Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Does being a dad make you a feminist?

A dad of girls, that is. For all I know it might apply to dads of boys as well, but it's having a daughter that author Tony Parsons says is responsible for his newly-enlightened attitude to women. What kept him? you might be asking. 

Especially if you're a woman.

Because by his own admission he was a laddish, leering lothario in his younger days. And seeing as he's come rather late to the parenthood table, his younger days extend well into an age when, you might be forgiven for thinking, he ought to have known better.

But no matter. That's not what I'm asking. I'm asking what - if anything does, or if anything should - make you a feminist?

Because feminists don't tend to like us dads much, do they? There was even an anti-Father's Day hashtag trending last week on Twitter (although that did turn out to be a hoax). 

However, being the father of daughters makes you aware as probably nothing else will of the dangers and the difficulties being female brings, as well as providing the determination necessary to overcome them.

I've taught both in all-boys and all-girls schools and one of my long-standing responsibilities in the former was teaching Sex Education. I've said before that as far as that subject's concerned, I'm firmly in the 'ignorance isn't bliss' camp. Most of the mistakes we make are borne of ignorance: ignorance of the facts, ignorance of how unfounded our opinions are or how hurtful they can be. 

The laddish, whoah-show-us-your-tits attitude of boys was sometimes overwhelming. (As an aside, I've never seen as much silly sexual graffiti anywhere as I did at the all-boys school.) It certainly seems ubiquitous, from classrooms to the hallowed haunts of Cambridge University

Challenging such stereotypical (and largely herd-led) attitudes goes hand-in-hand with what I regard as the overriding purpose of Sex Ed. anyway - which isn't just to teach the 'plumbing' but to explore the whole package of attitudes and values and even so-called humour

Talking of which, have you heard the one about women's rights? No? 

That's the joke! 

Is it funny? I don't think so. Should you be allowed to say that? Tweet it? Post it? Well, sure. But that's the least offensive of a whole raft of sexist jokes and so-called banter that you'll find difficult to avoid outside a hermitage. 

I'm not in favour of censorship. I am firmly in favour of free speech. But freedom of speech isn't the same as freedom to abuse, to insult, to disparage. Language does matter. Just ask Jeremy Clarkson.

And rights demand responsibilities. I don't think such sexist humour should go unchallenged. And I don't think challenging such laddish banter means you haven't got a sense of humour. Words either crystallise our ideas or express them; and thoughts so easily lead to action. Making jokes won't make you a mysogynist. But it won't help. 

Our lifestyle as a family presents a pretty good paradigm for non-sexist attitudes, if only because I do most of the domestic chores and my wife is the breadwinner. It works; no one feels demeaned (although my hands get awfully dry and sore!) and I hope both my son and my daughters see what happens in our household and learn from it.

It worries me that my daughters will inevitably encounter the casual, laddish misogyny that now seems common. And it would bother me equally if my son grew up regarding such language, attitudes and behaviour as acceptable. 

But maybe it's fathers - and mothers - of sons who should have most to fear? Give me the child and I'll give you man.

Feminists need fathers and the fathers of sons need a dose of feminism every bit as much as the fathers of daughters. 
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