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Feminist basics for dads?
December 21, 2013 9:58 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to get some recommendations on the basics of feminism, especially as it might relate to things a dad can do to help his daughters prepare for and deal with sexism in society and also do his part in understanding the world and making it a better place for women (and by extension all people).

So, I would say I've always been a feminist-sympathizer, but wouldn't call myself a feminist because it would imply some level of understanding which I don't feel I have. Like its one of those things I've always felt like any good person *should* understand and support, but like so so so many things I should do in life, I haven't done.

But when I see things like the recent post about Emily Graslie's video about sexism, to pick just one example, I'm shocked at what women have to put up with and I think this is something I shouldn't just let slide and muddle along in my ignorance and complacency. And, of course, being a dad to a couple of daughters whom I love more than anything else in the world just heightens the stakes.

So, if you could recommend some basic books, videos, or other resources which would be aimed at helping a well-meaning but somewhat ignorant guy get up to speed on this topic, and also examine and address his own attitudes and beliefs and behaviors that might be unwittingly supporting it, I'd appreciate it.
posted by Reverend John to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 94 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm a cisgendered man entering the world of web development, which has more than its fair share of sex-based oppression. Thus, I've been on a tour of resources myself recently.

Here's is a pretty good list of books from Ashe Dryden, one of the big voices in diversity in the technology sphere.

Here's a few that caught my eye. Amazon links to the books are inside the link to the list.

______________________________________________

Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf

Myths Of Gender: Biological Theories About Women And Men by Anne Fausto-Sterling

Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity by Matt Bernstein-Sycamore

Where We Stand: Class Matters by bell hooks

No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women by Estelle Freedman

Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine

The Ruptures Of American Capital: Women Of Color, Feminism, And The Culture Of Immigrant Labor by Grace Kyungwon Hong

Basic Call To Consciousness by Akwasasne Notes

The Revolution Starts at Home: Confronting Intimate Violence Within Activist Communities by Ching-In Chen
posted by justalisteningman at 10:12 PM on December 21, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'm so excited you're looking into this! This is a great thing to be looking into for both you and your daughters. The readings suggested above are really wonderful, but perhaps a lot if you have two kiddos. I'd suggest starting off with this website, which is deisgned to be an intro to feminism: http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/the-faqs/faq-roundup/. Following Ms.com blogs, feministing.com, or (if you're into pop culture) Bitch magazine would be great. These are just a few online resources to add to your normal perusing

Hving Ms. or Bust or a similar feminist magazine subscription would be a really great way of bringing feminist thought into your daily lives. You'll read it because it will be around, and your daughters will read it too and learn that their dad is cool and feminist.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:54 PM on December 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Read Justice, Gender, and the Family by Susan Moller Okin. In it she talks about how what needs to be addressed is the politics within the home, before anything can change outside the home. I completely agree. Also, I guess this book was "important" because (according to Okin) people view the home as somehow apolitical or not being related to these issues. It seems obvious to me (I mean before reading her book) that homelife is crucial for this, but then it seems that people really do need the common sense obvious put in front of them which is what Okin did.

But I think the most important thing you can do as a "feminist" father is in how you behave as a father, husband (if you're married) and human being (rather than in just accumulating information about feminism). In other words, you would probably have to behave completely against the norm of what most men do. And have a different dynamic with your wife and children. Also, another important way would be to actually see and notice the disgusting absurdity displayed in EVERY commercial, in EVERY internet image accompanying EVERY internet article or story, etc, etc. In other words how a human being seems not able to utter a single word, or create a single advertisement, or article (and this goes beyond media too), without displaying profoundly insulting assumptions of how a woman is supposed to be or a man is supposed to be. If people actually noticed (they don't, as mind blowingly crazy that is) and were bothered by these things they would not go on since these advertisements are made precisely for customers to buy their product. It works, otherwise they wouldn't and couldn't do it. It works because no one sees anything to be disturbed by. Why do you think that is?
posted by Blitz at 12:02 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Definitely read The Beauty Myth. There's a whole bunch of media and culture bullshit going on in our worlds that you're probably not aware of, despite that fact that it literally surrounds you and your daughter. She's the target, and she will be aware of it, and you need to learn where the bullshit traps are so you can point to them and say "See that? That right there is a STEAMING PILE OF BULLSHIT. Beware."
posted by DarlingBri at 2:53 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


The best thing dads can do for their daughters is model respectful behavior towards women (and men) and believe they can do anything. Lots of pretty traditional men end up with extremely feminist daughters who absolutely worship their fathers by the simple act of believing their girls can do anything they set their minds to. And nothing is as important as modeling respectful, egalitarian relationships with women.

And call yourself a feminist. Tell them you're still learning, tell them it's hard for you to fully understand, but OF COURSE you consider yourself a feminist. It's not a dirty word and you are on their side and its just NORMAL for men to be feminists too.

Women take their cues about relationships with men, especially romantic relationships, from their fathers. So be a good model so that they are always looking for respectful, feminist guys who think the world of them.

(And I like justice gender and the family too, that might have been my first really feminist text.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:54 AM on December 22, 2013 [23 favorites]


You don't have to have a degree in women's studies or a nuanced understanding of gender politics to raise independent-minded daughters. My father certainly didn't - he went to trade school instead of college and that kind of theoretical book-study was really not what he was into.

But what my father did do, though, was encourage thinking in general. And he let me see that that was something in me that he valued. I've talked before about how Dad liked playing devil's advocate in discussions just for the sake of getting a discussion going - I was actually one of his favorite sparring partners, in fact. I remember when I was in high school and we somehow got going on a conversation on the death penalty one night at dinner, and at one point he said something that just really got me fired up to the point that I forcefully put down the fork I was holding and said one of those "now, HOLD UP a minute" kinds of comments that lets you know that someone's about to launch into an impassioned statement - and I was surprised to see Dad burst out with a grin like a kid on Christmas and hear him mutter, "oh, I love this." And that's when it hit me that Dad was excited to hear what I thought, and valued that I got impassioned about ideas.

My father valued my brain, and let me see that he valued it. He put value on me as a person rather than as a girl, and let me know that. And that's a big part of what made me a feminist. Reading about gender theory and such can help you wrap your own brain around things, but your daughters may respond much more to having an example of a person who treats them as a whole person.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:56 AM on December 22, 2013 [12 favorites]


Joe Kelly wrote several books and founded Dads and Daughters Inc. You might find his resources helpful.
posted by RedEmma at 5:03 AM on December 22, 2013


I would like to add to justlisteningman's excellent list a copy of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. You should understand that it's dated today and that feminism has evolved quite a bit since then; however, it gives a good historical basis on the roots and reasoning behind second wave (60s and 70s) feminism.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:36 AM on December 22, 2013


Lots of good advice above. In addition to learning about the ways this and other cultures have de-valued women it's important to un-learn whatever attitudes, beliefs, behaviors you have internalized. We've all been so heavily indoctrinated, been bombarded with messages about sex roles. Is your eye automatically drawn to pretty young women? Do you find yourself flirting with "attractive" women? Are there behaviors you consider un-ladylike? If you watch porn, have you noticed it's full of women young enough to be your daughter? (I looked at your profile and saw you're in your late 40s.)

Un-learning is an on-going process and it can be quite uncomfortable admitting that our attitudes have been so manipulated by outside forces.
posted by mareli at 6:02 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm a dad with two young daughters chiming in to say I found this thread helpful.

thanks for asking and thanks for answering, all.
posted by jpe at 6:17 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


A good ongoing resource is Reddit /r/twoxchromosomes and /r/askwomen -- to read about the daily issues/concerns/questions from a variety of women from a diversity of backgrounds.

Another point to be aware of is the, for lack of a better word, anti-feminism of [American] motherhood today. Two books on this are The Mommy Myth and The Conflict. Neither is particularly well-written, but merely making yourself aware of the issue* can be beneficial. This is a struggle that they will likely deal with as they grow up and start thinking about their futures (and possibly an issue their mother deals with presently, if relevant to your family structure). In my experience, it is not uncommon for girls/women to go through a phase of "why should I bother [going to law school; learning computer programming; pursuing my dreams] if I'm just going to have to give it up in X years when I have a kid?" If you live with your daughters' mother, helping her eliminate the phrase "I'm a horrible mother" from her vernacular is also a good idea.


*the "issue" being that mothers are supposed to be perfect, abandon all personal desires/health/goals/aspirations for their children. That somehow having an identity is selfish and harmful to your children.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:12 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seconding the Feminine Mystique. Is it dated? Not dated enough, is the point.
posted by escabeche at 7:15 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking only as the parent of two boys, so take this with a grain of salt, I'd suggest that how you act and speak is far stronger than anything you might pick up and try to impart through books.

If through your day-to-day interactions with women your daughters see that you assume and expect gender equality, they'll internalize that far more than any academic discussion.
posted by colin_l at 7:29 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm a single dad. My attitude and behaviors are important, but I am only one person she deals with. She needs to organize her own thinking to deal with the world, I hate using clishe'd words, but she needs to empower herself.

I try to point out things to my daughter i.e., the nice lady she is friends with at my job is the president of the company, etc. That her aunt that she loves was the second woman to ever graduate from the Architecture program at her college, and went on to a very successful career.

She reads National Geographic, sees women dressed in Burkhas, we discuss why that is, and how those women are treated - and why.

She has her own little workbench in my shop with her own real tools.

I speak to her about the importance of things like voting, and take her with me to vote, then tell her women could not always vote and had to fight to get the vote, and re-enforce that lesson by getting her age appropriate books like "The ballot box battle".

My daughter loves birds. She now (at 8 years) wants to read "Silent Spring" because she read a child's book about Rachael Carson, and daddy told her how this woman did so much for the environment. Douglas' "River of Grass" is on the list too, how one woman was able to start the movement to save the Everglades.

I provide her with things to encourage interest in Science/Technology - like a microscope and building toys she can create with - and secretly throw away the Barbies people give her...

One good resource I found for younger girls is A Mighty Girl - lots of good books.
posted by rudd135 at 7:36 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Recommending the documentary film series Killing Us Softly.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killing_Us_Softly

[that was My First MeFi Link so I hope it worked.]
posted by quixotictic at 8:24 AM on December 22, 2013


I'm a couple of weeks away from the birth of our first child, and we've also been thinking about how we put into practice raising a feminist kid. (Boy rather than girl in our case.) I've heard a lot of recommendations for the book Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps--And What We Can Do About It.

As someone who identifies as a feminist and has read WAY MORE than her share of books on feminism, I think it's helpful to read something that focuses specifically on strategies for raising kids (or at least looks at how sexism can unconsciously come through in one's parenting) rather than feminism in general. Interestingly, my (male) partner's parents are both outspoken feminists who raised both of their boys to believe in feminism; my parents, while generally socially liberal, wouldn't explicitly identify as feminists and I certainly didn't receive any sort of specific "you are a girl, you can do anything!" messages. Despite that, both my partner and I would agree that in terms of *lived* feminism/equality, he struggles a lot harder than I do; it turns out, just being raised to believe that boys and girls have equal potential is not enough. Being a boy who is expected to do laundry, clean bathrooms, and take care of home duties--or a girl who is expected to handle opening her own bank account, handle her own car maintenance, and do her own taxes--is a really important piece of the puzzle, and my sense is that the book above deals with how to bridge that gap between just speaking the language of equality and actually putting it into practice when raising your kid.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:26 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd expand a little beyond the reading and take care to make sure that you're as equal as possible in domestic chores. Cooking, cleaning, taking her to whatever activities she ends up doing, all of that stuff. Keep in mind that to people raised in our culture, equality often feels like like "the pendulum has swung too far." So if it feels like you're doing the majority of the cleaning (or whatever), chances are pretty decent that it's very close to an even split.
posted by kavasa at 8:33 AM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


My dad has an imperfect record as a feminist, but he did a few things that I think really empowered me as a female child and teenager.

1. He taught me and my sister about sex before we went to kindergarten. (We were the kids every conservative parent was afraid of--the ones who told their kids what sex was before the parents were ready to have the discussion.) I knew what birth control was before middle school. I think having this knowledge for my entire conscious life made me less vulnerable to the kind of guys who like to take advantage of a girl's inexperience.

2. As a teenager, he never told me I couldn't have sex, or that I'd be in trouble if I did. Instead, he framed the conversation about whether or not a particular setting or situation would allow me to be in control of myself enough to make up my own mind safely.
posted by elizeh at 8:51 AM on December 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd expand a little beyond the reading and take care to make sure that you're as equal as possible in domestic chores.

And to expand a little on this: make sure you (and your wife) avoid phrasing this as "helping" your wife. This implies that all of these chores really are your wife's job (i.e., women's work), and that you're just pitching in as a favor to her. The message to send is that there's an equitable division of labor in a partnership between equals, regardless of gender.

And hey, I just want to say: thanks for asking this, and thanks to all the men who are also reading this thread and taking it to heart!
posted by scody at 8:56 AM on December 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


My father would probably describe himself very much like you. He and my mother had a "traditional marriage" in that he was the full-time wage-earner and she stayed at home with my brother and me; he also had more social power in that he had a fancy college education and my mother stopped school after high school.

Despite the potential for inequality there, though, my parents absolutely thought of themselves, and treated each other, as equals -- intellectually, emotionally, and as parents. Equally as important to me, my father treated me as an intelligent, thoughtful person worthy of conversation and debate. He would sometimes annoyingly retreat in "devil's advocate" debates rather than share his own views, which I would have appreciated more, but we all had dinner together most nights as a family and he was always interested in what was happening in his children's lives and in discussing things we were thinking about. (He was involved enough in my life and interested enough in my friends that even now, twenty years later, if I mention a high school friend I'm interacting with on Facebook, he often remembers them.)

While I have my own issues, that foundation has given me a strong sense of self and self-worth as a person, which has absolutely helped me identify how the system is stacked against the marginalized and helped me find the strength to fight against that.
posted by jaguar at 9:48 AM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


One of the great many things my own dad did right was he pulled his own weight, at then some, in the home. I saw him scrub floors, reorganize closets, cook dinner, and often be the one to pick up the phone and make many of my childhood appointments. He always knew my shoe size. And HE was the breadwinner while my mom stayed home until I was 10. So while I never learned any per se "feminist theory" at home, more importantly, I had the LIVED experience of having a real and true feminist father, and my parents' amazing example of a truly equal marriage - beginning in 1972, that marriage truly was so far ahead of its time.
posted by hush at 10:31 AM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Others have given a pretty exhaustive list of good books and web sites, so I thought I'd just make a short list of Things I Wish My Father Had Done Differently, for what it's worth. Now, I do have some sympathy for his position - he was brought up in an extremely dysfunctional family where his sisters were, for all practical purposes, raised separately from him and his brothers. And, he desperately wanted sons like the older brother he hero-worshipped had. I'm not here to complain about my childhood; these are just the things I'd say to a younger, alternate-universe version of him who would be willing to listen:

Don't emphasize the importance of traditional "men's work" over traditional "women's work." You don't know ahead of time where your daughters' interests will lie, and it may be in a combination of both. It's true that if they hear the message, "Girls can't design buildings," the world may be deprived of the next Frank Gehry. But, if they only hear the message, "Designing buildings is Important and Meaningful, and designing clothes is Just Silly," the world may get another failed, mediocre architect and be deprived of the next Coco Chanel.

Try not to put their mother down in front of them, even in jest, even if you're sure their mother knows it's a joke. They may be too young to get the punch line, so save that particular line of teasing for when the kids aren't around. Encourage their mother not to put herself down in front of them; maybe even gently disagree with her if you hear her doing it.

This one will probably be hard sometimes. Try to strike a balance between being over-prescriptive about their appearance and not caring. Make sure any criticism is always constructive. (I.e., "That looks nice, but I think X might be more appropriate for this occasion.")

Make sure they see you and their mother modeling breaking traditional gender roles (without making a big deal or comment about it). They need to see that the two of you aren't uncomfortable or embarrassed by things associated with the opposite gender.

When your girls are playing in mixed-gender groups, gently put a stop to - or at least challenge - any gender policing you notice going on. Constantly check yourself for any subconscious double standard in the way you treat the male and female children. (For example, don’t make allowances for noise or horseplay in boys that you don't extend to girls.)

If the system (school, etc.) ever tries to visit a sexist injustice on them, let them see you fighting that system on their behalf, even if you know going into it that there's no way you can possibly win. Knowing your father won't fight for you is one of the most devastating blows a young daughter can receive.

Toys, clothes, games, TV shows, etc. fall along the same lines as work, above. Quality is more important than traditional gender association. Yes, you have a lot of influence over their tastes, but try to pay attention to their natural inclinations when they start to appear. If your girls start to show an interest in [let's use the arbitrary example of] dolls instead of the [let's use the arbitrary example of] tractors you had hoped for, don't try to convince them how stupid dolls are, or tell yourself, "Well, if they want to play with dolls, then we have nothing in common and we won't be spending time together anymore." Try to find something else you can connect with over, or maybe find a doll-sized tractor, or some John Deere green fabric to get doll dresses made from.

The number-one, most important thing of all: Although men and women and boys and girls have their differences, and face some very different challenges in life, within our own immediate families it's so important to find the common ground and similarities between ourselves. Yes, it's vital to accept and celebrate the differences, but I'm convinced that the other differences between my father and me wouldn't have meant as much if he'd been able to get past the difference in our sexes.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:55 AM on December 22, 2013 [7 favorites]


Speaking only as the parent of two boys, so take this with a grain of salt, I'd suggest that how you act and speak is far stronger than anything you might pick up and try to impart through books. If through your day-to-day interactions with women your daughters see that you assume and expect gender equality, they'll internalize that far more than any academic discussion.

I definitely agree with this, but if you are concerned about how to ensure your actions are indeed appropriate here, I think reading up on feminism would be great. Others have given you some great resources!



My dad did a truly terrific job of demonstrating respect for women throughout my childhood and today. Some of the most important things he has done:


- Consistently does 50% or more of the household chores. Never characterizes this as "helping your mom." Often gets her a glass of water or a snack, almost never asks her to fetch anything for him.

- His own mother went back to college in her 50s, sometime in the 1970s. I never met her, but he always tells me how much he admired her decision and how she inspired him to want to never stop learning.

- Avoided princess-themed toys and movies and other items that reflect the idea that women are of less or different value than men.

- Helped me deal with boys in high school, while also teaching me to not place my own self-worth in a man. So he made sure I loved myself, but never refused me advice on how to talk to that cute boy in biology class. (A good balance, IMO.)

- Makes sure I know he thinks I'm pretty, but places significantly more value on my intelligence and kindness. (This was very helpful during high school...looks shouldn't matter at all but puberty is not easy and being told "you look nice today" was always appreciated.)

- Always made sure I knew that I could talk to him about anything, even "feminine" issues. (For example, he never acted grossed out by period talk when my mom and I would commiserate, etc.)

- If he spotted sexism on TV, in the media, in a book, or in the real world, and I did not seem to notice, he would bring it up and we would have a great conversation about it. Always listens to me when I have been bothered by sexism in my day-to-day life. Eager to engage in conversations about sexism or other unjust situations.



He had the advantage of growing up with a very empowered mother, and of growing up in the 1970s. He is a great dad, and I am sure you will be, as well -- the fact that you are asking this question really speaks volumes about how you parent and why you're good at it.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 1:36 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another cultural artifact that can have a poisonous, stunting effect on children of any gender is the consistent use of male language and images to refer to "god." Even though my parents tried to reassure me that it didn't really mean anything that we always called god "He," seeing and hearing it over and over and over again had a terribly corrosive effect on my poor mind. Every time that any god-entity is referred to as "He," or "the man upstairs," one of the messages being delivered is that "masculine" is superior to "feminine." Whether that meaning is intended, or explicitly contradicted, the message is absorbed.
posted by Corvid at 2:26 PM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


What some theologians do now is not use any third person singular pronouns for God at all; instead you'd say, "After God spoke to God's people, God said to Godself, My people are very flighty."

It gets less awkward with a little practice. And saying "he" or "she" for God will start to sound weird.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:26 PM on December 22, 2013


All the suggestions above are great. I think the microaggressions concept is really helpful in that it shows the plain drudgery of sexism women have to slog thru every day. Reading the sex and gender entries on this microaggressions tumblr may help you put yourself in your daughters' shoes as well as give you tools to identify teaching moments as they grow up.

(As the mother of an eight month old daughter, I adore this question and the answers. Thanks to all.)
posted by argyle dreams at 7:07 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Avoided princess-themed toys and movies

IMO,. the best antidote for fake princesses is stories about real princesses, a lot of whom tend to be pretty damn awesome.

There's princess Anne of England, who was also an Olympic athlete and works at running the nonprofits she's involved with insetad of just being a figurehead. There was Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II), who stayed in bomb-seiged London during WWII and trained as an ambulance driver when she could easily have been evacuated to safety in Canada instead; and the other Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I), who faced danger from political and religious factions all though her growing years, and had to study her ass off to become a great scholar, diplomat, politician, and tactitian so she could become the Queen her people needed to lead them out of chaos and civil strife. Lakshmi Bai nearly kicked the British out of her corner of India, and Princess Archidamia led the women of Sparta into battle.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:17 AM on December 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


On the princess front -- I wrote a thing not long ago defending princess culture. It's just as important not to devalue feminine things in the raising of your girls.

The idea should be making sure your child has a variety of choices available, so robots, princesses, trucks, sparkles, building blocks, and sewing are all equally available. Steering her away from girl stuff she genuinely likes is still sending a misogynist message. There is nothing wrong with liking princesses, pink stuff, and sparkles; sending the message that it's not OK to like this stuff is just the same old misogyny saying it's not OK to be a girl because girls and girl stuff are inferior.
posted by Andrhia at 10:04 AM on December 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the answers everyone, both the links to resources and the personal advice and stories. Its a lot to think about, and there are some things here that I already know I need to improve on (housework, in my semi-defense I suck at a lot of things in life in general, but I know its no excuse and I try to do my best. I definitely don't see it as my wife's job, but its just another job that, if left to my own devices I'd neglect. Nevertheless, I know its something I need to do better at, so I appreciate the reinforcement on the importance of pulling my weight there). And there are other good ideas that I'll try to incorporate, it seems like several people said in one way or another visibly demonstrating a feminist perspective is a good thing.

Thank you so much, everyone.
posted by Reverend John at 9:27 AM on April 17


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