The first time you look into the eyes of that tiny human being — your child — your life changes forever. You are a parent. You are responsible for more than yourself. And you welcome and embrace the changes. (Some of them, anyway.)
Your experience varies depending on whether your child is a girl or a boy. Our first was a boy, so we heard the typical “lady killer” comments. Our second was a girl; cue the “heart breaker” and “get your shotgun ready” jokes. Gender bias and sexism from day dot.
Being a feminist father might come naturally to you, but for many men it is a learned experience. It’s learned because men don’t experience what women experience. Judgment is placed on a child the moment it’s announced, “it’s a girl!” (and in different ways, “it’s a boy!”) If those “jokes” feel a bit icky to you, you might just be a feminist father.
If you want your daughters to be able to pursue whatever their hearts desire, if you want your sons to treat women as equal human beings, deserving of the same opportunities that they have, you don’t have to walk down the street waving a banner and flashing your man nipples to prove yourself as a feminist.
So how do you know you are a feminist father? And how can you become a better one?
You listen to the experiences of women
This is a biggie. A person’s experience is often invalidated by those who haven’t had the same experience. “Men and women are already treated equally” is a common argument. As a feminist father, you listen to someone else’s story. You accept that it is their truth. And you consider your everyday actions and choices to help break down the barriers others are up against.
You teach & accept that a woman’s choices are her own
You likely won’t ever be blamed for being sexually assaulted because of the clothing that you wore. You probably weren’t ever a grade-school girl being sent home because your spaghetti-strap tank top was “too distracting” for the boys in class. When you talk to your daughter, you teach her about consent, that no one has a right to her body regardless of any external factors. Even if she is laying naked in her front yard, it is her body. And you tell her that again and again.
You raise your daughter to know her power
She is not a damsel in distress. She is given the space to learn and grow to be a confident, independent, empowered person. You pull your daughter in when there is an opportunity to learn a handy skill. You never tell her something is a woman’s or a man’s job. And you encourage her to speak up in an assertive way when she sees someone else being treated unfairly.
You don’t make jokes that perpetuate patriarchy
A feminist knows that his daughter is not his property. You don’t get to “give her away” at a wedding. You don’t get to lock her in her room once she hits puberty. You also don’t force or “allow” the women in your life do things because you know people aren’t property.
You teach your sons about toxic masculinity
Being a father to girls is not a prerequisite for being a feminist dad. Teach your sons about consent (and know that girls aren’t the only victims of sexual abuse). Show them that men can be fully in control of their own actions and words. Teach your boys that tears and healthy displays of emotion are welcome and a sign of intelligence. Let them grow their hair long and wear skirts and nail polish if they want to.
As Barack Obama so poignantly wrote in his Glamour essay, “We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear. We need to keep changing the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality and rewards men for theirs.:
The most transformative trait of a feminist dad is the work that he is willing to do toward unpacking his own bias and challenging his own perceptions. He isn’t afraid to feel uncomfortable. Confronting our prejudices, insecurities, privilege and flaws can get messy. But that is the only way growth happens. Forget about whether you like the word “feminism” or not. Be a feminist dad and watch your children blossom into thoughtful, socially conscious adults that never settle for less than they deserve.