I had this interesting thought when I was in the shower this morning. It occurred to me that I might just be a feminist. I’d never really thought of myself like that before, but, as I was contemplating my roles as husband and father, it dawned on me that I’m a feminist. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. According to the World English Dictionary a feminist is “a person who advocates equal rights for women”. I’ve tried to live my life in a way that treats all people with the same kindness and compassion, regardless of their gender. But, it’s more than just kindness and compassion toward women. It’s also about changing the way that women are treated and perceived by society. I would guess that most of us would say that women should be given the same social, political, legal and economic rights as men. While much progress has been made, there is still more work to be done to truly level the playing field. One area that has recently been getting a lot of attention on social media platforms is the use of the phrase “like a girl”. There’s an ad by Always which beautifully illustrates how many of us, often unknowingly, contribute to the negative connotation of doing something like a girl. (Click here to view the ad.)
As a dad of five daughters I don’t ever use that phrase. I want my daughters to believe that they can do anything they choose however they want to do it. And I will support them 100%. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t always have such an enlightened view. Growing up as a teenager in the 80s it was common for boys to throw around the phrase like a girl as an insult when someone did something “weak”. For example, “Billy, you throw like a girl” or “Phil, you run like a girl“. It was mean-spirited teasing that implied that doing something, anything, like a girl was inherently inferior to the way that a boy would do it. I even complained to my mom one time that my little sister, who was probably 6 or 7 at the time, was throwing the football like a girl. Instead of lecturing me, my mom stated the obvious that she IS a girl, and that if it bothered me that much I could teach her how to throw the ball better. So I did. My sister still throws (and catches) like a
girl BOSS! She throws a better ball, with a tighter spiral and greater accuracy, than most guys I know.
I’ll admit that first gender-equity lesson from my mom didn’t penetrate my thick teenage skull very deeply. A few years later, at age 22, I was excited to become a father for the first time, as my wife was pregnant with our first daughter. Only, we didn’t know her gender until she was born. So, in the months leading up to her due date many people asked me if I thought we were having a boy or a girl. Without hesitation I always answered that I was hoping for a boy, since I was under the impression that boys were better. That I would be more fulfilled as a father if I had a son. I couldn’t have been more misguided. Thankfully, my wife, the oldest of four girls, kindly pointed out that girls could play sports and do pretty much anything that boys could do…and that I was being a sexist jerk for thinking like that. Which was totally true. Thankfully, pregnancies are nine months long, so I was able to realize before our daughter was born that praying and hoping for a healthy baby of either gender was the correct way of thinking.
Still, I hadn’t fully let go of the phrase “like a girl“, even though I had a daughter of my own. That moment arrived a couple of years after the birth of my daughter, when I was teaching 7th grade and coaching the 7th grade girls basketball team. During one of the practices the girls did something (I don’t recall specifically what it was since this happened in 1997) that frustrated me and I blew my whistle to get their attention and started to tell them that they needed to throw better passes, to stop throwing it like a ________ . And I caught myself before I said it. That last word on the tip of my tongue. All 15 of the girls looking at me, waiting for me to finish. And then it dawned on me just how much of a male chauvinist pig I was going to be if I said that last word as girl. So I said baby. And right then, and there, I promised myself that I would never, ever, use the phrase like a girl to put someone down. I also started getting on people who used that phrase as a pejorative. Maybe that’s part of the reason why I’ve been blessed with five daughters…to show them and others that it’s great to live like a girl.
When my second daughter was born in 1999 we found out her gender before she was born. I was excited to have another daughter. There was not a shred of disappointment in my being. Sadly, though, many people assumed that I would want a boy and even had the audacity to suggest that I would be disappointed to have another daughter. The sexist comments were even worse when we found out we were expecting a third daughter in 2001. I was completely satisfied with being a DODO (Dad Of Daughters Only). I felt that God had truly blessed me with three daughters and I was excited to be their dad. In 2004, when our fourth child was born we didn’t reveal his gender to anyone else until he was born, although we knew. Once he was born, pretty much every friend and family member commented that I must be so relieved to finally have a boy. And, “are you done having kids now that you got your boy?”. Again, why would I be more or less fulfilled as a parent or man if I had only daughters or only sons? I was appalled by the overarching sexism that was so predominant in people’s well-meaning comments. And most people never even realized how awful the message was that they were conveying even if it wasn’t intended. I made a mental note to never make such a sexist comment to any parent. Ever.
While I’ve never attended any political rallies for women’s rights or done anything like that, I have tried to instill in each of my kids (including my son) that all people deserve equal rights and equal treatment not only under that law, but also socially. And that starts with my own attitudes and those of my children. I even had to reprimand my own daughter (I won’t name which one) for using the phrase like a girl to try to insult her brother. I pointed out that she was actually insulting both him and herself (and her gender) at the same time. And that there was no room for that kind of attitude in our family. It’s a tough battle sometimes, but I believe it’s worth it. And as a Stay At Home Dad, I get the opportunity to reinforce the gender comments while correcting any negative ones that might slip out of my kids’ mouths. It’s a role that I embrace. Literally and figuratively. So, does that make me a feminist? You make the call.