I wanted a daughter.
Last year, before my second son was born, I was hoping to have a girl. (We already had a boy, and I wanted someone to prefer me for a change!) I don’t care anymore, of course. I love both my boys and wouldn’t trade them for anything. Well, maybe for a little peace and quiet, but that’s not gonna happen.
Besides, according to just about every guy I know who has a daughter, I’m lucky. Having girls is scary, they say, especially when they get older — especially for dads.
I know what they mean: Girls have it rough. After all, they have to deal with boys! Sometimes, “dealing” with boys is a reference to the absurdities of relationships and the land mines of puberty. But behind every joke about that is a scary reality in which men find it funny to physically threaten any young men who might court their daughters. I’ve always found that bizarre instead of bwahahaha!
This fear fathers have, for what may happen to girls at the hands of boys, amounts to both an admission of guilt and a reluctance to do anything about it. Maybe dads of daughters wouldn’t feel the need to protect their kids if dads of sons made sure there was nothing to be afraid of. Maybe you wouldn’t need to worry so much about your daughters if I did a better job raising my sons.
Which is why I’m raising mine to be feminists.
Whether it’s based on a misguided attachment to outdated mores or in insecurity that masks itself in macho bullshit, the resistance some men have toward feminism has never made much sense to me. What are we so afraid of? An equal playing field is better for everyone.
How can you raise kids — male or female — with a sense of fairness in a world in which some people get paid 30 cents less than others for doing the same job? In a world in which some people are harassed and abused and taken advantage of and raped and then ignored or dismissed or called liars when they ask for help.
The big stuff is important — discrimination, harassment, equal pay, the glass ceiling — but the small stuff is where it starts, and that’s where I’m starting. I’m laying a foundation early by teaching my little boys to be nice to the girls in their class, to the girls on the playground, to the girls at the park. By teaching them to respect their opinions and to listen when they talk. That girls have just as much right to like superheroes as they do, that they have just as much ability to play sports as they do, that they have just as much potential to be president as they do. (And vice versa: Little boys can wear pink, little boys can do dishes, little boys can dance and sing show tunes and watch My Little Pony.)
Of course it’s not just about what I tell my sons, it’s also about what they see. My sons will grow up knowing I respect my wife’s judgment and opinion because they’ll witness it.
They’ll see how much I love and value their mother. They’ll see the give-and-take of our relationship, they’ll see our open communication, they’ll see us engaging in the partnership that makes our family run and without which we’d both suffer. Whether I like it or not, they’ll know Mommy’s the boss just as often, if not more often, than I am, and they’ll know that she’s just as capable, if not more capable, of accomplishing things as I am, whether those are domestic responsibilities or otherwise. And most of all, they’ll never see me raise a hand to her, or belittle her, or disregard her wishes or opinions, or steal her agency from her, or treat her as anything less than a person and an equal.
We’re on the same team, and if we want that team to succeed, we need to trust each other and treat each other fairly and with respect.
It’s not about one gender being elevated above another or about women taking something that belongs to men. It’s about a world in which women are as valued as men, paid as much as men, afforded the same opportunities as men, and are as respected as men.
You don’t need to be a woman to be a feminist. This isn’t a sex issue — it’s an equality issue. And if all men took up the cause, there wouldn’t even be an issue.
If we raised our boys better, if we raised them with more respect for women, with more respect for everyone, our daughters would have nothing to fear. I may not have a daughter of my own, but I am going to do my best to make sure that other parents don’t have to worry about their little girls being victimized by my sons.
Because I’m a feminist, and my boys will be too.
[image via Cosmopolitan]