"As a father, I can explain to them why it's important for men and women to work together to break those shitty cultural norms down. "
DOUG ON RAISING TWO SONS (10, 6)
WASHINGTON, D.C. | USA
Growing up, my mom definitely was tuned into issues of feminism, and my dad, who was well intentioned but could be dense in a lot of ways, was pretty traditional. For many years during their marriage, he was operating out of a lot of traditional and sexist assumptions about who does what in the home. This was a direct result of his own upbringing, where his parents modeled these assumptions in their own marriage. So he unconsciously bought into sexist assumptions about the appropriate division of labor between a husband and wife. Over time, my mother spoke up more and more about being unhappy about the division of labor in her own marriage, so as a kid, I observed this dynamic on my own. My mom never sat me down and told me about how to support feminist principles. It was never a formal process, and instead was more a process of my observing of those type of behaviors. Mom raising protests and my dad slowly but surely coming around to what she was trying to get across.
It wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I was exposed more to feminist ideas. Even at that point in time, I wasn't really sure what feminism was but I knew there was something in that belief system that I connected with. Even as I considered myself a feminist, I thought it was more about what women do and my role was to be supportive.
My sister-in-law works for a labor union. She is obviously very involved in activism around protecting rights for workers, and is an ardent feminist as well. When she and my brother-in-law were getting married, they asked me to give a toast at their rehearsal dinner. As an homage to my sister-in-law, I thought I should research a bit about feminism to weave that into the toast. That was actually the moment of serendipity that transformed how I understand feminism. When I was looking up material that I could use for my speech, I stumbled upon an essay from a book called Feminism is for Everybody. I was kinda just struck by it. That was very eye-opening and broadened my understanding of feminism and why it is an important belief system for both genders. It was the turning point in my journey.
I have two boys, the older is ten and the younger one is six and at this point neither my wife nor I have sat them down to explicitly talk about the importance of feminism. We do talk about treating all humans equally. We definitely have pointed out particular incidences and current events related to things like Black Lives Matter and other civil rights issues and activist movements. We also talk about how humans can be mistreated. While we haven't tried to specifically explain feminism to them yet, we feel like we model those values.
There's not a huge difference in the roles my wife and I play in raising feminist kids. However, my wife and I have different perspectives that we can offer to the boys. My wife, a woman, can explain and teach them what it feels like to be on the receiving end of shitty cultural norms. As a father, I can explain to them why it's important for men and women to to work together to break those norms down.
We don't restrict anything in the house. If they start being super machismo, which hasn't been the case, there's definitely need for intervention if they do cross the line. They do play shooting video games, Star Wars, all the typical 'boy' stuff. They love all the superhero movies and I read Marvel comics growing up. We all watch when the movies come out. I will say when a female superhero emerges, I do go out of my way to point that out. I'm not faking it either just to try and boost their feminist awareness. I'm a huge fan of Black Widow in the Avengers movies, and Jessica Jones on Netflix. There have been times when my wife was painting her nails and they participated as well. We're not bothered by that.
The kids don't use the word 'feminism' but my sense is that they intuitively grasp the meaning. I know peer groups have a lot of influence. My oldest is ten years old so there's teasing involved when girls are around. I help coach a running group called Let Me Run, that centers around running as an activity but it allows an opportunity to help boys to be more emotionally mindful. Our son is a member of this team. In one of the discussions we hold during each practice, one of the boys described how some of his friends had been teasing him for talking to a girl in their class, saying that he was in love with her. We definitely talked about that, asked the other boys on the team whether they thought it was right, was fair to tease him like that. I made the point that the boys who were teasing him had a very narrow perspective on the types of relationships that boys and girls, men and women, can have with each other. To this way of thinking, the only plausible explanation for why a boy would want to talk with a girl is because he is in love with her. This type of thinking leaves no possibility for any other type of friendship, and reduces the common denominator of male-female relationships to sex. I reminded the boys that their teammate should feel completely free to enjoy a relationship with this girl and that's because they are friends. They like spending time with each other and there's nothing wrong with that.
An equal partnership
When my wife and I married in 2004 in a mixed faith ceremony, I found wedding vows that dated back to the days of the Druids in ancient Ireland. The man and woman exchange identical vows and basically affirm that the other person is an independent agent within the marriage. Committing to the other person is a choice that each person takes freely. That's definitely the frame of mind in which I approach our relationship and marriage. We are trying to model that in how we try to run the home together. Neither of us is the parent that is the final authority and we focus on being a team.
My wife and I have a great relationship with the boys. She is surrounded by males, even our dog is a boy. She's a strong parenting figure and has natural maternal instincts. I don't think there's any danger of the boys thinking of one of us as the dominant or good parent. They understand the two of us operate at the same wavelength.