The Feminist Dad, often mocked for not caring about women until he had skin in the game — literally — has become a news punchline again for good reason. Vulture’s Hunter Harris recently called out already problematic celebrity feminist dads who looked the other way when it really counted, but are now using their father-of-a-daughter status as a way to denounce famous sexual predators in the movie industry.
They are guilty of caring about making the world safer, not for all women, just their women. And not even the adult ones. “Having a daughter shouldn’t be a requirement for internalizing the problems of working within a sexist industry,” Harris writes. “Your wives gave birth to a baby girl, not a moral compass.”
No reason to beat around the unpopular opinion bush: I am sympathetic to and fascinated by the Feminist Dad. It’s not because I don’t understand this “woke-ish” dude’s crimes: After all, here is a man who, only because he has a daughter, is magically able to see women as human people in a way he never could when he was just trying to bang them. It’s just that — hear me out — I think the feminist dad is likely to become a real ally.
It’s true that everyone should see sexism clearly and know exactly what to do in response, and it’s unfortunate some men don’t until their own DNA is at stake. And women have long pointed out the hypocrisy of the feminist dad’s convenient, self-serving transformation for a number of other reasons. In 2014, Kat Stoeffel noted in a piece at The Cut that when men turn magically woke by having a lil princess of their own, it’s often embarrassing. They are happily oblivious to the ways in which they sexualize women at large, and are then suddenly prudishly concerned that their own daughters will be similarly objectified. Others admit to having rolled their eyes at HR presentations on sexual harassment at work until they had a girl child and realized “the victim could someday be your daughter.”
I’ve put feminist dads in my crosshairs before, too. I wrote about all the types of male feminists you meet on the way to a real feminist boyfriend at Jezebel a few years back. One type I mocked was — you guessed it:
Women were but an abstract concept until he fathered a daughter, and now that his own identity and success can be expressed through female offspring, it suddenly matters whether she will be raped, paid equally, promoted, or elected.
P.S.: All dad feminists are potential actual feminists if they can just cross that bridge of ignorance and realize this newfound POV extends to women who are not his daughter or, if he’s a single dad, a new woman he is now trying to date. Godspeed.
But we should consider the ways in which feminist dadhood is a possible path to true enlightenment. Research shows that parents with daughters — but not sons — tend to be more liberal and show a greater support for the sorts of policies that promote gender equality.
This also means that, just as education and empathy reduce racial prejudice, knowing women — at least in a certain kind of way — reduces sexism. By “knowing women,” I mean actually feeling responsible for them, loving them unconditionally, and being accountable for their well-being — but without either trying to get in her pants (potentially all unrelated women) or having to distance yourself from her to assert your identity as a dude.
Let me explain: Part of the reason it’s so easy for men to become feminists when they have daughters is because it’s quite possibly the very first time some men have a truly platonic relationship with a woman they care about.
Yes — but what about his mother, his grandmother, his sister? you rightly point out.
The ritual of becoming a man in this culture is built on eschewing everything female. In other words, men are largely defined since birth by how they’re not like women. The adolescent male separation from his mother is about asserting his independence — we all have to make this break from our parents — but make no mistake, it’s about doing so very specifically in ways that demonstrate his distinct separateness as not-woman.
Society demands that men put as much pavement as possible between themselves and girl culture—in how they spend their time, organize their feelings, and identify as people. It’s no great intellectual leap to understand why men might clamor to get with women sexually, but not to actually understand the female experience on earth.
It sucks, but it’s not that crazy that it might take a daughter to do it.
In a way, the Feminist Dad is a like an undecided voter in our midst. He was always maybe one of us; he just needed a lot of campaigning at his doorstep. The toxic dump had to be built in his back yard before he got upset about it.
The same thing happened when I had a child. Whereas I had once been deathly afraid of expressing any emotion except irony, I have since become, by virtue of simply giving birth to a human, what you might call a “real person.” Meaning one who cares about someone other than myself.
We can mock this relentlessly, but we should also consider making space for the fact that it’s very human. I don’t think feminist dads deserve a medal, but people don’t change in a vacuum. They often change one awkward, mind-blowing experience at a time.
We should try to at least see that these men can often be ambassadors to other men. When a man appears too into his wife or girlfriend, or too influenced by her point of view or concerns, we call him “pussy whipped.” A man who’s doing this feminist rallying because he has a daughter has a believable front: caring for someone vulnerable. It’s weirdly sexist and feminist at the same time. It’s sad that men have to couch simply caring in hypermasculine terms; that men need, in essence, a Trojan horse to roll in some feminism on the down low so no one thinks of them as traitors.
But I applaud men who will take heat for putting some women’s issues in front of their own identity. Many men who write about being feminists raising daughters are called “cucks,” or worse. And some of these men do demonstrate a real understanding of at least some women’s issues. When Ludo Gabriele became a father to a daughter and quit his job to start the blog Woke Daddy, he became a feminist. He told Broadly that he didn’t understand how any father of a daughter wouldn’t be.
“It simply does not make sense to me,” he said. “I just want to live in a world where my daughter can look for a job and be hired for her skills, and not for the way she looks. A world where she is not short changed on her pay and where she is not sexualized on a daily basis.”
Let us know when you find that world, dude. (Gabriele was also called a cuck for life by an online troll.) I wish it were possible for all men to be feminists before they have daughters. But we aren’t born woke; we’re born tribal. It’s education and human experiences and good hearts that open the door to seeing the world through more lenses than our own. Sometimes, it takes shaking that world up unexpectedly to see it was not a telescope, but a kaleidoscope all along.
If the price of admission into progressive humanity is being fully woke from day one, we will continue to maintain the tiniest club on earth. So let’s crack the door for the feminist dad, and let him bumble on in.