Here in ladyblogland, we do a lot of talking about feminism, and an awful lot of reading about it, too. One of the interesting topics I keep running into is the phenomenon of men only becoming feminists or feminist allies after having daughters. On the surface, this is problematic for several reasons. First, feminism being examined as part of a man’s narrative is really just reframing women’s issues as they relate to men, instead of examining them on their own merits, thus turning women into secondary characters in men’s stories. BOOM! Patriarchy. Second, the idea that the concept of treating people equally only occurs to people after it directly affects them or their loved ones is a little discouraging. And finally, shouldn’t these dudes have come around to gender equality without having to have daughters to push them into it?
Well, as much as I’d love to pretend that we were all born with fully-formed social ideologies, most of us have a bit of a journey before we end up there. So I decided to ask around within my peer group, which includes a lot of fathers of daughters, and see how these men relate to feminism, how much of a role their daughters played in forming their views, and how they view issues of sexism, gender roles, and various other “women’s issues.” I conducted a survey fueled by my own curiosity on the subject, and found some interesting conclusions.
Now, keep in mind that this survey is in no way scientifically or statistically sound. I talked to men who I know, or whose wives, girlfriends, or daughters I know. As a pretty outspoken liberal feminist, I tend to be surrounded by like-minded people, although certainly not exclusively, as the number of posts on Facebook that I have to hide have shown me. I surveyed men ranging in age from 32 to 64, with the most common age range being 33-36. Respondents were from all over the U.S., and represent a variety of occupations, from technology to academia and education to the military. The ages of their daughters ranged from 2 to 36, but most have daughters under 10 years old.
All that being said, let’s take a look at some of the things I found.
All respondents identified as either feminist, feminist ally, or supporter of feminist issues.
That’s not really surprising, because who else is going to volunteer to participate in a survey about feminism and fatherhood? However, what was surprising to me was that:
A majority of them identified that way before having children.
All but two, as a matter of fact. So, not as much “fatherhood changed me” as I would have thought.
However, having daughters made them more aware of certain issues.
While I was always a supporter of women’s reproductive rights, I’m much more interested and involved in that arena. My decision on which state my family and I could retire to is heavily influenced by how they handle women’s health issues. I started donating to Planned Parenthood after the Komen debacle. -H.P.
…I was peripherally aware of sex shaming and discouraging women from powerful or important jobs, but it’s much more acute now. I want my daughter to be able to do whatever she has the aptitude for and be as driven as she needs to be without being called a bitch for it. -E.M.
I knew about it before but am keenly more aware now: children’s toys. The idea that there are segregated toys for boys and girls, and girls’ toys are pink and boys’ can be varying colors. -E.B.
Many have noticed changes in their language and behavior.
I’m not sure exactly when this started for me, but it has become more apparent to me as time goes on. Rape jokes are not funny. I quit watching Family Guy years ago, my daughter is 4, mainly for this reason. It has also become more obvious to me how women and female-traits are used in a derogatory/pejorative sense to make fun of and degrade [men]. I don’t think this was extremely common in my vernacular, but I’ve tried hard to stop using language in that manner. -J.M.
My wife and I have promised not to speak disparagingly about our own bodies. This is actually much harder for me because I’ve struggled with negative body issues since I was a kid. I’ve also tried to work in respect for body autonomy. I grew up in a family where you gave everyone a kiss upon greeting them and when saying goodbye. My youngest does not like giving kisses. It seems to be everyone’s reaction to force her, because that’s the “respectful thing to do.” I’ve made it known that if she doesn’t want to kiss you, you’re not getting it. I don’t want her growing up thinking that her body belongs to anyone but her. -H.P.
I feel that I absorbed a lot of society’s assumptions and attitudes towards women growing up, especially sexist language, that I have slowly been eliminating. Since I’ve had daughters for most of my adult life, I can’t say for sure that this is due to having them or just growing as a person throughout adulthood. I would say that I try to be careful to not repeat those messages around them and to recognize them in my own thoughts and speech. -P.G.
They’re integrating feminist and pro-gender equality perspectives and actions in their workplaces.
At work, I try to make a point to include feminist and gender studies perspectives on the literature I teach, through the reading I assign and the discussion points I raise in class. -W.H.
I’m currently in the process of becoming a sexual assault victim’s advocate. While many might argue this isn’t only a women’s issue, they are statistically more likely to be victims, so I count it as one. I also have frequent discussions with my co-workers about objectification (mostly in the form of fat-shaming). -H.P.
We have a family bakery, my wife is 100% the boss. It fits her personality better than mine, and she’s good at it. She often gets invited to speak at conferences on behalf of women and minority business owners, and we tend to reactively donate money to women’s rights groups depending on what’s going on politically in Texas. For example, after the state senate effectively banned most women’s health clinics in Texas under the guise of making them safer (but really because they were the only places low income women could get contraceptives and abortions) we shifted our focus to Planned Parenthood. We also took some of the staff to watch Wendy Davis’s filibuster, and later part of the protest when they illegally changed the timing on the recorded vote. -E.M.
They’re teaching their sons, too.
It doesn’t happen often, but we do sometimes find him exposed to casual sexism like “that’s not ladylike.” It happens often in media as well, especially in commercials and older cartoons. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him repeat anything, we are on top of it if it happens, explaining it in terms of gender reversal. He’s 6, but he has enough empathy to pick up on it. We also take him to rallies, not just to the senate hearing but animal rights, deliveries of baked goods to the local shelter for victims of domestic abuse, etc. to help him foster a general sense of empathy and caring. You can teach specific moments about how to act, but if he can genuinely put himself in someone else’s shoes, it becomes part of who he is. -E.M.
My little boy is quite young (2.5 years old), so he’s not yet very aware of gender per se. But for both my kids, the main way I try to pass on pro-gender equality attitudes is by modeling a respectful, egalitarian relationship with my wife/their mother. -W.H.
My son is only a month old so we haven’t really done much in this area with him yet; however, we do plan to raise him the same as our daughter. We won’t be restricting color choices, game choices, clothing choices, film choices, food choices, etc. based on “gender-norms.” -J.M.
They’re more aware of and engaged with feminist issues.
I do consider myself more invested in feminism after having a daughter because I want her to grow up and live the life she deserves. I feel she should be allowed to do whatever she wants and try to be sensitive to language used in derogatory ways towards and against women. Subtle things like choice of words can have lasting sub-conscious effects. -J.M.
First, putting aside my children’s genders, having children at all has made me more aware of the difficulties women face in negotiating the work/family divide. I’d very much like to see this country institute the humane maternity (and paternity) leave policies that some other countries enjoy. With respect to having a daughter specifically, I’d say that the issue of sexual assault has definitely become more viscerally horrible to me. -W.H.
[I’m now more invested in] the elimination of rape culture and breaking down of systemic barriers to women’s success. -P.G.
I think the pushing of children into certain careers is my pet peeve. It’s pervasive — toys, books, music, television, school — most put women in traditionally feminine careers or helpless roles. I think it’s changing. Hermione was the only one worth a damn on the Harry Potter team. Doc McStuffins is a female Disney character that is a veterinarian, albeit for stuffed animals. Even Disney princesses of late have been more capable, stronger, and less in need of a male counterpoint than before, but it’s all still a work in progress. If my kid doesn’t see female engineers, doctors, scientists and explorers, she’s going to have a hard time identifying with those characters. As a woman of color, it’s doubly difficult to find positive representations of who she could become. -E.M.
They have pretty strong feelings about all of it.
I don’t remember exactly when I decided I was a feminist but it happened after I actually looked into what the term meant and started ignoring the derogatory remarks I had often heard about it growing up. After knowing what gender equality means, I have a hard time believing many [men] devalue their own mother, grandmothers, sisters and other influential women in their lives as much as they say they do. -J.M.
It is very difficult to know that when you look at your daughter you see limitless potential, but when watching the news hear people like Bill O’Reilly ask questions about whether women can be effective presidents. It is difficult to have knowledge that women make up 4.6% of the Fortune 1000 CEOs, and 16% of Fortune 500 Board of Directors. It tells me that no matter how well I raise her, society will always put limits on her potential and that it is reliant upon me to teach her to break through other people’s limits and teach her that her potential is as high as she wants it to be. -E.B.
The strangest thing people ask me is if I’m disappointed to not have a boy, as if there are things that I can’t do with my daughters but could with sons. My biggest struggle is to let them be themselves, even if it doesn’t jive with my personal philosophies. I’m talking about Barbie and princesses. They love that stuff. I attack that with a far gentler touch. I won’t outright tell them how horrible that stuff is, but I’ll work little lessons of empowerment in. We’ll do a free-form story time before bed, and of course, they want to be princesses. I make sure that they are self-rescuing princesses, and many a dragon has fallen before the might of my three-year-old. -H.P.
I’m the first person to say that no one deserves a cookie for showing basic human decency, but I was definitely encouraged and surprised by many of the answers. More importantly, I get the sense that many of these men are having their narratives shaped by their daughters (and wives, mothers, sisters, etc.) instead of the other way around. They’re doing what they can to ensure their daughters will grow up as the protagonists in their own stories, instead of a supporting character in someone else’s.