Bird is the Word
I am a writer and as such I might reasonably be expected to believe in the power of words. Words can hurt and words can empower. I pick and choose my words like a bird pecks seeds. Sometimes they flow from within without much thought. Other times, and depending on the topic, I avoid certain words and choose specific ones to convey a particular meaning. Some words hold so much power that I only use them with extreme caution, to drive a point or startle the reader. Other words I pick to mark my beliefs and tribes to those who know the codes. Some of those words will offend and some will affirm the beliefs of others.
This week I have been thinking about words and how they impact how we identify ourselves and how others see us. It started with Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan writing about “Dad Privilege”. She wrote about how her husband gets complimented for doing basic parenting and she gets no such comments. Her husband is not the only dad who gets these comments. I get them as do most engaged dads from time-to-time. In most cases I get them from women. I disagree with Kristen that we get these comments because of privilege.
What she calls privilege I call fatherhood in the face of a ridiculously low standard and expectation. Men have long been expected to work outside the home and leave parenting to the mother. Engaged dads don’t agree with that concept and women have been demanding change for decades. Media continues to reflect the idiot dad character which only perpetuates the status quo or attempts to suppress progress made on this front. More and more men are finding their way into engaged parenting. We are all trying to do it better than our fathers who all tried to do it better than their fathers. Hopefully our kids will carry on that tradition.
I find it irritating when people offer me compliments for parenting my kids and don’t offer the same compliments to my wife, most engaged dads do as well, at least one can make some assumptions about that based on all the dads out there writing and talking about this phenomenon. It is my hope that these compliments will go away as people realize dads are extremely competent parents. Once it is normal to expect a father to be an engaged parent as opposed to an imbecile who is lucky to last an hour without dropping kids on their heads and losing others under the couch, the compliments will stop.
In the meantime we will continue to model what we can do and challenge the notions that we are incompetent. Slowly, one dad at a time we will raise the bar and expectations of our abilities. It will take time. That is OK because it is time I am spending with my kids, regardless of what you think or expect of me.The words we choose to use to describe ourselves & others are powerful. What biases do you convey through your words?Click To Tweet
Mike Reynolds wrote this compelling piece about why he chooses not to identify himself as a feminist. This is something that I thought about for a long time and now here is where the daddy wars begin. Mike is wrong on this point… or maybe I disagree with his position or perhaps I totally understand where he is coming from and I have a different perspective. I actually have no opinion on how others choose to identify themselves, which is kind of Mike’s point too. He chooses not to label himself a feminist because of the power of the word and because he would rather call himself an ally and demonstrate his beliefs through his words and actions.
I was part of a panel of men in a university class on Gender in Media. One of the questions we were asked was whether we identified as feminists and whether we felt men could be feminists. My answer was yes. The guy beside me said no and made a very strong argument along those lines. I don’t specifically remember what he said or what his argument was. He did change my perspective though and from that point until relatively recently I held the same position that Mike has expressed. In fact Mike’s argument may mirror the argument made by my fellow panelist all those years ago. I thought a lot about what Mike wrote and I decided to stick with my identification as a feminist. For me it is simple. I believe that women are equal to men and as such I believe that makes me a feminist. It is a label and like Mike I believe that actions are louder than words. Mike’s actions in this realm are quite loud and I for one would call him a feminist, even while respecting his choice not to use the term for himself.
I was raised primarily by my mother, a feminist. In every job I have held where I had some degree of authority I have sought to promote women and in almost every case have been able to play a role in moving one of those women into my role when I left. I try to challenge sexism as I see it and fully acknowledge that I am also guilty of sexism. I am aware of my privilege as a straight, English-speaking, white male and I try to mind that and make space for others. It isn’t top of mind every day and I haven’t always been conscious of what I have that others don’t. I have spent a lot of my life in the man box and said what I needed to say to remain safely in that box.
It is in fact because of my privilege that I choose to use the term feminist. As with most labels there are a range of people who use the term and the definitions vary. I know there are women who don’t believe that men should use the term and I understand that. I also know there are a lot of men (and women) who see the term feminist as negative. By using this label for myself I seek to challenge those people and their perceptions of feminism. Those are the people who perceive feminists to be man-hating, hairy-legged, bra-burners out to smash the patriarchy. There are absolutely some feminists who fit and cling tight to that stereotype.
Feminism is a spectrum and I have always supported the activities of those on the more radical end of spectrums. In some case the people who operate there are the leading edge of the wedge, in others their proposals and objectives are totally unworkable. I am a moderate and I look for opportunities to make progress by contrasting my proposals with the more radical positions. It makes me and my positions more palatable and enables me to make change, often incrementally and often insufficient. I operate on the principle that we should never let perfect be the enemy of the good. I can’t solve all the challenges of the world. I can make improvements in small and sometimes large ways and move things towards the bigger objectives. This is where I sit on the feminism spectrum. I believe that women are equal to men and I will make whatever efforts I can to make that a social reality and push back against those who would seek to maintain the status quo or suppress the progress made to date. I want the world to be a better place for my daughters and if I can add the power of my privilege with the power of the ideas and words of feminism to do that, I will.
This week also saw the introduction of Caitlyn Jenner to the world. Before Caitlyn transitioned, she was known as Bruce. Some people rebelled against Caitlyn’s transition and the idea that people can change their gender. I don’t follow the antics of the Kardashians and had never heard of Bruce Jenner until the story broke about his intention to transition to a woman. Until Laura read me parts of the Vanity Fair article I knew nothing about Caitlyn or her family. I still have no interest in them. That said, Caitlyn has the right to be identified as she chooses. It is a powerful thing to be able to select the pronoun you want people to use to reference you. Some trans* people use he or she, some use they or zee. Caitlyn chooses she/her and the rest of us ought to respect that choice. Frankly it has nothing to do with us how she wants to be known.
People change their names for all kinds of reasons and it is a pretty normal thing in our society. For centuries women have changed their names when they marry and some of us men have done the same thing. With some minor exceptions people generally accept that I changed my name and identity with it. I don’t particularly care if other people can’t figure that out, it is their problem, not mine. I know who I am and my name represents that person. I presume Caitlyn and most of the other people who have changed their names for whatever reasons feel the same. Those who refuse to use the chosen name and pronouns intentionally are actively seeking to demean the individual and suppress the idea that people can change.
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