I’m envious of my brother. He’s a creative. He once made a complete set of dining room furniture from scratch. He’s built fitted wardrobes, beds, tables and chairs; for a while, he even fitted kitchens for a living. No household task is beyond him. And me? I can barely put a shelf up straight, although I’ve never given up trying.
This got me wondering. Why is my brother so confident and able, while I’m a complete klutz? I guess you could say he learned from the best—my dad. My dad was great at DIY, and although he never stopped me from having a go, he never spent time showing me how to do things. My brother, on the other hand, was always at his shoulder. Perhaps I should have spent more time watching my dad, but it never occurred to me, and it probably didn’t occur to him either.
And yet, in many ways, my dad was a feminist. He totally supported my mom, who worked full-time from the moment we kids started school. Eventually, my mom was earning more than he was, but he never minded. He simply accepted that her career paid better. Once he retired, he took on most of the household chores and did everything he could to make it easier for my mom to succeed her demanding job.
So why does the world need feminist fathers? I think there could be many reasons, but in essence, it boils down to this: Shouldn’t we live by the code that we are all—whatever our gender, orientation, race, or any other factor—worthy of equal respect and value? Shouldn’t everyone be free to craft their own lifestyle without being hide-bound to outdated ideas about what is considered ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’?
If we truly want to live in a world that respects everyone equally, then it’s essential that we train our kids well. We want our daughters to grow up empowered to live the lifestyle of their choosing. We want our sons to acknowledge the strength of an equal partnership and to view women as allies.
In his keynote speech at the recent United States of Women conference, United States President Barack Obama declared about himself: ‘This is what a feminist looks like’. But being a feminist father is complicated. It’s not easy to pick our way through the intricacies of being a feminist dad. Like all lifestyle approaches, it takes a lot of self-reflection to find ways to promote feminism in the home without sounding ‘preachy’.
Often, showing by example can carry a far stronger message than what we actually say. So, here are a few points for your consideration.
Be a role model.
Actions speak louder than words, so the way you behave makes all the difference to how feminism is viewed and your daughter’s perception of herself. Being a good role model, starting with how you treat the women in your life.
You may think that it doesn’t make much difference how you behave, but children absorb attitudes from a very young age. If you are respectful and honoring towards the mother of your children, your kids will see this and pick up on it, too. By showing overtly that you value her contribution and lifestyle choices, you’ll be helping your children to value them too.
If she works outside the home, that’s a powerful message to your kids, but how you affirm her role is also critical. Is her career deemed as important as yours? Do you take time off if the kids are sick, or is it expected that she’ll be the main carer?
Do you welcome and value her thoughts and opinions? Of course, you don’t always have to agree, but do you treat her views with respect and model positive disagreement?
What about when you get it wrong? Do you admit you’ve been stupid and apologize or do you brush it under the rug?
Challenge gender stereotyping.
There’s plenty of discussion around gender stereotyping at the moment. Witness the discussion around kids’ toys for example, and whether they really should be designated as ‘toys for girls’ and ‘toys for boys’. Do girls really need pink tools or lego bricks to make them feel able to use them?
This stereotyping can extend to other areas, too. It’s easy to have different expectations around behavior. Are your boys allowed to be noisy and rambunctious, but your girls are expected to be more quiet and sedate? Maybe your son is expected to ‘show respect’ to his sister by giving in to her or helping her out all the time. Having consistent expectations can make a great difference to your kids’ self-image.
Insist on equality.
Rather like my dad’s unspoken attitudes, perhaps there’s differentiation between the sexes in matters like household chores. If a task demands strength and resilience, it’s often given to the boy, whereas lighter tasks usually fall to the girl. By including all your kids equally in every kind of chore, including those requiring strength e.g. moving a heavy item or chopping wood, you’ll be reinforcing equality.
And don’t take no for an answer! Even if the girls feel reluctant to flex their muscles, or the boys think ironing is ‘sissy’ , insist that they take part. That’s a great opportunity for discussion about sexist expectations and attitudes.
And what about hobbies and interests? Does your daughter feel able to enjoy tough endurance or contact sports? Can she feel proud of a strong athletic body? At long last, some companies are recognizing the importance of strength and fitness towards body image, but affirming this in your daughter is far more powerful.
Take every opportunity to talk.
You don’t have to look very far in the media today to find examples of sexism, double standards, and outright discrimination. These can be great discussion points when you’re talking to your kids.
You could discuss how women are often judged by how they look. Maybe you could analyze how sports interviewers ask different questions of men and women, or reporters comment on a woman’s looks rather than her performance.
Talk about movies you see. Is disrespectful behavior towards women considered acceptable if it’s funny? Are men portrayed as incompetent when they’re doing household chores or taking care of kids?
One of the best ways we can tackle some of today’s alarming attitudes toward women is by building for the future. As fathers, you play a critical role in helping the next generation to cherish women and promote feminism.
The way you act, and the way you train your daughters and sons, will have an untold impact on the future. We don’t want to live in a world where women are demeaned and under-valued. By starting today, you’ll be helping to change the future.
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