8 Easy Ways to be a Feminist Dad

Recognize that parents are on the front lines of gender socialization and commit to doing it better.

Jordan Shapiro

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Photo by Jochen van Wylick on Unsplash

People often ask me what it means to be a Feminist Dad. I tell them that if they want to understand, first they need to acknowledge that the image in their head of fatherhood is like a piece of art. It’s a collage created in a kindergarten classroom, cut from mass-media magazines, and haphazardly assembled with glue-sticks. It feels solid and significant to the young artist — a masterpiece. But to grownups, it’s superficial, flimsy and fleeting, destined to end up in dusty old boxes with other nostalgic artifacts of transient naiveté.

The image of the good dad is not permanent or fixed. It’s not even longstanding; it’s constantly changing. At any given time in history, it has had more to do with the current economic, cultural, and technological norms than with any natural or essential human inclination. The concept of fatherhood is not about childrearing; it’s about power. It doesn’t correlate with any objective measures of positive human development. The same can be said about motherhood. There’s no mystical mother-infant bond, just like there’s nothing primordial about a father’s tough-love. Gender-specific parenting roles — the idea that moms and dads need to relate to their children in specific and distinct ways — are leftover Freudian fallacies, constructed to maintain and reinforce patriarchal norms.

The concept of fatherhood is not about childrearing; it’s about power. It doesn’t correlate with any objective measures of positive human development.

Those who dispute this scientific consensus tend to base their opinions on outdated, binary assumptions about maternal or paternal influence. Authors, spiritualists, gurus, pundits, and counselors often make irresponsible, pseudo-scientific claims, loosely based on evolution or psychology. They might say, “A boy needs a father to teach him how to be a man!” But it’s not true. We all teach boys how to be “men.” We collectively communicate the good stuff and the bad, the virtue and the toxicity, the over-confidence and the appalling misogyny. We’re constantly sending signals that…

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Jordan Shapiro

Author of Father Figure: How to Be a Feminist Dad (www.FeministDadBook.com) Twitter: @jordosh