Last year, the reliably lolsobby Daily Caller complained about “feminist apoplexy” in The Book of Jezebel, an encyclopedia of lady stuff to which I contributed such furious screeds as “Gamine: A woman who looks like a Margaret Keane painting, but in a really chic way.” The author, whom I will decline to name because he’s dumb, had a very good theory about why the writers were such harridans: We had daddy issues.
Deep down, America is a very angry country because of missing, absent, and lousy fathers. … Thus the malevolence towards “dead white males” and the liberal obsession with feelings and personal grievance. The bogus “war on women” is really nothing but liberal women acting out against bad fathers.
At the time pretty much everyone who’d contributed to the book found this hilarious, and those of us who were lucky enough to have great dads posted snarkily about how angry we were about their unconditional love and support. But this Father’s Day, I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve decided the Daily Caller is right for once: I do have daddy issues. The issue is that I was raised to expect so much more of men.
Here’s a story: Several years ago, my dad asked me why I identified as a feminist and not, say, a humanist. Anyone who’s been an overt feminist for more than three minutes will recognize this as a classic derailing argument, but in this case it was clearly sincere (guys, women are often quite sensitive and can tell when you’re being disingenuous! I know, right? Women trained to be empathetic? Wonders abound). So I told him that I totally understood his skepticism towards -isms (except, I guess, skepticism), but that feminism is a justice movement intended to recognize and address deeply ingrained inequities, and that institutionalized misogyny has far-reaching clandestine effects and requires explicit attention in the same way that institutionalized racism does. Men who make the “why not humanism?” argument in bad faith tend to respond to this with some version of “la la la you’re the real sexist.” My dad, who is so fair-minded that it seriously pisses off my gleefully judgmental grandma, said “that makes sense. Okay.”
You’ll note that I’m not describing any great blow struck on behalf of equality here—just a man listening and considering and not being a dick. It’s not a very high bar, but here’s the thing: it is so much higher than the expectations most men are accustomed to.
I’m hardly the first person to say this, but guys, patriarchy doesn’t think much of you. It doesn’t believe you can be empathetic or nurturing, so it derides those as being “for girls.” It doesn’t think you know how to read books or watch movies with female main characters—it thinks you need to be fed only stories that don’t challenge you to step outside yourself. It doesn’t think you can control your violent urges if you see a woman in a short skirt; that’s why the skirt’s at fault, not you. It truly believes you need to maintain your position by stacking all the decks in your favor, that if the field were actually level you’d all be trampled. It doesn’t think you can listen to women—that’s why it tells you that you don’t have to.
I was raised to think better of you than that. For most of my childhood, I had no reason to think otherwise.
Most feminists expect better of you, too. Some of us were lucky in the dad department; others had male role models of other kinds. Some had neither, and yet still manage, in the face of all available evidence, to believe you’re capable of more. We think you can manage to get by in a world where women are allowed to be people. We believe you can cope with tough concepts like “gender is a construct.” We know you don’t have to rape someone just because she’s drunk, or her jeans are tight, or you’re not entirely sure whether she’s into you. We think you can still do well playing on a harder setting. Sure, we want you to shut the hell up for five minutes, but we say that with all the love in the world.
And I know you can do this—including shutting up for five minutes, or 20—because I’ve seen it done. Now, my dad in particular happens to be brilliant, but regardless of what I thought when I was a kid, he is not perfect, and he doesn’t know everything. The salient factor here is not intelligence but thoughtfulness, willingness to listen, and the ability to take women seriously. Of all the challenging things my dad has done—getting a Ph.D., raising a family, chairing a department—I think he’d tell you that not being an asshole was the easiest.
So yes, I guess I have daddy issues. Thanks, Dad—I wouldn’t have it any other way.