My Father on Feminism: A Middle-Aged, Straight, Cis, White Guy Talks about Women’s Issues

by Lex Ellenthal

My mother has been calling my father a feminist for a while now. I’ve been calling him subconsciously misogynistic for even longer. He makes jokes at the expense of women, tends to make unsolicited comments on women’s bodies, and has different expectations for his sons than he does for his daughters. Despite growing up with a very independent woman for a mother, having been married to my mother (who is a diehard feminist) for 20 years, and having two teenage daughters (one of whom idolizes Courtney Love and then me, the other, who runs a feminist Tumblr and blogs here at BUST), he still can have immense difficulty checking his privilege. He tends to view women in terms of their relationships to men, and he has extreme difficulty understanding why having control of my own body is so important to me as it pertains to piercings and hair dye. So, I decided to have a conversation with him about feminism and feminist issues over lunch.

Me: So, do you identify as a feminist?

Dad: No.

Me: Why?

Dad: I think it’s got a really negative connotation. If it’s simply believing that people should be treated equally regardless of gender then sure, I’m a feminist.

Me: Can you tell me about how you live up to the standards of feminism in your daily life?

Dad: It’s not something I’ve ever given much thought to. What’s more important to me is that I treat people consistently and fairly and in no way that’ll compromise my integrity. So if I’m an asshole, I want to be considered an asshole regardless of somebody’s gender, or vice versa.

Me: How do you define feminism?

Dad: I was going to ask you to define it for me. I tend to think about it in terms of equality across the board as it relates to women. When I spend a good portion of my [time] with women, I tend to… not think about it. It’s not a factor in my world view, or daily view.

Me: What do you think are the top three issues facing women today?

Dad: In the developing world and in the developed world it’s a bit different. Here, you’ve got wage gaps and pay inequality. In the developing world, you’ve got access to basic information and things that we take for granted like clean water. We tend to think of those things in the context of mothers, but you could also think of them in terms of kids and fathers.

Me: How do you think you’ve helped or hindered the feminist movement?

Dad: Well, I don’t know if I’ve even impacted any movements, but I tend to this about these things very simply, and being my daughter, I don’t know if you’ll think about this positively or negatively but I want folks, or in this case women, to be treated the way I’d want my wife or daughter to be treated… There’s no pedestal I’m going to set, I hire women all the time, I work with women. Gender never is, or should be, a factor.

Me: When you say gender in you’re answers, how are you differentiating between sex and gender?

Dad: I’m talking male/female.

Me: In one of your answers, you said you’d like women to be treated how you’d want your wife or daughters to be treated. But what about treating women as people separate from their relations to men?

Dad: I think it’s a totally valid point. My context is that I’m hopeful that my wife and daughters are afforded opportunities based on their merits and based on who they are.

At the end of our conversation he said he would be the first one to admit that he’s ignorant about women’s issues. He also joked that he treats everyone the same, that he treats everyone like shit. When I remarked that he seemed to think of this in a very work-based context, he countered that that’s because work is where he spends all his time. Overall, he wasn’t as totally uninformed as I anticipated, but he definitely isn’t about to organize a rally for reproductive rights. I tried to get him to think about how feminism and women’s issues relate to women as individuals, but he was quite steadfast, talking about how everyone has a wife or a daughter or a girlfriend or someone, and how most women he knows and interacts with are employees, clients or co-workers. So he’s not really a top feminist ally. However, he’s not making moves to take our rights away, either. It was an interesting conversation, and one I’m glad I had. From us at BUST, here’s a little homework assignment- talk to someone about feminism who isn’t necessarily very educated on the subject, and listen to their opinions, just for the hell of it. You might be fascinated (though also possibly horrified) by what they have to say.

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