How to talk about feminism with a sexist male.
Today I made a onesie for my future nephew that said “FEMINIST” in rainbow, all-capital letters. My father was close by, talking to my sister and I about our family. He suddenly noticed I was creating something and said “wow, did you just make that? It looks so…professional”. I felt happy that my pops acknowledged a creative side of me that he probably rarely sees, and took pride, pun intended, in this onesie that will soon adorn my nephew.
A few minutes later, as my mom, sister, and I were in conversation about onesies, my pops interrupted with, “so…what is a feminist?”
Have any of you ever had a conversation with your sexist, old-fashioned father? About feminism? Yeah, well, neither had I.
I tried not to make a big deal of the fact that I was about to dive into something that could possibly be terribly mis-interpreted, and gave him an incredibly over-simplified answer to start with: “it means equality of the sexes. Or someone who advocates to make sure that women are treated equal to men…and any other sex”. I whispered that last part under my breath. I wasn’t sure I was equipped to start explaining transgender or any of the other alphabet folks to my pops, nor was I sure he would be open just yet.
I’m just going to pause here and say that a huge part of me didn’t believe he even asked that question and another huge part of me was so excited that he did. If there’s anything I know about progress, it’s that it begins with dialogue — open, trusting, non-shaming dialogue. — and it begins with the people who we surround ourselves with that may believe things we find outrageous (see title of post).
At my sister’s urging, I continued. “An example might be that women get paid less to do the same job a man does. A person who advocates either for themselves or others to make sure that a woman gets equal pay is a feminist.”
I could see his inner wheels turning.
“But I thought being a feminist was a bad thing? Every time they talk about it on the news it’s like they’re saying it’s bad.”
I cringed quietly and winced on the inside. Because of course feminism has a bad rap on the mainstream media outlets my pops watches and reads.
Meanwhile, my wheels were also turning. How do I make this interaction a positive one so that he wants to learn more? How can I appeal to his curiosity without shutting it down? How can we have this dialogue without making him feel like I’m a “bad” feminist? How do I provide a robust definition and not leave out all the important things about what it means to me to be a feminist? All of these questions rushed through my brain as my mother, sister, and I tried to remain present and explain what it means to be a feminist — a complicated task for even the three of us, as our definitions are slightly different, too.
Eventually I blurted out: “this is a patriarchal society and men are revered over women, so we need feminism to balance that out,” to which my sister promptly gave me her side eye as if to tell me the words I used were too advanced.
I backed up and broke down the above statement, and decided that since my pops likes watching videos that I could show him one of my favorite talks on feminism by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. You know it, it’s the one Beyonce ran in the background of that Flawless song.
He watched the beginning part of the video, almost impatiently, but watched it nonetheless. He took in a lot of information in this 10-minute conversation and then shut down and went off to complete the next task on his list for the day.
Am I sure anything changed in his mind about feminism? No.
Will I bring it up again in the next couple of days to ask him if he has more questions or wants to watch more videos? Absolutely.
Because if I’m not helping my own father learn about being a feminist, how am I supposed to teach my nephew to be one?