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Anger and evidence: The role of emotion in child support policy reform

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-24, 12:07 authored by Cook, K, Natalier, KA
In recent years, researchers have argued that an examination of emotion is essential to analyses of gendered power. Working in alignment with this project, studies have analysed power and emotion at an individual level, but there is a dearth of research examining how gendered emotional responses to systemic power reinforce and perpetuate the gendered exercise of power during policymaking process. As such, we have little understanding of how emotions play an organising role in the reproduction of systemic gender inequities. To examine these processes, we focus on the institutional responses to a highly emotional and gendered political issue. Over the last decade, Australia has seen extensive reforms to its child custody laws and child support system, stemming from a Public Inquiry into Child Custody conducted in 2003. The impetus for this inquiry arose after intense lobbying by men’s rights groups who claimed that they were the victims of oppressive policies and administrative systems that impinged on their rights as fathers and disproportionately favoured the interests of mothers. Conversely, government and academic research pointed to the financial hardships faced by lone mothers and fathers’ widespread non-compliance with custody and child support agreements. Focusing exclusively on reforms to the child support system that resulted from the 2003 Inquiry process, recent analyses have noted the gendered treatment of witnesses and their evidence and the material and symbolic outcomes that disproportionately disadvantaged women and their resident children. While these analyses have identified the systemic operation of gendered power, they do not explain why men’s accounts of the problem and its solutions were privileged. In this paper, we present the results of content and discourse analyses of witness statements and public submissions to the Inquiry. The findings suggest that men’s and women’s emotional responses were referenced to whether they felt that the child support system privileged their interests, and their partner’s perceived deference to that system. Men’s and women’s emotional responses were afforded more or less legitimacy during the policy making process. Men’s anger was interpreted as evidence of the injustices faced by fathers, but women’s anger was dismissed as self-interest and reflective of a bias against fathers. Further, claims made by women produced angry responses from committee members, aligning with Lyman’s (2004) claim that dominant groups feel defensively angry when it is suggested that they examine their privilege. These gendered emotional processes were incorporated into policy recommendations that buttressed male privilege and perpetuated gender inequities. Cumulatively, these processes had substantial effects on the social distribution of resources. These findings highlight the strategic potential of masculine emotion in law reform processes in which social scientific evidence may be depreciated in favour of more resonant accounts of experience.


Publication title

8th International Interpretive Policy Analysis Conference Societies in Conflict: Experts, Publics and Democracy


Panel 14: Emotions and Discourses: Towar


IPA Program Committee


School of Social Sciences



Place of publication

Vienna, Austria

Event title

8th International Interpretive Policy Analysis Conference Societies in Conflict: Experts, Publics and Democracy

Event Venue

Vienna, Austria

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


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  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Other law, politics and community services not elsewhere classified

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