My new book, Father Figure: How to Be a Feminist Dad, will be published on May 11 — many months from now. But I’ve already started promoting it. Almost every day, I’m recording podcast interviews, or responding to emails and calls from journalists. The other night, I participated in my first ever event on the trendy new Clubhouse app.
The transition from writing to promoting is the weirdest part of being an author. If you think Facebook creates an echo chamber, try living with only your own ideas long enough to finish a book. Muses start to feel like demons, waking me up in the middle of the night, demanding I scribble down yet another note, with one more way to reframe the same idea.
For the past year, I’ve been a recluse — researching, thinking, typing, revising alone. Now, I’m suddenly talking to other people about things that were once sheltered in my mind. And the initial reactions have been surprising. Maybe someone else could’ve predicted that people would struggle to make sense of a book about feminism written by a man, for dads. But I didn’t see it coming.
Maybe someone else could’ve predicted that people would struggle to make sense of a book about feminism written by a man, for dads. But I didn’t see it coming.
Everyone seems to ask, “What is a feminist dad?” As if the concept itself were loaded with cognitive dissonance. Like the way two magnetic toy trains repel one another when a toddler tries to connect the wrong sides, fatherhood and feminism — for some people — feel like they’re in opposition. Why? Do that many people still think feminist means “man-hater?” Can’t they see that feminism liberates men too? I guess not. Would they ask the same question if the subtitle to my book were, “How to Be a Compassionate Dad?” What about, “How to Be an Entrepreneurial Dad?” I don’t think so.
One of my favorite definitions of feminism comes from bell hooks — acclaimed author, theorist, professor, and social activist. In Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, she wrote, “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” I like how straightforward this statement is — not complicated, scary, or unwelcoming. It also doesn’t suggest a battle between men and women.
Feminism absolutely begins with a forceful criticism of the binary gender–based hierarchy that allocates male privilege, permits dominance and violence, and promotes misogyny and homophobia. But hooks’s definition is open-ended enough to leave room for us to acknowledge that patriarchy can also hurt men. It strips them of certain rights, challenges their self-esteem, and pressures them to adopt sexist aspirations and identity narratives. Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put it nicely, “Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.” Women are not the only victims of sexism, and men are not the sole perpetrators. Patriarchy is a problem for everyone, whether you’re a subjugate or a beneficiary.
Fatherhood is at the root of patriarchy and until we’re ready to take a long hard look at what it means to be a dad we’re not going to be able to deal with the evils of misogyny, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia.
Certainly, when I chose the book’s subtitle, I knew that the word “feminist” was loaded. That’s why I picked it. Fatherhood is at the root of patriarchy and until we’re ready to take a long hard look at what it means to be a dad we’re not going to be able to deal with the evils of misogyny, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia.
So, for anyone who struggles to deal with the subtitle. I have a solution. In your head, replace the word “feminist” with “manly.” How to be a manly dad! Then, define “manly” the same way so many problematic books do: as the ability to confront life head on, assertively, authentically, with conviction and confidence. Then, do the right thing and man-up to a real conversation about gender inequality.