How Can I Explain Feminism to My Father?

by September 16, 2017
filed under Life
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It was a close-up shot. You could actually see the beads of sweat trickling down the forehead of Romanian legend and professional tennis player, Simona Halep. I was enthralled. Even though I’m often bored by the repetitive, back-and-forth nature of tennis, I wanted to know who would win. Maria Sharapova, banned last year for using an illegal drug, was finally back. Who would be the champion? Halep bounced the ball. But, when she threw it into the air to serve, a question suddenly interrupted my focus.

“Ha! What’s she wearing?” my dad mocked.
“Halep’s outfit! It’s so weird!”

It didn’t sink in. At first, I was just confused. Why did he care about her outfit? Of all people, my dad would be the one to pay attention to the sports game happening in front of him. He was the guy who was in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, who could play three different sports in one day at the age of 60, and who, until I was 21 years old, beat me in every single running race and ping-pong tournament. I cocked my head at him, then just shrugged it off. That is, until the following week. A foreign correspondent was answering some question on PBS News Hour when:

“She has so much white in her eyes!”
“Dad! What does that even mean and why do you keep talking about women’s appearances?”
“I talk about men’s appearances too,” he mumbled.

No, he didn’t. Not really, anyway. I was angry. He was silent after that. But, it still felt like he didn’t really get it. It made me think of how he acted on Facebook. He wouldn’t friend any women on the site and, in his mind, he was doing the right thing.

“I don’t want to stir up anything,” he said to me once.

My dad is a loyal man. I understood that he didn’t want my mom to feel like he was hiding anything from her or betraying her in any way. But, the fact that he thought that, as a female, my mom would be jealous or worried about the other women he ‘friended’ made it feel like he believed women’s world revolved around men. And that felt demeaning to me.

I can’t really blame my dad for wanting a break from women in at least one area of his life. He has two daughters, no sons, three sisters and even two female cats for goodness sake! Then again, that’s why I want him to understand how often women feel belittled, neglected and helpless in everyday situations. He has so many strong, independent females in his life. As the only male in his family, my dad gets special attention and praise. For example, even when it’s someone else’s birthday, my grandmother will make pudding specifically for him. I know that he sees what’s happening because he and his family joke about it. Yet, I don’t like that he just laughs it off. It’s moments like these where I wish he would speak up. Why doesn’t he do anything to stop it? Does he let it go on because it benefits him?

My dad doesn’t offer up compliments very often – not because he’s cold, but mostly because he’s not interested in small talk. Because he doesn’t tell people how they’re doing, I tend to feel like my dad underestimates me. Though his father threw him the car keys and let my dad learn to drive a stick shift on his own, my dad never allows me to do this, and trust me, as a self-proclaimed thrill-seeker, I’ve asked repeatedly (though I did rip off my dad’s muffler last time I tried driving, so that might be the reason why). The same goes for when my dad explains why he didn’t tell me how to fix the shower: “I didn’t know you could.” Technically, I haven’t fixed many things in my life, and I may have just found out yesterday what a torque wrench looks like, but I feel like my dad doesn’t give me enough credit. I think if he gave me instructions, I could handle it. I’m not sure if it’s true, but some part of me still believes that he would let a boy try the driving or fixing.

My dad can have a long, respectful conversation with a homeless man on the street, but can’t seem to sit still long enough to talk to his own daughter about the uncomfortable topic of sexism. The subject is nuanced and can be easily glossed over, but I think it’s an important topic to discuss. There’s a lot that I want to know. Does he see the nuances of sexism and ignore them or does he just not see them at all? I hope it’s the latter and that I can explain things better to him.

I think the key is to just speak up when a moment of anger or confusion occurs. My friend taught me that. How will people learn if you don’t tell them the reason behind it? If you just tell them something is sexist, they might not understand why.

Of course the topic of feminism is tricky. I love my dad and how kind, generous, intelligent, funny and creative he is. He’s never once pressured my aunts, his sisters, now in their fifties, to marry. Nor does he disrespect them. In this way and many others, he’s very supportive of women. But I have issues with the actions and comments he sometimes makes, and I don’t want to have to hide my views from him. I can’t be silent – for me, for the other women in my life and for him.

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