Welcome to Harpy Seminar, a regular feature we plan to have at regular intervals, unless we get too busy to have it at regular intervals, in which case it shall appear whenever we have time and inclination for it. Each Seminar begins with a question, which we discuss amongst ourselves, and we then edit the highlights of our conversation into a post. Please feel free to join in in the comments!
Here at Harpyness we regularly caterwaul about the evils of Patriarchy, and sometimes of menz (although more individually than collectively). What you may not know is that all five of us are big fans of our own personal Patriarchs, both of the biological and step variety. So for Father’s Day this weekend, the subject of our roundtable is our dads.
Was your dad a feminist in any sense of the term? How has your relationship with your father–or stepfather or father figure–influenced your views about gender relationships and feminism?
BeckySharper: For me this is a two-parter, since I have two fathers: my dad and stepdad. They’re both extremely loving and affectionate but when it comes to gender issues, they’re like opposite sides of the coin.
My stepdad is a Southern gentleman who always opens doors for women and says “yes, ma’am.” And yet, he is completely feminist in his approach to women’s roles. He adores the strong, well-educated MamaSharper and never treated her or her career as anything less than equal to his. He is the Barack to her Michelle. He fully expected me and my stepsister to get an education, speak up when challenged and make our own way in the world. He loves that I am smart, assertive and dominant. I was raised in his home and it certainly helped empower me.
My father, on the other hand, prefers his women more traditional. After his divorce from MamaSharper, his second wife–not coincidentally–is sweet, passive, painfully non-confrontational, and sacrificed her career to some idealized notion of being a SAHM. And while my father’s proud of my intelligence and achievements, he is distinctly uncomfortable with my assertiveness. My brothers are much more brash and aggressive, but they get the shrug and “boys will be boys”, whereas for me the message has always been: why can’t you just pipe down and be sweet? The irony is that the outspokenness, the libido, the combativeness are all traits I get from my father. Under my father’s liberal, well-educated surface, I’ve always sensed a strong discomfort with feminism and outspoken women, and that’s probably made me more sensitive to the problem of traditional gender roles.
22 years later, he is now sending me articles and ideas that might spark blog posts, something that I find very touching. Whereas my mother worries that this blog is too “militaristic” (not that she reads it, but whatever!), my dad is firmly in support of me. He was also much more accepting of both my bisexuality and my decision to go to a women’s college.
My stepfather has been a part of my life since I was 10, and married to my mom since I was 13. In certain ways I’m closer with him than I am with my father, and I’m lucky enough that I can call both men “dad”. My stepdad also has no sons and multiple daughters, and he’s never once made any remark in my presence that has been even the slightest bit sexist. I can’t think of any evidence that points to whether or not he’s influenced my thoughts on gender and feminism, but I do know that he’ll never laugh or roll his eyes or shout me down if I start talking about feminism or patriarchy. And that counts for a lot.
But he is really one reason I could never subscribe to gender essentialism. He is the kid-lover of the family, everyone’s favourite uncle, famed for hours-long games of “hot hands” (don’t ask) and silly jokes. In a way it is sad he did not have more children. When my parents decided to get married they met with a pastor they wanted to marry them to discuss the ceremony. Towards the end of the meeting, he said, “So, will you have children?” And my dad said “Yup.” And my mom said “Nope.” And they had to negotiate that one out, and ended up with just me.
Because he is a goof my dad does occasionally make remarks about being “surrounded by women” or some nonsense, though he’s done it less since I started telling him those jokes bother me. But he never thought I was or had to be, anything in particular because I was a girl. His proudness of me is overwhelming at times, but I haven’t really any complaints.
My parents are best friends and the environment they created for me and my brother was great. My dad treats my mom well and my mom treats my dad well. My dad and I got a kick out of learning together and he encouraged me in my education and extra-curriculars (though never pressured me). I have great memories of reading books and doing puzzles with him. I used to lie in my parents’ bed every night as a little kid whilst my dad quizzed me on math problems. Another great memory I have is playing sports with my dad in our big back yard. He coached my church league basketball team when I was in middle school and we’d go to the local university’s women’s games together.
My dad has never, ever uttered a sexist word in my presence. He and my mom were more protective of me than they were of my younger brother, which I attribute to sexism and the fact that I was first-born. But other than that, my dad just treated me like his kid and let me be myself. He was also secure in his own manhood. I can’t remember him ever teaching my brother to “man up” or pressuring him to perform stereotypical masculinity. He cries openly – including every time we hug goodbye after a visit. We are not super close as adults but we enjoy each other’s company and still crack each other up. I adore him not just because he’s my dad, but because he’s a warm, generous person who makes the world a lovelier place.
The reason I doubt his bona fides is that I can see that he’s only too happy to accept his male privilege–not that he would recognize it if it bit him on the ass. Growing up, however, I didn’t get a lot of bullshit double-standards from him vis-a-vis life/chore/grade stuff; both my brother and I knew what was expected of the Dork-lings. And to his great credit, he never pulled–or even joked about–”let me get my shotgun” crap about my dating life. He actually was the one to suggest that the Dude and I move in together in ’98, shortly more than a year after we started dating: he said it was just practical. (Which it was.)
In general, he’s pretty respectful of women as a class, too, and I don’t recall offensive gendered language from him, or absolutist “girls can’t” or “women aren’t” sentiments. I think the fact that he (and of course my mother) raised me to go for what I wanted–and to think that I deserved if not the very best, then at least very good things–has pushed me to try things that other parents might dissuade a daughter from pursuing, and I’m fairly certain that I ended up with the Dude at least in part because he shares a lot of my father’s best qualities.