The National Organization for Women’s reputation for honesty and integrity hit an all-time low with the NOW Foundation’s publication of this screed against recognition of Parental Alienation Syndrome. The piece recycles most of the long-discredited notions about PAS we see so often and it does so for the purpose of opposing fathers’ rights to their children. Far worse, in doing so, NOW’s public stance is frankly anti-child. Put succinctly, NOW’s position is anti-science, anti-father and anti-child. Ultimately, it’s anti-mother as well, ironic as that may be.
Over almost thirty years, the science on PAS has been building steadily. In the 1980s, six different researchers working independently began advancing the idea that children sometimes were saddled with a parent who was determined to exclude the other parent from the child’s life. Unsurprisingly, the parent’s campaign of alienation often occurred in the context of divorce and child custody cases. They described the parental behavior and its effects on the children with one researcher, Dr. Richard Gardner, calling those effects Parental Alienation Syndrome.
Over the years, countless researchers and clinicians have observed similar behaviors on the part of parents and some have studied the effects on children which turn out to last a lifetime in some cases. By now, there are several book-length treatises on the subject, the most comprehensive of which is Vanderbilt Psychology professor William Bernet’s compendium Parental Alienation, DSM-5, ICD-11. That book includes papers by some 70 mental health researchers around the world as well as 630 citations to scholarly articles on PAS. The undeniable fact of parental alienation is a regular feature of custody cases in courtrooms around the country and the world. Case history after case history has been recorded by researchers like Linda Gottlieb in her recent book The Parental Alienation Syndrome: A Family Therapy and Collaborative Systems Approach to Amelioration.
Given this weight of scholarly evidence, how does the NOW Foundation describe PAS?
PAS is a tactical ploy used by attorneys whose clients (primarily fathers) are seeking custody of their children.And who are these countless researchers who, over 30 + years have pioneered the study of PAS?
Proponents of PAS[are] predominantly right-wing “fathers’ rights” groups…How does the NOW Foundation describe the huge mass of empirical research accumulated by countless researchers in all parts of the globe?
…no valid, empirical evidence exists for such a mental disorder…The intellectual dishonesty of NOW’s piece would be astonishing were it not so common. For a long time, it’s been impossible to pretend that their sometimes hilarious misstatements of fact can be attributed to excusable error. The simple fact is that the many falsehoods in its piece on PAS are intentional. NOW has proven itself time and again to be anti-father. Its opposition to shared parenting litigation alone proves the point, and its opposition to inclusion of PAS in the DSM-5 repeats the performance. And that, of course, is the point. NOW’s piece on PAS has nothing to do with the reality of PAS, its scientific basis, who it benefits, who it harms, etc. It has everything to do with NOW’s quixotic opposition to fathers’ obtaining equal rights to their children in family courts.
I say ‘quixotic’ because NOW has always championed women in the workplace. What’s obvious to most people is that the more fathers are allowed, by mothers and family courts, to care for their children, the more NOW’s dream of women’s empowerment in the workplace can become a reality. And the more fathers are marginalized in their children’s lives, the more women will find themselves marginalized at work. It can’t work any other way, but when it comes to NOW, it seems that misandry trumps even women’s power. Amazing, but true.
Feminists have always had a disturbing willingness to Just Make Stuff Up. When Gloria Steinem wanted to inveigh against anorexia and other eating disorders, she proclaimed in writing that 150,000 girls die of anorexia every year. The real figure was somewhere between 50 and 75, so Steinem was off by a factor of 2,000 to 3,000. It wasn’t a mistake, it was intentional falsification. When Susan Brownmiller wanted to defend false rape accusers, she invented the “fact” that only 2% of rape claims are fabricated. At the time there was literally nothing to support her claim, and subsequent research has shown it to be wildly inaccurate, but she made it anyway. Long after the Duke III lacrosse players had been ruled to be factually innocent of all wrongdoing following false claims of rape by Crystal Mangum, feminist Amanda Marcotte proclaimed that they had in fact “held her down” and raped her. In each case, as in countless others, there’s a desired end and, lacking actual information supporting said end, feminists Just Make Stuff Up. So NOW’s piece on PAS is part of a long tradition of feminist disinformation on a wide range of topics.
But it turns out that there are consequences to following the Just Make Stuff Up credo, and NOW’s piece on PAS is a good example. In the first place, opposition to inclusion of PAS in the DSM-5 hurts mothers as much as it hurts fathers. For years PAS opponents have claimed, as NOW does, that PAS is just a trial tactic used by fathers against mothers. But that’s not true. As even a casual glance at the literature on PAS would have told them, both mothers and fathers sometimes use alienating tactics against the other parent. So when NOW argues against recognition of PAS by the APA, it’s arguing, among other things, against a mother’s ability to prove alienating behavior on the part of her ex-husband and gain for her more power in the ongoing custody battle.
Again, the irony of NOW’s opposition to mothers’ power in family courts is obvious to all – all except NOW, that is.
But if stark dishonesty were the only problem with NOW’s piece, it would merely take its place in the voluminous annals of feminist intellectual legerdemain. Sadly, bad as the piece is factually, that’s actually its best feature. That’s because every attack on PAS recognition is an attack on children. The sad truth is that some parents do alienate their children in the wake of divorce. About that, there can be no doubt; too many children, now grown up, have told their stories of how one parent or the other tried – and sometimes succeeded – at turning them against the other parent. That alienation is child abuse and, through the diligent research of countless mental health professionals, its effects on children are coming to be known. They can last a lifetime.
For example, Dr. Gabrielle Shapiro, M.D. has described her psychiatric training, her (at first) grudging acceptance of the phenomenon of PAS and “its devastating and long-lasting impact on the development and attachments of children who are victims of high-conflict divorce.”
She goes on to add that parental alienation of children “can lead to severe lifelong pathologic consequences for the child who has lost the reciprocal nurturing relationship with one of his primary attachment figures. Often these dysfunctional relationship patterns persist throughout a lifetime, despite the best of therapeutic interventions.”
So that’s what NOW is plumping for in its piece against PAS inclusion: “devastating and long-lasting impact[s]” on children and “severe, lifelong pathologic consequences” that often can’t be addressed by therapy.
Few children will thank them.