I have two beautiful daughters. I’m not bragging–It’s just the truth. Sure… There’s a beautiful son running around here somewhere too, but this post isn’t about him. Our older daughter (almost 12) is our firstborn, and she embraces that role very well. Our younger daughter (almost 9) is the baby, and she also does a pretty good job with that role. They are very different people. The oldest has decided she wants to be a goalie on her soccer team, and she was one of about 6 girls who played in a flag football league this past spring… When I coached the youngest in soccer, she seemed very concerned with how her hair looked, and she would sometimes cry and tell me she didn’t want to play if I tried to put her in as something other than a forward. My oldest believes in practical shoes… The baby dreams of high heels. The big one takes a light sweater into restaurants in case the air conditioning is on too high… The little one walks around followed by a cloud of glitter. Both of my daughters are beautiful in every way–And not in a “proud dad’s opinion” sort of way. They are objectively beautiful. But they are very, very different people. When we mentioned that the older one’s name meant “Princess” and the younger one’s name meant “Industrious and Hardworking,” our oldest said, “Maybe we should switch names.”
Anyway, it turns out I’m a feminist. And listen–If that bothers you, don’t worry… I remember the first time I heard a man say that he was a “feminist.” I was so–what’s the opposite of “woke?” Asleep, I guess?–I was so asleep that I couldn’t even process how that was possible. Somewhere in my head, I was probably thinking, “So… What, like… You’re gay, then?” But these 14 years of marriage to a strong woman, almost 12 years of being a father to a daughter, and nearly 9 years of being a father to TWO daughters have definitely distilled the feminism that was already inside me. But before I go on, let me tell you how cool my oldest daughter is: A couple days ago, I was talking a picture of two Lego figures… Because that is the sort of crap I do. One was a female Lego mini figure from a Harry Potter set, and another was a female mini figure from the Lego “Friends” series, which Lego has branded to be more for girls. I was taking the picture because it pissed me off that the regular Legos had the regular stocky, wide mini figures, and the “girly” Legos that are aimed at our daughters have really thin figures… With curves… And friggin’ thigh gap. I was going to make a post on my Facebook Page about it. Here’s the picture:
A lot of Lego mini figures have heads with two separate faces printed on them so they can have two different emotions. Hermione’s head was one of these… One face smiling, and the other with angled eyebrows and the corners of her mouth turned down ever so slightly. Our youngest took Hermione’s Granger’s little Lego head and twisted it back and forth, saying, “Look… Happy, angry, happy, angry, happy, angry.” The oldest looked at the “angry” face and said something that made me experience one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had as a parent. She said, “Eh… Maybe she’s just concentrating.” I couldn’t wait to tell the world… But this is the sort of stuff that naturally flows from our oldest. She is the kind of person who naturally notices injustice, and then she very naturally feels compelled to speak up when she sees it. I have no idea where she gets it…
With all of our kids, we waited until the were born to find out the sex of the baby. From the moment our doctor looked at me and said those amazing words–“You have a daughter”–I have dreamed of the strong little feminist I was going to raise. Then we had a boy… Then we had another girl. I love being a father to daughters. In my head, I envisioned them rattling some cages and challenging the status quo. Sometimes, when I see inspiring YouTube videos and whatnot that are kid-appropriate, I’ll gather the kids around to watch it. A few years ago, I had them watch a video of a 12 year old girl speaking at a voting rights rally in North Carolina (the state which the Supreme Court just detailed how their recently enacted voting laws were aimed at suppressing the votes of people of color with an “almost surgical precision”). Here it is:
In case you don’t watch it, just know this girl is a rock star. She passionately called on youth to get involved, and reminded them that they can make a difference. So I’m sitting there on my couch–tears in my eyes–and I look at my sweet, powerful daughters, and I say, “What did you think about that?” The older one says, “That was really cool, dad.” I look at the younger one and ask, “What about you?” And she looks at me–straight-faced–and says, “That girl was wearing high heels.” And in my head, I cut to a Scrubs-esque cutscene where I shake my fists at the heavens and scream “NOOOOOO!” as the camera pulls back and I realize I’ve failed as a feminist father.
But here’s what I’ve come to learn– I haven’t failed. If there was any failure, it was in the fact that I came into fatherhood with my own expectations of what a feminist daughter needed to look like… Or simply what a daughter needed to look like. I had this warped idea that feminism was leaving behind all the things that seemed pointless and “girly” to me… But my youngest was ALWAYS going to be the sort of girl who loves “girly” and feminine things… And accessories… And glitter… And tiaras and “spinny” dresses and makeup and friggin’ high heels. This has always been who she is. From the moment she could stand up on her own, she has wanted a dress that flew out when she spun around.
This issue of feminism has come up a few times recently, with the Olympics being the catalyst. It started when I got so angry at those shitty Hardee’s commercials (which I have WRITTEN ABOUT BEFORE) with the barely dressed women talking about a “3-Way Burger” at 6:30 while my kids and I were trying to watch the Opening Ceremonies. Then I talked about it some more when I was interviewed on the “Same Differents” Podcast (You can listen to that episode on Feminism and other things RIGHT HERE… Or you can listen to another podcast I did with “Pancake House” about the creative process RIGHT HERE). Then it came up again as there were allegations of sexism in the way that the Olympics have been reported. But I suppose that kind of stuff is going to happen, right? It hasn’t been that long (less than 30 years) that they’ve even ALLOWED women to run in the marathon… Before the 1980’s, they thought it was “too strenuous” for those poor little girls–they might faint! So I guess it makes sense that there are still going to be headlines that put a man’s tie for second place in bigger print than a woman winning a gold medal, breaking her own world record, and crushing everyone else in the field so badly that she had to wait 10 seconds until the 2nd place finisher even touched the wall.
And–as often happens–all of these conversations and controversies bring me back to thinking about my own kids… My own daughters, and my own expectations for them. I wanted feminism to look like what I WANTED IT TO LOOK LIKE, but I think the point of feminism is that each of our daughters gets to decide for herself what being a girl looks like. Until fairly recently, for me feminism meant women leaving behind things which I considered “girly.” And in my own male-centric, male-dominant head, “girly” meant worthless. But feminism isn’t leaving behind “girly” things. Feminism is encouraging girls to discover who they are, and then equipping and empowering them to be that person with their whole heart… Whether that girl is a princess, or a tom boy, or walking around in a cloud of glitter, or fighting the power like my own little Hermione. And (as my wife reminded me) feminism is realizing that these things are not mutually exclusive.
“Young girls are told you have to be the delicate princess. Hermione taught them that you can be the warrior.”
~ Emma Watson
Feminism can look like a lot of things. It can look like staying home with the kids, or it can look like being the breadwinner. It can look like being politically active, or it can look like not caring one way or the other. It can look like leadership, or it can look like encouragement. It can look like sensible shoes, or it can look like high heels (ugh… some of these are harder for me to write than others). It can look like Army boots and camouflage, or it can look like a spinny sundress, carefree, in the middle of an open field. It can look like cleavage, or it can look like a men’s sweatshirt. It can look like being emotional, or it can look like making fun of a husband that (some say) cries too easily. It can look at God as a good father, or it can look at God as a nurturing mother… Or it might not see God at all right now. It can look like happiness, it can look like anger, or it might just look like concentration… But whatever feminism looks like, it certainly doesn’t look like me, as a man, dictating what it “needs” to look like. It embodies all the magic and mystery and complexity that is humanity, and it doesn’t need your permission…
So here’s to women: To all their strength and beauty and wisdom. And here’s to your feminism and mine… To the ones who are just starting to think to themselves, “Wait, that doesn’t seem right,” all the way to the ones whose feminist fire burns as clear and bright inside them as the love they feel for their own daughters. To the Princesses and the Industrious, to the high heels and the sensible shoes, to the camo and the glitter and everything in-between… And still, at the same time, something tells me to be deeply grateful for voices like the voice of my oldest, who are able to look at female faces–faces that might seem angry to some… faces that that endure comments like “She should smile more”–and gently suggest the possibility that “Maybe she’s just concentrating.”
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