Being a Father of Daughters
I am a father of daughters, three of them in fact. They are all awesome in their own ways. Amazingly none of the ways in which they are each awesome has nothing to do with the fact that they are daughters. It has everything to do with the humans they are and the people they are growing into.
When I became a father of a daughter and then more daughters, my perceptions of the world shifted. I had become a father and someone responsible for raising girls. Having been raised by a feminist, single mother, I already considered myself a feminist. For many men, becoming a father of daughters is the first time that they really look at and think about some of the challenges experienced by girls and women. If, like Matt Damon, you spend your time thinking about how much you like them apples you might not consider their growing conditions until you have your own orchard. (That’s a Good Will Hunting movies reference for all you kids out there.)
This is part of what women talk about when they talk about the patriarchy. Our society is structured so that males are the ‘norm’ and females are the ‘other.’
When my daughters were born I became more concerned about the state of the world I would be leaving to them. I spend time thinking about the issues they may encounter growing up and I started reading more from women about their life experiences to better prepare myself for how I can support my daughters throughout their lives.
Being the father of daughters isn’t the only reason why I need to think about how women and girls are treated and the barriers that they encounter. Girls and women are not just daughters, partners, sisters and mothers. We need to stop identifying women in relation to men and treat them with the same respect due to all humans. Women have value as individuals and not only based on their status as a relation of a man.
Unfortunately we, as a society and as men have not and do not treat girls and women as equals. Too many men consider women to be of lesser value.
Over the past several days millions of women have taken the step to put their hand up and acknowledge that they have been the victims of sexual harassment and / or assault. Not everyone feels comfortable making this statement and not every woman considers themselves victims or recipients of harassment or assault. I suspect there are quite a few who made decisions to avoid situations where they might become victims of harassment, etc. I have mostly spent the past number of days listening and reading and processing.
I like to think of myself as one of the good guys. At most points in my life I have had more female friends than male. I think I am generally pretty respectful of women as fellow humans. I have worked and volunteered for feminist organizations and consider myself to be a feminist.
That said, the #MeToo campaign has made me think.
I thought about times in my life when
- I didn’t speak up in response to sexist jokes or take a stand against other guys judging women entirely by their appearance and sexual attributes.
- I have been in the room and other guys judged others to be gay or lesbian and made stereotypical comments about them.
- I have participated in making sexist jokes about women
- I have not given women the space to speak and have taken up that space myself
While I have not actively harassed or assaulted any women to the best of my memory, I have still been part of the problem.
Bystanders Need to Step Up
Harvey Weinstein is just one example of the men who view women as property. I can pretty easily come up with a list of other high profile men who treat women as property – Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Jian Ghomeshi, Donald Trump – to name just a few. Of course they are just the high profile ones. There are many men out there who abuse and harass women every day. They do it out of the glare of the media lights, but their victims suffer just the same as the women harassed and abused by these high profile men.
The common story among all of them is that someone always knows about their behaviour and doesn’t speak up. Women tell other women to avoid certain men or at least avoid being alone with them. Men hear the rumours or witness questionable behaviours. Sometimes official complaints or allegations are made to authorities in the justice system.
These men are allowed to continue their harassment and abuse as long as bystanders allow them to do so through their silence. We, and by ‘we’ I mean men, need to step up and call out and stop the harassers and abusers in our midst. We need to recognize our own complicity in allowing this behaviour to exist and continue.
Yes All Women
Not every woman has participated in #MeToo disclosures. I suspect pretty well every woman has experienced some form of sexual harassment or body judgement from men. Many have likely made decisions to avoid situations where they may be subject to additional risk of harassment or assault.
There are of course also boys and men who are on the receiving end of sexual harassment and assault. In a previous role I served as a witness for a male client while he reported his rape to police. He couldn’t read at the time and asked me to come with him and read his statement as taken by police back to him so he could verify it was accurate. This assault was at the hands of other men and that is not always the case.
Yes All Men
If all or almost all women are experiencing some form of harassment or assault, then all of us men have an obligation to examine our words and behaviours.
The training we receive as boys and men growing up is that it is ok to make sexist jokes and comments about and to women about their bodies. Many men receive messages that men are superior to women and as such it is ok to denigrate or take advantage of women.
It isn’t just those who physically assault or rape women who have responsibility here. We all need to work together to change male culture and messaging about what is acceptable.
How I Will Change
- It is my responsibility to step up and call out bad behaviour when I see and hear it.
- It is my responsibility to challenge sexist jokes.
- It is my responsibility to speak up when I hear another man harass a woman.
- It is my responsibility to step in when I see an assault taking place – that might mean putting myself at risk or calling police.
- It is my responsibility to believe women (and men) who tell me they have been harassed or assaulted and provide whatever support might be requested of me.
It is not enough for me to actively avoid harassing and assaulting women myself.
I will do better. I will step up as often as the opportunity presents. I will make change not just for the women in my life and my community, but also for the kids growing into adults who will encounter the same culture of harassment and abuse if I don’t do something about it.