Feminism & Fatherhood

Image Credit: David Uzochukwu

Image Credit: David Uzochukwu

Words: Jordan Oldbury

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the world, my decision to bring children into it, and what they can expect when they grow up. So if this is too much of a tonal shift from my usual upbeat postings, I apologise, but I wanted to add a little meat to the bones of our discussions.

If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll know I have a young daughter and am expecting another soon. This has caused me to undertake a lot of self reflection and to consider exactly what I will be inflicting upon them as they grow into womanhood. I’ve realised it’s a tough world. It’s a lot tougher than it used to be. Especially if you’re a woman? I think? Actually, I have no idea.

 There’s a debate about the role of women in society and their oppression by men. It’s a difficult debate to weigh in on, especially when the only perspective I can offer is that of a young, white, man with absolutely no knowledge or real understanding of the struggle of the feminist movement, as well as the oppression of minorities, the disabled, homosexuals, transgendered or the religiously persecuted. In essence, I have an oppressor’s viewpoint, though like most oppressors I don’t know I’m being oppressive.

My daughters will be lucky enough to be born to two white, loving parents who can afford to dote on them and give them opportunities that I couldn’t have had given growing up. So will they be impacted by the struggles that women have been fighting against for centuries? Does the fact that they are not an ethnic minority lessen the blow?

Should I be promoting Clementine Ford as a heroine to my girls or should I be looking for a more liberal feminist viewpoint? I certainly agree with her stance on outing those bigoted and moronic individuals who choose to post awful and obscene anti-women hatred, and I can understand the rationale that equality will only happen when men are willing to rescind some of the power afforded to them by the patriarchal society we inhabit, however I’ve got no idea how to achieve this and selfishly my main concern is protecting my daughters from putting themselves in a position where they would receive the kind of abuse that Clementine and many others face. Which in itself is a dilemma as I’m then suggesting that my daughters should be afraid to speak out and seek equality, thus perpetuating this cycle of inequality. What to do?

So I feel like I’ve now ignorantly plunged us into the dark and mystifying waters of feminism and women’s issues; dangerous ground indeed but let’s persevere. I should explain that I’m not a feminist. I can certainly see the need for feminism and I have seen examples of the sort of oppressive behaviour towards women that terrifies me for my daughters’ sake, but I can’t be a feminist for a few reasons. Firstly, depending on your school of thought, no matter how well meaning, some feminists think that men can never be feminists. I have no basis to argue that point. Secondly, my concern for the plight of women is really born from selfishness, I wouldn’t have raised this topic prior to fathering daughters. It’s only for their sake that I am even trying to understand how women are oppressed these days.

Naively, I assumed that women’s struggles for equality were now exclusively fought in seemingly undeveloped countries, or those rules by patriarchal religions. I suppose I have this ignorance through lack of any first hand experience, or maybe we have had first hand experience and just haven’t recognised it? I have been guilty of being proud of the fact that I don’t abuse women, and I’ve been vocal in my support of women’s rights and equality, but I’m as guilty as anyone else for enjoying the benefits of being a man without realising my hypocrisy.

And then there’s my other fear, the one that does not fit into this argument at all and in fact is sort of the complete opposite. Am I emasculating myself by caring about women’s issues? Should I be playing to the stereotypical notion of masculinity and not concerning myself with thoughts and feelings of female empowerment? How many other men actually think about it? Will my girls (see, I’m even using the possessive term “my girls”) be caused more harm by having a liberal dad who is not as masculine as their friends’ dads? Will my wife find me less attractive if I’m more feminist and less brute? I don’t think I’ll ever answer any of these questions, and I’m not sure those who do will do so with any real certainty.

I think what I’ll do is just see what happens. I’ll treat my girls with kindness, with compassion and I’ll encourage them to really open their eyes to the world around them and make up their own minds about what is right and wrong.