I Am A Father Of Two Boys And I Can (And Do) Support Feminism

Julia Kuznetsova / (Shutterstock.com)
Julia Kuznetsova / (Shutterstock.com)

I’m a husband, father, son, brother, schoolteacher, sports nut and beer lover. I am also a feminist. I may not have always been, but since I’ve become the father of two boys I’ve realized that I don’t want to raise them to accept a world where the majority of the population faces daily fears and limitations based solely on their gender. Too many of society’s messages about women and girls are degrading, offensive, accusatory, and opposed to the morals and messages I am teaching my kids.

You see, I’m keen to raise my boys to be gentle, because I think kindness and gentleness are wonderful traits for young men to develop. I am proud to raise them to be hard-working and dedicated. I am raising them to treat the women in their lives with respect, the same respect I expect them to show everyone they meet. I am raising them to appreciate the beauty in a person based on what that person believes and how that person makes my boys feel, not on what that person is wearing or how much of their skin is exposed.

I want my boys to be kind, to offer to open doors and to help carry heavy loads, for women and men. I want them to be able to ask a girl out on a date, or to ask a guy out on a date, or to be asked out on dates, without expecting anything be given to them or taken from them. I am encouraging my sons to learn when it’s appropriate to tell someone they’re beautiful…and when it’s not. I love that my boys want to surprise me (and eventually their partners) with the spontaneous hug or kiss on the cheek from time to time. I want them to be generous and to be able to show their love openly and freely without feeling emasculated. They shouldn’t have to encode their love in surprise gifts.

The latest campaigns by the feminist movement are entirely consistent with these things I want for my boys. I don’t want them confined by traditional notions of what is stereotypically “girly” or to feel that they have to act stereotypically “manly.” The FCKH8 Campaign demonstrates how it’s not always appropriate to call someone pretty, and that it’s often inappropriate to reach for their hand without permission.

Hollaback! sends the message that if men tell a stranger on the street what they’d like to do to her sexually, or make uninvited physical comments about her, or follow her for several minutes through the streets even though she is obviously and pointedly ignoring them, then they will be seen as a predator, or at the very least, a “creepy douchebag.” This is good, because those actions are deeply creepy and scarily predatory. I would be appalled if my sons were catcalling strangers on the street and then silently following them for several minutes.

#YesAllWomen wants my boys to know that all women are at risk of sexual violence and rape. Just because my boys may not themselves be a threat, they need to realize that women who don’t know them might not be immediately aware of that. They should realize that they might unknowingly intimidate women, or make women uncomfortable, merely by their presence. That’s not their fault, but it’s not the woman’s fault either, and there are things men can do to be sympathetic to the women with whom they will share public spaces. My boys should know the statistic that 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted, and that 93% of rapes are committed by a man. That doesn’t mean all men are rapists. But it does mean all women know what it is to fear being raped.

#FreeTheNipple preaches to end slut shaming, which is great. My boys freely run around in the yard throughout summer with no shirts on. Why should this be a uniquely male privilege? If they can come to see women and girls as people, rather than a collection of prohibited ‘naughty bits’ they will have a chance at much deeper and more meaningful relationships.

TakePart.com supports an examination of age-old terms like “boys will be boys,” which is too often used as a kind of hand-wave over teenage and adult male behavior which is intimidating and/or dangerous. There’s a reason so many young men feel entitled to behave in anti-social ways: it’s because for too long their behavior has been excused and the responsibility for their actions projected onto their victims. How about encouraging all students in public institutions designed for education and growth to simply dress in a manner that they’re comfortable with, and allowing others to do the same, instead of forcing girls to meet far more restrictive standards than their male counterparts?

Teaching my boys that they are somehow wrong, perverted, or bad if they creepily stare at women’s bodies is my job as a parent. I don’t want to have a conversation with them about steering clear of “easy” girls. I don’t even want the concept of “easy girls” to exist. There’s no concept of the “easy guy.” Instead I want to have a conversation about the difference between love and sex. I want to have a conversation about the sorts of people—girls or boys—who make them happy, and who they want to share their intimate lives with. I want them not to judge people by the way they dress, and to know that the clothes don’t define the person. Sometimes the person in revealing clothes will be nice and kind and decent. Sometimes the people in nice suits will have dark, nasty personalities. Let’s not assume for one second that there aren’t plenty of those.

When people try to turn feminism away from being a message of empowerment and gender fairness and instead characterize it as a list of rules, restrictions, idiosyncrasies, offenses and grievances directed at all things male, I speak out. This is a classic straw-man fallacy. Opponents of feminism—those who seek to discredit or undermine the movement toward gender equity—use this straw-feminism to distract from the genuine need for change.

I do not believe that the genders (and there are more than two) can ever be completely the same; there are very specific differences for each gender, and we should celebrate those differences. Which is fine, because equity is not about treating everyone as if they were the same. I do believe that we can improve the gender equity in our society. I may not live to see a day where a person’s gender—man, woman, transgendered, intersex, asexual—does not come with inherent restrictions and prejudices…but my sons may, and if not them, then my grandsons (and perhaps granddaughters).

I also believe that there is something wrong with many of the gender roles that have been honored throughout history. I want my sons to love openly and I want their partners to do the same. Men, especially gay men, have not historically been able to openly love. I don’t remember my father telling me he loved me, cuddling me in public, or kissing my cheek. Our relationship was confined by historical gender roles. We had to find ways of encoding our expressions of love in talk of football and manly slaps on the back. I don’t want that between me and my sons.

I want my sons to choose a partner who honors their strength, valour, courtesy and masculinity, and I am raising them to show these qualities, as well as to be nurturing, kind and gentle—virtues which history restricted to the feminine. I hope that they find a partner who is strong, valorous, courteous, nurturing, kind, and gentle. I think those virtues can be found in both men and women. I don’t want my sons to ever have to submit to anyone’s anger or disrespect merely because they’re not living within those outdated confines of what it means to be a man. Hemingway was masculine. He shouted the fact in short, clipped sentences as loudly as he was able. He demanded that everyone know just how manly a man he was. He fished for marlin and he hunted African game, he fought wars and married women, he drank whiskey straight dammit, and did not much care for the softness of women. Then he shot himself with his favorite shotgun.

I support fairness for everyone. I self-identify as feminist, because it is my statement that I join women in a “quest for equality.” Respect is earned, but sometimes equal rights have to be demanded, just as Rosa Parks demanded that her society respect the rights of her race, so too we can demand that our society respects the rights of her gender. There will never be a time when I will tell my boys not to treasure, protect and admire the loved-ones in their lives because we should “value all people and the gifts they bring” equally. Only then will the world be truly fair and equal.

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