Backlash Against Feminism: Custody and Access Reform Debates of the Late 20th Century

Faculty Author Type

Emeritus Faculty [Susan B. Boyd]

Published In

Canadian Journal of Women and the Law

Document Type


Publication Date



Child custody - Canada; Family law reform - Canada; Feminist jurisprudence; Men's movement


This article examines the images of feminism and women’s groups in family law reform debates, particularly in the 1998 presentations of fathers’ rights advocates and related participants in Canada’s public consultations on child custody and access. These images are placed in the context of an increasingly sophisticated “backlash” literature that critiques feminist engagement with law and public policy. The article suggests that the fathers’ rights discourse invokes a caricature of feminism and identifies several mechanisms through which the discrediting of feminism occurred in the 1998 hearings. Feminism is also portrayed as a threat to dominant images of family, including the heterosexual norm. These portrayals of feminism and women’s groups in turn influence the law reform process due to the way in which “legitimate” knowledge is constructed. The article concludes with a discussion of why feminist voices are susceptible to discrediting and offers some suggestions for reasserting feminist analysis in areas that are critical to women.