At 4:29pm on Friday, May 3rd, my life as a person, husband, and student affairs professional changed dramatically. At that moment (a month earlier than expected), Samantha Beth Lerer entered the world ready to hit the ground running. Sammy, or Sam depending on the day, arrived at an interesting time for our country and much of the world. In our country, we are simultaneously seeing new rights extended to some and taken away from others. Many of these changes can and will impact the world in which Sam will live. As a student affairs professional, I advocate for my students every day, but have I found myself wondering over these past few months:
“How can I be an advocate for my own daughter’s success in life?”
As a male, with one brother, I have never really witnessed first hand what it is like to grow up as a young woman in our society. Yes, I see it represented in the media and, yes, I do my research, but I never really explored my impact on and my responsibility for the development of successful and confident young women. Now that I hold a future Nobel Prize winner and Ph.D in Experimental Physics in my arms every night, this question weighs heavily on my mind.
“What does it mean to be a Feminist Dad and how do I earn that t-shirt?”
I have read a few articles on this topic and watched a few picture montages but I feel that it is important to talk about this in the education arena because when dads take part of the responsibility of breaking down societal expectations they can make a major impact in their daughters lives.
Feminist Dads need to have equal expectations for their daughters as they do their sons. Prior to Samantha’s arrival, I said many times “My daughters won’t be allowed to date until they are 30” or “Of course she is going to do ballet, but my sons are going to play football”. It strikes me now how sexist those comments are, but those are the general expectations laid out for us across this country. It is up to us as educators and dads to show that we treat our children equally. These gender stereotypes need to be addressed; if I raise my children right they will make good choices when they are all allowed to date and they can play whatever sports, if any, that they wish.
Feminist Dads need to confront other men on their behaviors toward, and general ideas about, women. Too often, good dads sit there while their friends make inappropriate comments about women, either specifically or generally. Sometimes, due to peer pressure, they join in. Feminist dads understand that this behavior perpetuates societal norms and it is up to us to stand up for women, especially when we are in uncomfortable situations. It is easy to be an advocate around other advocates but as we know with our students in need, you make a much bigger impact when you advocate around those who do not share your beliefs. Just ask yourself:
“If my daughter was here and he said that, what would I do?“ Then do that.
Feminist Dads need to let our daughters know that they are smarter than they think and can be and do anything they want. Seriously. Why is it that over 50% of college students are women but a much smaller number are in the STEM fields? It is because from K-12 young girls are encouraged out of science and math and pushed towards the social sciences. Yes, there are programs for women in the STEM fields once they get to college, but it is already too late for many. Feminist dads know, from day one, they need to reinforce education in the STEM areas. We need to increase the percentage of women scientists, engineers, and mathematicians in college and it starts at home. (Check out http://www.goldieblox.com/ for one great idea.)
Feminist Dads also need to show their daughters how they should be treated in relationships and beyond. We need to treat our partners with respect and show our daughters what healthy, equal relationships really look like. We need to share in the responsibilities at home, just like we teach our students to do at work. Whether dads want it to happen or not, their children will emulate their behaviors at some point in their lives, so we need to be good male role models everyday, all the time. This way our children’s generation may do better at addressing issues like sexual assault and domestic violence than the generations that came before.
Finally, Feminist Dads must be active in supporting movements for women’s health and rights, not just financially, but in person as well. In fact, take your kids along for the ride and show them what it means to be a Feminist Dad. Show them that you are not just a Feminist Dad at home but you take that message of equality and respect out to others and fight to make the world a better place.
It is my hope that Samantha will grow up in a world where it is a common thing for her to pursue a dream to be an astronaut (Did you know: NASA just selected its first 50% female cohort of astronauts); where she will ALWAYS make the same amount of money as her male counterparts; where a female President is just the way of things; where women are in charge of laws pertaining to themselves and their bodies; and where she is proud of the work her Feminist Dad did before she was able and ready to fight for herself.
Steve Lerer is the Assistant Director for Student Life at the University of California, Merced. He serves as the advisor to the Associated Students and coordinator for Leadership Programs. Steve volunteers for NASPA as one of the Region VI Knowledge Community Coordinators. He lives in Merced with his wife, Virginia, their three-month-old daughter, Samantha Beth, and their dog Bella. Steve can be reached on Twitter at @stevelerer or check out his blog, stevelerer.com