June 16, 2014

Feminists Have Daddy Issues™

Yesterday, I was watching Fox News. Not willingly, admittedly, when I saw a teaser. It went something like this: "Feminists want to end Father's Day. All about the #EndFathersDay."

For two days, there had been stories circulating that showed rather convincing evidence that the Twitter handle was, in fact, an epic trolling effort (quite well-played!), and yet, here was a major news source, continuing the misinformation. It was all I could do not to throw my remote through the TV.

I plan, at some point, to do a much longer post on feminism and misconceptions about it. I feel very "led" to do this post--there's some of that fundamentalist language that I can't shake--because of my own experience, which I've dealt with in some minor detail here and why feminism is important to me, which I've dealt with here. Today, however, is not that day.

Today, I would just like to touch on one concept, which was brought up in the Fox News teaser and the Real Clear Politics piece "Feminists Have Daddy Issues" (don't worry, that's a Do Not Link, my friends).

And I am here to say: I am a feminist and I have a fucking awesome dad. I may, in fact, in my own humble opinion, have the most amazing father ever to grace the face of this planet or any other. But I'm being modest there.

Heather Wilhelm ranges all over the place in her column, and in fact, the majority of it has nothing to do with Daddy Issues™. The very last paragraph touches on the issue:
The ultimate irony is that for all of their talk of empowerment, this generation’s leading feminists seem to have a serious case of Daddy issues. Whether it’s a university board of regents, a set of byzantine campus “sexual consent” rules, or the Obama administration—which recently jumped on the university “rape culture” bandwagon—feminists just seem to want someone else to take care of them. Strangely, they don’t seem to mind celebrating passive, confused women, and, as seen in the case of Miss USA, they certainly don’t want to prioritize proactive self-responsibility. What a mess. 
So this is a whole heap of a mess, and the author doesn't really explain how any of it is related to Daddy issues. I'm not going to bother refuting most of it here, as Jessica Valenti already did a beautiful job for the Guardian here.

Valenti touches on how fathers of daughters impact their daughters' own natures--and how having daughters impacts their own feminism:
Many men are just as invested in dismantling sexism systems as women are. In fact, those of you with daughters are even more likely to be feminist, according to a 2009 study. And Congressmen with daughters not only vote more liberally on the issues of reproductive rights – they take more feminist positions all around. 
Feminist fathers know that parenting doesn't have to come with a harsh dose of paternalism and reject the father-knows-best ideology that is so harmful to young girls (like purity balls). Girls with fathers who model equality at home are more likely to be ambitious about their future. And feminist fathers with sons are teaching the next generation that being a man does not have to be synonymous with deriding all things female.
I really relate to the part I emphasized.

My dad was a "normal" man in most ways. My mom did the majority of work around the house, and he took care of the yard and cars. He did occasionally cook--man, does he make some mean hushpuppies!

What my dad did beautifully, however, was how he supported my mother, myself, and my sisters. My mom is a teacher. She's wanted to teach since she was five years old, and she is amazingly talented and passionate. She worked in one of the absolute worst districts in our state, and she committed to it when others gave up and left or quit trying. It took astronomical tolls on her mental and physical health, and her emotional wellbeing.

Through it all, my dad was the one encouraging and pushing her. He was the one that gave her a shoulder to cry on when she needed it, who raged with her, who listened to her. He wasn't a perfect husband (and she wasn't a perfect wife), but he was there to encourage and lift her up when she needed it. He was supportive of her career, even when the fundamentalist circle we were involved in was preaching that women should mind their homes and advocating against the local public school system. I've never heard him speak critically of her.

Rule one for us was always, "Keep Mom happy". Because if Mom wasn't happy, Dad wasn't happy. It's a bit of a running joke.

When I was twelve, I crafted my very first "business proposal". I bought the materials myself--a report cover, a poster board. I researched for hours. What would the costs be? What would the effort be? What were our revenue streams? How much money could we raise and how fast? How could we handle initial start up costs and long term overhead?

I carefully researched the answers. It took weeks. I put them all into the report. I did a Powerpoint on our home computer, and I made a graphic on the poster board. Nervously one Sunday afternoon, I stood in front of my parents, and I delivered my presentation, complete with references to the figures I'd included in my report.

I will never forget the moment that my dad looked up at me, and said, "Wow, you put a lot of effort into this. If you can follow through with this, and keep your end of the bargain, yes, you can buy a miniature horse."

Obviously, I was through the roof. My mom stared at him like he had grown a second head. He gave me a hug and said he was proud of all the research I'd done and how well I'd organized it.

Unfortunately, I never did get my mini, as we moved before the timetable was complete. #LeSigh

But that moment highlighted something important to me, something that I have carried with me ever since: My dad loved and supported me. He was proud of me.

Life buffets all of us. That love and support is crucial. I know that it won't go over well, but I believe, based in part on my own experiences, that life buffets young women most of all. We are hit with confusing messages from multiple sides.

  • Don't be a slut but don't be a prude.
  • Be smart but no too smart.
  • Like guy stuff but don't be a tomboy.
  • Talk but not like a girl.
  • Smile but not like that.
  • Dress like this, dress like that, dress like her.
  • Be thin but not too thin.
  • Think of yourself but don't be selfish.

The media takes us apart and reduces us to the sum of our parts--there's the Dove commercial for making your skin soft, the Maybelline commercial to hide your flaws, the Pantene commercial to fix your awful hair, the Venus commercial lest you forget that hairiness is obscene, the Olay commercial that says our mid to late years should be spent clinging to the vestiges of youth. Your hips are too wide/narrow, your feet are too small/large, your eyes are too far apart/too close together. Your hair is limp and lifeless. Your fingernails are a mess, and those cuticles?! OH THE HORROR!

In the face of all of this, we expect young women to grow and thrive. We expect them to be smart and self-confident, and yet, we tell them every moment of every day that nothing will ever be good enough, because their innate flaws are built into their very own traitorous bodies.

My dad was one of my buffers against that. Don't get me wrong, I still felt it. But he was among the strongest forces in my life, consistently saying, "You are smart. You are funny. You are good, you are beautiful. Just be yourself."

I am a feminist. I have an amazing father. My only Daddy Issue™ is that I spent so many years in the dark, not listening to the strength of the message that he gave me.

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