Riot Parent, Riot Kids: Reflections on Teen Sexuality, Becoming a Feminist, and the 90s Riot Grrrl Movement

A feminist father recalls raising a baby while in college, and how the Riot Grrl movement changed him.

The other day I found myself exclaiming to my two daughters, sixteen and fourteen, “Don’t have sex until you’re in your twenties, but here are some condoms!” I’m not sure if there is a better example of sending a mixed message.

Let me explain. The other night I discovered my oldest daughter had spent the night with her boyfriend.  I have consistently brought up sex with them and their older brother who now lives on his own with a gaggle of twenty-something young men in West Oakland. I have consistently been rebuffed, scoffed at, silenced by their stares, and punctuated with a rolling of the eyes or a sigh of exhaustion. ‘Dad, please … .

I don’t let it stop me.  I know I’m not someone they want to confide in, and I actually cringe, imagining if I was. I want to approach the discussion of their bodies, their rights, and sex in general differently than the terse warning I received from my father to keep my dick in my pants, or the silence around the subject from my mother.

There is nothing wrong with sex; it’s powerful and beautiful and a profound ritual of entering adulthood. Clearly, it’s also something they see all around them, so to pretend they aren’t aware of it and don’t have opportunities to engage in it, would be blatant denial.  Parenting by denial is never a good approach to raising children.

However, although I broach the subject any chance I get, we don’t actually talk as directly as I’d like.  That’s why I know I need help from other adults in our lives, as well as examples of people or movements reclaiming the body, offering other ways to view sex that empowers young women.

Sadly, there’s not a lot out there for them. Besides a few adult women in their lives that they can turn to, there is almost nothing in mainstream society that speaks to young women about their growth and sexual desires in positive, realistic and honest ways.

So I find myself saying things like, “I don’t think you should have sex until you’re older, however, here are condoms.” But now I also add every chance I get, “and remember … please remember … you can always stop, you can always say no, even after you’re in the car, in the room, out of your clothes, in the bed. No means no. Stop means stop.”

Fathering made me a feminist.

In an attempt to provide those positive examples of body ownership and empowerment, I searched out zines about self-defense, sexual abuse, and positive sexual experiences written by other young women.  While doing so, I rediscovered the 90s Riot Grrrl movement with its ferocity, anger, and arrogance.

Fathering made me a feminist. As a young father with a newborn, I was served papers by the county of Santa Barbara to officially notify me that I must “provide” for my child.  I was served those papers, while I was rocking him in my arms and cleaning up the house I shared with my girlfriend.  The cop stood there, scolding me that I should be out getting a job.  At twenty-one, I said nothing back to him, afraid of his power and authority.  “Okay,” I said as I shut the door.

But I was fucking angry. My girlfriend and I were both full-time students. We both had part-time jobs.  We took turns doing what needed to get done. We switched it up when one of us got tired of, say, balancing the checkbook (or more likely made too many mistakes). We argued and fought, but loved and spent a lot of time focusing on what was important: our son. We sacrificed our autonomy or ability to participate in things other 20 year olds were doing. We were a tight, angry fist of domesticity.

The number of times I was told I couldn’t parent because I was a man was infuriating.  I was told I hadn’t dressed him properly, leaving home socks and shoes, or that I knew nothing about his well-being, despite being the one to take him to many doctor’s appointments, or that I would hurt him or drop him, which I sometimes did, but not because I was a man. I was determined to show them all wrong.

I took him a few times to various classes during my first year at University of California- Santa Barbara. I didn’t do this to prove a point about young parents, but because I had no childcare and a number of my teachers made no exceptions about attendance.

I remember having to change him on one teacher’s desk after class, her face full of disdain, her body recoiling. It was one of the most awkward yet proud moments of my life.  I didn’t then see the irony in being so unwelcome with a child in that space.

I was becoming more radical in my politics trying to figure out my place in the world, my mixed race heritage, my sense of class, and perhaps most profoundly my definitions of manhood, of fatherhood, of gender. I was parenting a boy who would grow to be a man. What kind of man would he be?  What kind of man was I?

After two years in Santa Barbara, we left and headed for the Bay Area.  For my last semester in the spring of 1992, I signed up for a feminist studies class. One of my last assignments was to share with the class how the ideas we had addressed might impact our daily lives. For the assignment, I walked in with my son and a diaper bag filled with bottles and food. “This is how,” I said. I got a B.

Another student walked in with a bunch of zines, some 7 inches, and one bad attitude. Riot Grrrl found me and has stayed with me all these years as I meandered through graduate school, as I reexamined gender relations in my own relationships with women, as I became a father to two girls, and as my children have grown up.

I was never a riot grrrl but because of them I was forced to compare closely what I let my son do at ten and what I let my daughters do at the same age.  Because of Riot Grrrl, I challenged myself to address sex in positive, open ways; I encouraged my son and my daughters to speak with other adults in their lives if they couldn’t speak to me or their mother. These subjects can be hard to discuss, but I want the courage to do it.

As I have rediscovered Riot Grrrl while looking for things that might help my daughters navigate their world today, I was reminded about their courage to speak up, to risk saying what needed to be said. I know that remaining silent, like Audre Lorde said, is dangerous; it’ll come back and punch you in the mouth from the inside.  I now know what she means by that. She means that what matters is communication and taking those risks to share the stories of who we are and what we believe.

I work hard to see my daughters both as young women and as individual people, not limited to their gender, but not disconnected from it. I seek to respect my children’s autonomy and privacy as young people. I am learning to let go of my kids, trust their power and to keep on talking despite feeling uncomfortable. As I do these things, I am learning to listen to them and learning about myself through fathering.

Perhaps none of this is about sex education or being a man in society today or about the 90s. It’s about one person simply learning to see himself and those around him as the complex people they are: full of contradictions, fickle to a fault, sometimes brave, sometimes inspired and trying to live a life worth living. And of course, it’s about trying to hand my daughters condoms.

—Photo Cherrysweetdeal/Flickr

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About Tomas Moniz

Tomas edits and writes for Rad Dad, loves zines, and lives with two amazing daughters, a bunch of chickens, bees, a cat and dog in south Berkeley.

Comments

  1. I loved this piece. Thanks.

  2. Janet Dell says:

    Tomas: In all honesty, do you think feminism made your job easier OR harder as a father. From my life experience, from seeing what my husband and his brother have been put thru in the family court system, I would say their lives are much harder because of feminism. I am talking about mainstream feminism though, the ones with the political clout, ala NOW etc. They fight shared parenting at every turn then cry “We want fathers to step up and be more involved”.

  3. Father of two daughters here.

    I personally know hundreds of long-time married fathers, with good relationships with their children of a varying ages, from adults who are parents themselves down to newborns. The find feminism to be either irrelevant or a negative influence.

  4. Anthony Zarat says:

    “The number of times I was told I couldn’t parent because I was a man was infuriating.”

    Feminists routinely use both the law and culture to denigrate and marginalize fathers. When conservatntive politicians propose legislation that challenges the presumption of paternal incompetence, feminists are against it. The NOW routinely uses “action alerts” to prevent shared parenting bills from becoming law. Before calling yourself a feminist, you should consider carefully the difference between the things that feminists say, and the things that they do.

    http://www.minnpost.com/minnesota-blog-cabin/2012/04/custody-laws-our-government-inaction

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      It should probably be pointed out that one of the people fighting for gender equality in the article you mentioned identified as feminist.

    • Peter Houlihan says:

      “It seems that, to the Democrats, support of the bill would undermine women’s rights. But, as the grandmother testified, as a feminist she is offended by the current law. She said that feminists like her fought in the 1970s for equality, not for laws that favor women.”

      Not that this is true anywhere near often enough, but it shows that someone can call themselves a feminist and still stand up for men’s rights.

      • Anthony Zarat says:

        ” .. shows that someone can call themselves a feminist and still stand up for men’s rights ,,”

        I think that most self-identified feminists believe in equality. However, feminism is more than a group of people expressing their opinions. Feminism is the most powerful political lobby in human history. It does not matter what individual teminists SAY. What matters is what the titanic feminist juggernaut DOES.

        Feminist institutions universally fight against equal rights for men, boys, and fathers. Feminist institutions such as the NOW use their vast political, financial, and instittional power to demonise men, to marginalize fathers, and to cripple boys. If there has ever been even one exception to this, I do not know about it.

  5. John Schtoll says:

    @peter: You are correct, myself, I really do look at different levels of feminism, grassroots (like most people on here) and people more main stream, i.e. people like NOW. NOW as an organization is all about getting power for women at the expense of everyone else. Have you seen their action alerts about shared parenting, whenever a bill is being written and considered, they issue these action alerts with instruction on how to defeat the bill.

  6. Anthony Zarat says:

    Hot off the presses:

    TODAY, Monday Apr 30, the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) is celebrating the defeat of A330. The bill would have granted New York fathers equal custody rights.

    Predictably, the NOW declared multiple action alerts to stop the bill. They went so far as to publish a series of articles in the pro-feminist Albany Times Union, calling fathers “predominantly ineffective,” saying that most fathers are “not involved in the lives of .. children”, and affirming that the “NOW has always favored primary caregiver presumption legislation to ensure stability and continuity of care for children.”

    http://www.glennsacks.com/nysp/index.htm

    The feminists defeated the bill using every under-handed tactic in the book. Ultimately, the bill was shelved based on non-existent technicalities.

    The bill was defeated along party lines. Republicans defended equal rights, while Democrats fought for continued discrimination.

    • And yet, these hypocrites have the audacity to bemoan and criticise men for not doing their fair share of child care.

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