I’ve come across an interesting opinion online, concerning men’s realization of the importance of feminism. Men have been known to say they hadn’t realized the importance at all, and had no idea how much women’s right ought to matter to them, until they had a daughter whose life it would shape later.
The math is simple enough: why do men only begin to care about the rights of women when their daughters are born? Why not when they get involved in the life of an actual woman who has spent her life fighting upstream? The natural conclusion of that post is that men only care about the world’s inequities when they have stakes to lose. That these fathers only began to care when they had a form of ownership in the game. It was angry and bitter, and implied once again that so many men don’t love or respect the women in their lives the way they claim to. Maybe its a logical conclusion for the times.
But I have to respectfully disagree, and propose that this argument assumes these fathers have been aware of our situation since babyhood. A person convinced that there are no problems doesn’t go actively looking for solutions. And they are so comfortable and sure in that, most don’t take well to being told that they, themselves, are the problem. As far as these new fathers are concerned, raising a daughter should be about the same as raising a son. They’re all children, right?
They have no idea how much harder it will be to raise a girl into a capable, functioning adult, and its no fault of their own. Let me explain…
The mothers of their children are like a a great city. The father didn’t spend the last several generations bleeding and toiling to build it, to protect it, and make it thrive in this harsh environment. He didn’t go to war to keep it safe, and feel his heart break as the walls were breached by an outside force. He didn’t have to stand up for it, when others wouldn’t take its being there seriously. This man hasn’t made the hard decisions, taken the risks, and sometimes fumbled and made terrible mistakes it has taken for this city to flourish and shine on the hilltop.
When these fathers met their wives, they were already grown, confident women of their own. They didn’t need someone to raise and protect them from the world anymore. Certainly, a husband has a responsibility to his wife; he is supposed to protect and support and care for her, to make sure that her existence is as safe and happy as he can make it. But the wife is a grown ass woman, and doesn’t need her husband to do any of that, and certainly doesn’t need someone to fight her personal battles for her. That is a father’s job, not a husband’s. As far as these young men are concerned, the women they married were warrior women, and had already conquered the world.
How much work could really be left to be done, if their Valkyrie wives had already arrived so nicely? What problems could be left to be solved, if they had survived? Still unaware that there is a war waging above their heads, they must have shrugged and assumed that those bad old days of workplace harassment, unequal wages, and women being discredited for everything were over. Perhaps they couldn’t imagine such things happening to such strong, brilliant people as the warriors they married.
And they certainly couldn’t see it happening to their own children anymore. Their tour of the city was all going so well, they figured it would be simple to pick a nearby plot of earth and build their very own. This city has stood for so long. How hard could it be, to start a whole new one together? No one was expecting it to be fast or easy; they expect to work hard and make a lot of sacrifices for their vision. But the problems of yesteryear are long gone. Technology has come so far, political policies are so much kinder, and the world is just so much safer.
How hard can it be, to raise daughters in a world their mothers have already overcome for them?
Assuming that fathers know what they’ve gotten into when a daughter is born, just because they love a woman who has already faced those problems, is laughable. It is assuming that they’ve been gifted with an experience that is systematically denied them. And to allude that this makes them all dishonest fools who don’t really care for their whole families, that they only care for purely selfish reasons, is a bitter disservice to everyone.
It’s not the father’s fault for not knowing better, and we shouldn’t blame him for it. These men have been denied easy access to quality information and good role models, but that hardly makes them foolish or bad people or liars. Women can say much of the same, after all, and are we so foolish when we learn a new lie we’ve been fed all our lives? I think not. In this way, our experience is not so different.
So the young man begins to build his city, and the first stage certainly is simple enough. Time consuming, yes, and sometimes progress is annoyingly slow, but its straightforward stuff. But then the city grows large enough to be a target on someone else map. And the young man runs to defend what is so precious to him, wondering how on earth things have gone so wrong. He thought such problems were a thing of the past… Or, at least, they could never happen to his own, while he was looking right at it.
He now has to watch as his precious city is attacked for no reason but daring to be as it is. His city is never quite good enough for someone, and gets passed over for golden opportunities. It loses contracts, is routinely cheated out of land and livestock, and spies keep finding weak places in the fortifications the father worked so hard to make strong. Its accomplishments are ignored, used only to highlight the lesser accomplishments of older cities. Its goods go to market and can’t turn a profit — people want to buy from someone with more experience, they say. It tries to join alliance after alliance, to further its business and make life for its people better, and the other cities squint at it suspiciously. They let the precious city in, but it always turns out they just wanted to leech off some resource she had. Sugar, usually.
The father is flabbergasted. He thought those days were over! He looks toward the strong, shining city on the hill and asks, “Did you ever have to deal with this?”
“Yeah, of course I did,” she answered. “We all do.”
“Well, what did you do? How did you survive?”
The city shrugs sadly. “There wasn’t much to be done. One city attacked me, and I attacked back. They blamed me for starting the fight by being in their way, and all the other cities believed. They even forced me to pay the other city’s damages, from when I defended myself. I really don’t know how I survived. Sometimes, I wonder if I did survive at all. It’s always the same, but you can try. They won’t listen to the city’s people, but they sometimes listen to its king.”
Raising daughters is a fight. And no father is going to know that off the bat, because they have spent their lives on a grand tour, thinking all was well and always would be. They have stood in the streets where battles took place, marveled at the markers and statues erected in their memory, and heard the tales from their survivors. But he didn’t fight in those battles. He knows that they happened, and is inspired to awe by its heroes and the city’s endurance; but he can never truly appreciate that battle until he fights one for his own precious city.
It’s nothing personal, fathers simply aren’t allowed to know better, and have to discover it all on their own. Which is terribly sad, and deserves some empathy. We continue to blame people for what they’ve been purposefully molded to be, and being angry at them for not thinking to know better. When was the last time we got angry at the people who decided to shape them this way to begin with?
Not every city is fortunate enough to have such a king, or another, older city to ask for advice. The fact that some kings are able to see the problems and care, after being told their whole lives that everything was fine, is a step in the right direction. The way some men let their eyes be opened by their girl children is going to bless countless future generations. Some would scold these fathers for not opening their eyes sooner, but that’s a glass half empty. When the glass is half full, it changes to encouraging them to protect their precious new city, and their precious old city, with all this newfound strength.
Fathers, let your children open your eyes to the world’s problems. Let them teach you gentleness and compassion. Let them fill your heart with dread for what the world has waiting for them; if you dread it, you will work to change it before it finds them. Children shouldn’t bear the burden of teaching their parents in this way, but that isn’t your fault. Its simply the world we live in. Take their small hands in yours, and promise you will change it together, as the family you are.
Young women, don’t blame men for what they haven’t been taught on purpose. Some of them are just jerks; but most of them are simply doing their best with what little they’ve been given. They have been squished into a box with a label, just like you and I, and told that a brute was the most he could ever be. And he’s been told so often that if you lift the lid and offer to pull him out, he might not understand at first what you mean. We women are the same, sometimes. Show men compassion. Don’t scold them, teach them. Show them love, not hatred. Work as partners to change the world together, as the family we are.
Cities rise and fall. Kings and queens are born and die. Every day is a new opportunity for growth, for learning, for making our world a better place one step at a time. Play nice with each other, and have fun.