My father is a feminist.
He’s never marched in a protest or studied the famous feminist poets, and he doesn’t take to social media to spread awareness of issues on feminism. But he raised me to trust myself, to be bold and to follow my dreams.
As a society we raise our daughters to be ladylike, teaching them to be polite and smart but not too smart, comfortable and confident but not too confident. We impose limitations on our daughters, teaching them the importance of appearance as well as the importance of fear, we teach caution over adventure, and always operate under the assumption that one day our daughters will become mothers. We don’t teach our sons these things, we teach them to be bold and brave, we don’t preach the importance of appearance or criticize how they choose to dress, we don’t fear the gaze of societies watchful eyes on our sons in the way that we fear it on our daughters, and we don’t raise our sons with the knowledge that they will one day reproduce and that that will be their biggest purpose in life. We tell our sons that the world is their oyster to explore and conquer, but we tell our daughters that the world is something to be feared.
I did not grow up being taught these things. My father raised two girls on his own as a single parent, and continuously taught us to be independent, to not rely on others or think that we needed a man by our side to do anything, which in rural, blue collar America can sometimes be a radical notion. He taught us to fight, to trust ourselves, and to be bold.
When I embarked on the 14 hour drive home to Louisiana last summer I kept hearing people make the same remarks, “I can’t believe you would do that by yourself.” and “I can’t believe your dad is going to let you drive that whole way on your own.” as if at 23 years old I should let the fear of being alone stop me, allow my dreams to be deflated simply on the grounds of “I’m too scared to do this on my own.” My father did not raise me in a world of fear, he taught me to be smart and cautious, to pay attention and to ultimately trust myself. But he did not teach me to be afraid. That doesn’t mean that I’m not afraid or that doing things on my own isn’t scary or that I don’t need to be cautious, it just means that if I spend all of my time waiting around for someone to hold my hand and accompany me on every adventure I’d like to pursue, I’ll never leave my house.
The worst thing we can do for our daughters is to teach them fear before they have even learned how to see the world. When we tell our daughters to be afraid we limit them before they even get the chance to try. When we tell our daughters that they can’t do something by themselves because they are female and it is dangerous we are cutting their potential in half, stunting their growth and locking them into the life that they were born into. The greatest thing my father could have done for me was to teach me to trust myself, to be smart and cautious but to not let the fear of the world overpower the life that I wanted to live.
We live in a world where it’s so easy to throw around terms like misogynist and sexism, to blame the patriarchy for our problems, to throw people under the bus for their ignorance or lack of understanding. I think that it is crucially important for us to cultivate a mindset of understanding that fighting for a cause can take many different shapes. Feminism does not always mean burning bras in the street, marching to the white house or advocating for planned parenthood. It can take on a more subtle roll, it can be as simple as teaching our daughters to stand on their own feet, to not fear the world and to trust themselves.