There’s no escaping the fact that a Dad is male. As a dad, I live with this condition, and have done so, for as long as I remember (longer, in fact, than I’ve lived with being a dad). Since I’ve had two children – and it’s no coincidence that they are daughters – I have started to wonder about the experience of the girl/woman growing up in this world.
Until I had daughters, I never thought about this. I’d generally ticked the “equality” box (Women are equal! Sure they are!), thought little more about the issue and enjoyed a warm, smuggy feeling of having a generally liberal nature. Even now, I feel uncomfortable trying to write about the question of women in the world, as I am completely unqualified to talk about it.
Unqualified, but not unaffected. Because you still see things like “woman CEO says…” (as opposed to simply “CEO” if it’s a man) or “first female business development something in 150 year old business” &c. one is reminded that whatever equality exists between men and women, there are also headlines like “pay gap still exists” and people (often women) wondering on the radio why women still demand to have a career, if they must insist on having children.
Oh, before I forget – I know I wrote on a similar subject last time – these posts aren’t turning into purely “feminist Dad” posts – this subject has just been on my mind quite a lot lately, for reasons I hope to make clear in this post.
Also – I must confess to being a complete hypocrite here. If I had 2 sons, the questions I have may not have even entered my mind. Many of my opinions are those of the converted (it is through having daughters that makes me question some of the things I’ve seen in the past week – there is perhaps one incident I would question, if I didn’t have daughters). If you have ever met an ex-smoker, there is a similar force of opinion, but less froth at the mouth. This week, I encountered something that made me shake my head. I suppose you could call it The “Skepchick” incident.
Skepchick is a blog operated by female sceptics, who are famed and celebrated the world round. Rebecca Watson is one of the women who run the blog. Ironically, it is not the incident that made my jaw drop in awe, but the reaction.
Here’s a synopsis. Rebecca Watson posted a video on the Skepchick website, talking about some of the things she had done in the past few weeks. One of those things happened to be a visit to Dublin for the atheist convention (or, congregation, as I called it with a chuckle). She had made a point of speaking about feminism in the skeptic community during the Dublin gig. Part of what she discussed was the issue of male skeptics not questioning the fact that they constantly hit on her. Anyway, she stayed up late, chatting with some other sceptics. Then she said she was going to bed. A guy she had been talking to earlier got the same lift, and in the lift asked if she’d like to go back to his room for some coffee. Well, if he’d any sense he wouldn’t have done that because it’s moronic (Seriously, if you really like a girl, they say you should pay attention to her. He couldn’t have done that if she had been talking about the problems of getting hit on all day).
In her video, Watson points out that it was late – in a foreign city – in a closed lift – and there was just her and he there. She simply said “Guys… don’t do that.” She then moved on with her video. It was a passing comment at the end of 60 seconds in an 8 minute video.
Some people talked about this; and some got ugly. Richard Dawkins replied to a different blog post which discussed the incident with a very vitriolic comment that drew on the experience of women’s lack of rights in other countries. It was heavy handed and perhaps hysterical, given the context of the original comment. Well, then there were replies to this and replies to that and on and on it went and pretty soon it was an international incident within the sceptic community. Which is odd, for a bunch of rational, reasonable people.
Why does this affect me as a Dad? I have 2 girls, who I believe will be attractive women when they grow up. I hope they will be smart and assertive (but can make no promises, being no role model in that respect) and interesting. But I would hope that someone (male or female) would not think that just because they are interesting that some sexual encounter should follow. For one thing, nothing would ever get done if people acted that way.
I don’t know if this is a feminist issue explicitly, as it was a proposition, which went nowhere. However, it does show a lack of compassion for the position of Watson – should she grow a thicker skin, or should she be able to walk around like normal people without getting hit on. I know what you’re thinking – perhaps I’m just jealous. I never get hit on in lifts. The worst thing that has happened to me is someone passing wind after a night of curry and Guinness. But outside of equality, there is a pressing issue that men need to have more awareness of how they come across in such situations. Thinking of my own children – I can see how this would make someone extremely uncomfortable.
Having had my attractive daughters who are smart, assertive and intelligent, the next worry I have is how they’ll get on in their careers. This came up the other day in relation to a female TD whose clothes were remarked upon by some other TDs who firmly believe that no one should be judged by the clothes they wear. I care little for the clothes issue. On the radio, the conversation diverted to women in politics, career women and babies (of course!).
I want my kids to have kids. Nothing has made me happier than my kids. I want my kids to have that happiness. But there appears to be this acceptance that if women have kids, they need to sacrifice their careers. There’s that really patronising thing about never being a CEO, but having a much more important job! Frankly, I couldn’t think of anything worse than being a CEO. I don’t understand why we feel our lives should be carved out in working time (I do believe we live in an age when people will die thinking – I wish I spent more time in the office). Don’t get me wrong – I work up to 10 hours a day, sometimes more – it’s not laziness or lack of interest. It’s about our lives revolving around an office or ever-increasing-productivity or creating value for an entity as abstract as a company, when we have our kids – who require us to revolve around a home, teaching them to be productive and happy and enhancing the value of their lives. This is much easier as an idea than in real life. Mortgages, credit cards and loans from single life haunt us for quite some time.
Why does this affect me, as a Dad? Because this emphasis on work and careers benefits men in strange ways. Any question of disparity between men and women in the workforce is often addressed with the simple fact that it’s women who have babies. The science is hard to argue with here. And we are preconditioned to accept that women having babies’ means time off work, means being less productive, means retarded career paths. Instead of questioning and considering how we could all take a little bit more time off work to enjoy every aspect of our children – from making them to making things with them (Bertrand Russell wrote a marvellous essay called “In Defense of Idleness”, in which he argues that shorter working days would slow down the economy enough to ensure more people could work, and so provide for themselves, while also spending leisure time enriching their lives. He also argued that children should be raised in commune to save women the chore, as they could pursue other interests; but I shall gloss over that…).
Of course, the obvious rejoinder is that some women want to sacrifice their careers for their children. I have no problem with this, except that it does not address the point. Some men want to sacrifice their careers for their children. Do we expect all men will do so?
And finally, there is the strange absurdity that floats to the top of all this mulling. Women make up 50% (or more in Ireland, I believe) of the population. Why all the hand wringing over “their rights”? Being female is not being a minority; but it is being marginalised. As a father of 2 girls, I find this indefensible. I find it absurd. I find it answers all the questions posed here: It’s very much a man’s world, with little concern for the issues women face, or indeed the experience of being a woman in the world (even if we have attempted to adjust the gender balance in our institutions, we still lack empathy for the differences between men and women in our human relationships – which is problematic for our institutions as they are generally composed of humans).
Discussions of “equality and how to achieve it” presuppose some requirement to give women a “helping hand” – for example, the controversial idea of quotas in parliament, etc. My 2 cents on this issue (and I close with them, as if I had thrown these coppers in your face):
The attempt to “wait and see” whether women come to be represented in politics, business, art, music (read: human endeavour) has failed. For our endeavours to be truly representative of our societies, we may need to plant some seeds to move things along. Quotas are one way of doing this.
More importantly (for me – or maybe for my kids) – we are still presupposing an old time system that we’re trying to get women – this 50%+ of the society – to join. But surely, we should be thinking about how we create a new system, in which 50%+ of the society are actors (rather than simply joiners, like at the golf club)
You have kids. Perhaps as you raise them you might think about these things.