As one who embraces feminism, it's tough to reflect on fatherhood. There's the traitorous sense of being preoccupied with a politics of gender identity at the expense of real women (no, not Harper's harpies, actual women). There are the dismal facts: irrefutable statistics about women, poverty and the material sacrifices associated with motherhood and childrearing, in which the term "disproportionately affected" features, well, disproportionately. There is the patriarchy, seemingly very much in control, thank you ma'am, as it cuts funding to yet another women's advocacy group and hounds yet another woman out of politics.
Then there is, of course, the fathers' rights movement. Aggrieved, aggressive and anti-feminist, many representatives of the movement seem to be less interested in their kids than in getting one over on the "feminazis" they mistakenly perceive as being in charge. As women's groups have pointed out (see here and here), the struggle for the default shared parenting model that is a key element of the fathers' rights agenda leaves the door wide open for abusers to persist in their control of ex-spouses. And yet, support for these groups is growing. Groups like Fathers 4 Justice are darlings of the rightwing religious backlash against women's rights, a lunatic fringe element that is steadily gaining power under our current conservative regime. My fellow travellers and travailleuses, listen: we ignore these folks at our peril.
So, why do we allow these groups to unjustly speak for all fathers, to occupy this territory and, like Birthright manipulates scared pregnant girls into compulsory motherhood, manipulate men who have been hurt by flawed patriarchal systems into misogynist positions? Why can't we as feminists shrug off our siege mentality and speak up more often in praise of feminist fathers, men who actively refuse to play the stern, domineering and largely absent fatherhood role that is expected of them? My own feminism, informed by union sisterhood and class consciousness, is troubled by the seeming exclusion of feminist fathers (who are not necessarily biological fathers) from our struggles with the patriarchy. I'd much rather enlist these guys on our side.
I am blessed with several examples of fathers who boldly refused to be patriarchs. My grandfather, for example, defied convention and supported my mother's decision to pursue higher education. My partner sacrificed for many years in order to be a single dad while his child's mother pursued her career. While I know that there are still many deadbeat, neglectful and abusive parents out there, an unconscionable number of them male, I also see many men of my generation, including gay and trans men, challenging and overturning traditional notions of fathers and families. Most importantly, they are finding ways to do this without discarding the feminist politics that led us to question rigid gender roles in the first place. They advance both fathers' rights and women's rights, seeing these rights as complementary rather than mutually exclusive. Theirs is a difficult struggle, nowhere near as simple and glamorous, say, as blaming "feminazis" for all your woes while mainstream media and politicians nod in approval. They need our sisterhood and support.
Today is Father's Day, a day invented by a woman to acknowledge her widower dad's love and nurturing of his family (let's not forget that her poor mother died birthing her sixth child). Here's a toast to all you brave, nurturing, pro-feminist men: go forth and multiply!
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