I guess I’m probably like many aging men. After growing up in a society that oozed male dominance from every institutional pore, I listened and learned, scrubbed myself free of overt sexism, and figured I scored pretty high on the feminist scale.
Paraphrasing Dr. King, I try to judge the character of every person by what they do, and not by what they look like. And I tried to teach my children that philosophy. My daughters will tell you that I never told them they were pretty while growing up. Instead, I told them they were good at reading, writing, and arithmetic, that they owned their bodies, and that they alone were responsible for their happiness.
Heck, a central theme of my novel revolves around the ravages of a human history that’s been dominated by patriarchal privilege. So, I’m good…more than good, right?
I recently stumbled upon a copy of “WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Started reading. Gave myself a few pats on the old back, I sure did. Yep, I had overcome a culture of institutionalized patriarchal brainwashing, and with the help of feminists everywhere, had become one myself. Yep, I was doing just fine until page twenty-six.
I have a son. And without really trying, I realize that I taught him all the things Ms. Adichie warns about, “…to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability…” I raised my son in “…a hard, small cage….” I shaped him “…a hard man.” Don’t misunderstand me. If you met my son, you’d find him courteous and respectful, quite pleasant company. I’m very proud of him. Yet, after several hours with my son, you wouldn’t really know him, because he wears that mask Adichie writes of, a coat of armor, if you will. And he’s never going to let you close enough to discover any chinks in his armor.
So, I left page twenty-six reeling, thinking defensive thoughts like, but that’s how men survive, that’s how they thrive in this world. And perhaps there’s some truth to those thoughts. Yet, likely only true because fathers like me continue to shape hard men, who are then hard on each other, thereby perpetuating the myth of the necessity of hard men.
I stumbled toward the finish of this short book (It’s quick, read it please), thinking less and less of myself, mentally mocking my self-imagined feminism. That is, until Adichie rescued me by offering her definition of a feminist. She wrote, “My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.’”
So, yes, I am a feminist. I firmly believe that there is a problem, and that I can do better…I can offer Adichie’s book to my son, and ask him to think about raising his future son outside of that cage. And…I can offer to help. Perhaps together we can shape a man that is strong rather than just hard.
Stream of Consciousness Quotes:
“This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”-Neil Armstrong
“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.”-G. D. Anderson
“We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”-Malala Yousafzai