I’m with her.
I’ve always considered myself to be a feminist, mostly because it was easy.
But, as a middle-class white man in the United States, I have the wonderful option to not have to see inequality if I don’t want to.
I am rarely (if ever) placed in a situation where I am discriminated against due to my race or gender, so, in the past, I always got to approach concepts like “feminism” as abstract things.
I’ve never had to fight for feminism or battle against inequality myself, so I’d just hear about other people’s struggles and latch onto them. “Wait, that happened to you? Well, I’m against that. That must feel terrible… I’m assuming.”
So, if asked whether or not I was a feminist, it was easy for me to say “Yes,” because it required no work or sacrifice on my part. I was an armchair feminist. I didn’t really have any skin in the game.
And then I had a daughter.
That changed everything for me. Because, even though I knew many proud feminists before (my mother and wife included), I also knew that, deep down, they didn’t need me to fight their battles. They’d both been strong women long before I’d ever lumbered into their lives.
But my daughter — this was the first female I’d ever met who actually needed my help, who was expecting me to introduce her to the big scary world. And, once I was placed in that position, all I could see was how many things were stacked against her, simply because of her gender.
That was the moment when the abstract became concrete for me.
Gender inequality wasn’t just something people wrote papers about in college. It was EVERYWHERE.
I quickly developed a hyper-sensitivity to anything that was trying to marginalize my little girl.
I found myself revulsed by previously ignored pop music lyrics that reduced women to purely sexual objects. I suddenly found myself wondering, “Well, why is there only one woman in this action movie? And how is that low cut shirt practical when people are shooting at you?”
We took a trip to Washington DC and I got embarrassed when my daughter pointed to a gift-shop placemat showing all the presidents and asked how many of the presidents were women. (She assumed that several of them were “old grandmas.”)
When I said “We haven’t had any women presidents yet,” my five-year-old girl made a face that absolutely killed me. It was a mixture of frustration and “WHAT?” and a sense that the world made considerably less sense to her than it had five minutes before.
I saw that face again the first time I took my daughter to her first Major League Baseball game. She was so excited and, as we walked to our seats, she asked how many girls were on our home team. “Crap,” I thought and explained to her that there weren’t any women playing ball in the major leagues. (I then tried to make her feel better by explaining the growing popularity of women’s softball, which embarrassed us both.)
She sighed and then said, “Well, what about hockey? Or football?” I wasn’t going to lie to her, so I had to explain the reality of male-only professional sports and that face I’d seen in Washington DC returned — that frustrated, confused, defeated, put-upon face.
“I don’t like that, Daddy,” she finally said, and, yeah, neither did I.
Was the world really going to tell MY little girl what she could and could not do?
Was she supposed to tolerate men only seeing her as a sex object? Or men legislating what she could do with her own body? Or men saying that she couldn’t do the same things they could, simply because of her gender?
That was the moment where I finally got some skin in the game.
Now I’m not going to pretend that I have some epic understanding of the complexities of feminism. I’m a dude. I know there are things about feminism that I’m just never going to have the language or experience to understand.
However, as the father of a daughter, I now have a very, very real reason to actively and aggressively support gender equality. Because, yes, my daughter is a woman, but she is SO much more than just a gender and I will happily kick down ANYTHING that tries to pigeonhole or marginalize her, simply because of her two X chromosomes.
Men can definitely support feminism, but, in my experience, they don’t really know the true stakes behind it until they have a little girl looking up into their eyes and asking, “But why can’t I do that?”
Because, the majority of the time, the answer to that question is “There’s no reason at all.”