perhaps I need to remind you of the suicide ratio in this State for several decades?)
It is not my job to help these men, although I am glad to do what I can. But it was, for a while, part of your job to help them, and you did not do so. Perhaps – I concede – they did not approach you for help. But I wonder why. Maybe they had read your annual reports.
As for your relying for retrospective protection on the Equal Status Acts which you say “exempt any action that is required under a court order” – I’m afraid that, like little boys and biro stains, it won’t wash. There was nothing to stop you taking an advocatory position on the treatment of men by family courts, in the same way as the EA has championed a range of causes from gay rights to travellers’ rights, quite separately from pursuing test cases. If the will existed, the way would have been found. I am happy to see that, since your departure, the EA has made opposition to discrimination against single fathers a matter of policy.
And, ah yes, Dr Coulter. I and others tore Dr Coulter’s report to shreds until nothing of it remained to sense or reason, and she ignored any such interventions and proceeded as per her orders. Her conclusion that men did not suffer discrimination was based on two Orwellian distortions. She said that most family law orders were made by “consent”, without saying what consent means. For a man facing a family law hearing, “consent” means grabbling at any straw of a concession offered on the steps of the court, in the certain knowledge that he will be defenestrated if he goes inside.
Dr Coulter also introduced us to a new meaning of the word “custody”. Informing us that most disputes now result in “joint custody”, she omitted the small print: “with daily care and control to the mother”. To be told that you have “joint custody” of your child but cannot see her is a little – only a very little – like being told that you own your clothes but may not wear them.
Then, to your general philosophical/ideological position. In principle there is nothing wrong with it. The problem resides with your failure to track, without fear or favour, all actually existing structural discrimination in Irish life. Even many diehard feminists would now regard as laughable your characterisation of the structures and systems in our society as currently organised “to privilege men and disadvantage women”. But this reveals the precise nature of your ideological myopia. You accepted a particular version of Irish society and did not seek to update your model. I look at ALL structures and systems, whereas you are selective about which ones you see. At bottom, I believe that structures and systems which privilege men and disadvantage women, or which privilege women and disadvantage men, need to be addressed. That is the key point of difference between us and it infuses my transparent agenda.
Your contributions to this debate are actually more supportive of my argument than anything I have written myself. You openly acknowledge that, rather than challenge discrimination and inequality wherever you might have found it, you conducted an ideological war on certain selected elements of Irish societal infrastructure, while ignoring inequality that did not suit this programme. This is exactly what I say you did.
I happen to believe that society is the sum of its individual experiences, and that inequality does not always follow ideological patterns. Sometimes new patterns assert themselves and the ideologues struggle to keep up. Sometimes the ideologues turn blind eyes. You seem to be suggesting that you had no responsibility, as head of the “Equality” Authority, to defend a man who was suffering discrimination – as a man – at the hands of another man, or indeed a woman, because this, ipso facto, cannot be defined as “structural” disadvantage. Is that really your position?
While it is certainly the case that much of the discrimination suffered by men because they are men is experienced at the most intimate, personal level, in the deepest state of loneliness and at the hands of a secretive and protected system, it is also the case that the source of this discrimination is structural. It is systemic, systematic and a matter of policy. No man can tackle it alone. It was your job to tackle it and you refused to do so.
But your position that equality must be seen in the collective context rather than in the lives of individuals is puzzling also since so much of the Equality Authority’s campaigning was conducted through test cases, which usually involved individuals who had acquired standing on a particular issue involving discrimination. You were happy to represent individuals when their grievances fitted your ideological programme, but not otherwise.
Your claim to have addressed yourself to changing structures and systems so as to create “a better society for women and men” would be laudable had you actually done it. But you did not. You addressed only those structures and systems that corresponded to your ideological prejudices. The rest you ignored, which means that many, many men, and many of these men’s children, are infinitely unhappier now than they might have been. Like a piano tuner who tuned only the white keys and refused to touch or listen to the black notes, you left the instrument as out of tune as it ever was, only in a different way.
This is especially lamentable because you were the first CEO of the Equality Authority, and therefore in a position to define its terms and lay down principles and structures capable of generating a true concept of equality. Your job was to target harmful discrimination, not to conduct a war against one half of the population, allegedly – I say allegedly – on behalf of the other half.
You failed to do your job as it should have been done. I am clearer now than I was at the beginning of this exchange as to why this happened – and infinitely more dismayed.
Thank you for the debate. I enjoyed it. Yours truly,
From: Niall Crowley
To: John Waters
You persist in trying to turn this exchange into some form of evaluation of my role in the Equality Authority. I suppose I could do likewise in relation to your role as a journalist. This seems however to trivialise a necessary debate on gender equality. Unless of course you have some other agenda at play.
You are fully aware of the purpose, function and boundaries of the Equality Authority and yet you choose to ignore this. I have told you personally on occasion and you seem to have access to correspondence I have been involved in with other people. However, for clarity, let me reiterate:-
1. The Equality Authority has a broad remit to promote equality and to combat discrimination. However it has this remit in a constrained field – in the areas covered by the Employment Equality Acts and the Equal Status Acts. This mandate governed both promotional or advocacy work as you refer to it as well as casework. You know that some of the matters you raise fall outside this remit – in fact some are even dealt with by other state agencies.
2. Actions taken on foot of court orders and actions taken on foot of other pieces of legislation are exempted from the equality legislation. The Equality Authority has raised this as an issue in the past to no avail. You have never raised this issue. You know that other matters you raise fall into this exemption.
3. The legislation is based on an individual enforcement model. It is individuals who can allege discrimination under the Acts and take a case not whole groups such as men. You know that you are demanding casework where this model is an insurmountable barrier.The statutory mandate given to the Equality Authority sets the boundaries not only for strategic test cases it might take but for all work carried out by the Equality Authority. The Equality Authority did, on a number of occasions, make proposals to remove relevant exemptions in the equality legislation. John Waters at no point supported such initiatives.
Yet you persist in raising and reiterating these matters and seeking action where action is not possible. This seems to me to be the real and only ideological myopia in this exchange.
You set out your belief that society is the sum of its individual experiences. I think that this is a limited and limiting understanding of society. It seems to be the core disagreement in this exchange. I believe that society has to also be understood as encompassing wider structures and systems that govern and shape the space for these individual experiences. Social problems are not just a creation of individual experiences. Social problems are deeply rooted in how society is organised – structures and systems. The roots of social problems lie in these structures and systems – that is why structures and systems which privilege men and disadvantage women need to be addressed. That will benefit both men and women because these structures and systems create negative individual experiences for women and for men. It is in the immediate interests of both men and women therefore to change these strutures and systems.
Your dismissal of Dr Carol Coulter is telling. You are put out by respected, evidence-based, innovative and high-quality research that calls into question one of the basic tenets that you have based your campaigning on. The family law courts emerge in this research untainted by any systematic bias against men. You responded by seeking, in your own words, to tear it to shreds. Your myths had to be sustained: ideology, it appears, had to triumph over objective reality.
And still you persist in mis-quoting me. I did not, as you suggest, say that the Equality Authority has no responsibility to defend a man who experiences discrimination as a man. It clearly does have this responsibility and it has fulfilled this responsibility. You choose to ignore that fact – another fact that fails to uphold your myths.
Moreover, it is hardly accurate to say that the Equality Authority has now made it a “central item of strategic policy” to seek to dismantle “legal and societal discrimination against single fathers”. The current strategic plan includes a reference to the “equal sharing of caring rights and responsibilities between women and men”. This is one sentence in a thirty-one page plan. One year of the plan has now passed and there is no evidence of new initiatives in this area. It would appear that, unsurprisingly, the statutory mandate still holds.
Thank you too John for engaging with me in this debate.