Being a man and trying to discuss feminism is…tricky. To say the least.
I’m a white, heterosexual male. Because of that, I enjoy privilege. That wasn’t always so easy for me to recognize or admit, but it’s true.
I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. I have no idea how it feels to have my self-worth tied to my waistline. I will never have to worry about dressing too provocatively to the point where that might be translated into a good enough reason for someone to rape me. And I don’t have to be concerned about getting paid 77 cents while my equally skilled coworkers earn a dollar for doing the same work.
So we’ve established I’m not a woman, I can never have the proper perspective to understand what women endure, and I’ve been told by “actual” feminists in the past that I’m no feminist at all. Which all begs the question, why am I bothering to discuss it in the first place?
The answer is because I’m the father of two boys who need to learn some valuable lessons feminism has to offer.
A man who is inherently incapable of understanding feminism charged with instilling feminist values in boys who will also be unable to fully understand them. It’s an interesting little conundrum, isn’t it?
I recently came across Will playing with some toys in the sand. I asked him what he was doing and the following conversation happened:
Me: “What’s your knight doing?”
Will: “Rescuing the princess.”
Me: “Cool. But what about if the princess rescued the knight?”
Will: “Dad. That’s not how it works.”
To be honest, I’ve struggled with this for years. I like to think of myself as a feminist. And I say that because I believe the following:
Women are equal to men. Women should have the same opportunities as men. Women are just as suited to leadership positions as men. Women should get equal pay for equal work. And both women and men should always strive to make this a reality.
Seems simple enough, right? But it’s not. Unfortunately feminism is just like anything else — filled with a multitude of people who don’t all agree on everything. In fact, when perusing the comment section of Slate or Jezebel, it’s a common occurrence to see arguments regarding which type of feminism is best, and who can truly lay claim to the title.
I watched a friend write an introspective article copping to the lustful thoughts that occupy his mind whenever he looks at a woman, and how he’d like to be a little more free of them. While I didn’t agree with everything he said, it seemed he had a genuine desire to stop objectifying women so much and focus on them as people instead of objects. I thought to myself “Now THAT right there must definitely be feminism at work.”
He was SLAMMED by “real” feminists who accused him of “policing men’s thoughts and scrubbing them clean of anything resembling sexual desire,” and fantasizing about “snapping his fingers, one by one.” Despite having two daughters and expressing how uncomfortable he had become about the continuous loop of desirous thoughts of women in his head, my friend — a self-described feminist — was kicked off the feminist train for reasons I still don’t understand.
As for me, I was lambasted back in 2011 for the radical idea that holding doors open for women, walking them to cars, and offering to pay for dinner on a date are all examples of common courtesy. Little did I know that is sexist, misogynistic, and indicative of the patriarchal world in which we live.
I was raised to hold doors open for women (and men), to pay for dinner on a date with no expectations, and to always make sure a woman gets to her door/car safe and sound. I maintain these are polite actions no matter what the inference is by others. But according to many feminists, the good manners are only good manners TO ME, and not respecting their difference of opinion about good manners is bad manners. And misogynistic.
Membership in the Feminist Club seems an elusive thing, as is the answer to the questions about feminism and my boys. Truthfully, my question began to shift from “HOW should I raise feminist boys?” to “SHOULD I raise feminist boys?”
My response at being called a woman-hater was to get defensive. And that’s unfortunate because men like myself should be natural allies regarding feminism.
As an outspoken proponent of involved fatherhood, I’m thrilled to see working dads spending more time at home as well as the skyrocketing number of full-time stay-at-home dads. And I realize that can’t happen without more women entering the workforce and being paid enough to support their families. It’s why we write articles highlighting the gender wage gap and seek to end it, and want a better world for our sons and daughters in general. Because we realize this isn’t an “Us vs. Them” battle, as the shifting priorities and goals of men and women are intricately tied together.
Yet many of us leave with a very sour taste in our mouths after dealing with some feminists who seem anything but inclusive.
So I stopped caring about the “right” answer and the “real” feminists.
As a parent, I can only do the best I can for my boys and I have to trust my instincts. My instincts tell me my definition of feminism might not be all-encompassing, but it’s a positive one that preaches the things I want to instill in my sons. So I’m teaching them to respect women, to see them as equals, to realize there are no “boy movies” and “girl movies,” to respect boundaries, to combat rape culture, and to actively and vocally support women whenever possible — especially in the face of discrimination by their male peers.
Also, I will continue to teach my boys to hold doors open for women, walk them to their door/car, and offer to pay for dinner. However, I’ll also teach them there’s nothing wrong with a woman who politely declines all those things, either.
When it comes to the conversation with my son I referenced earlier, I didn’t include how it ended.
Me: “Why not? Girls are strong too. Look at mom.”
Will: “Hmmmm. I guess so. We’ll do that next time.”