What does it mean to be a modern feminist?
Ever since I became a father to a beautiful baby girl in 2017, I have been increasingly pondering this question. As a young father (still a fresh-faced, slightly jaded 29-year-old millennial) I am now facing the prospect of raising my daughter in western society. Doing my homework on feminism is crucial for me if I want to build my daughter to be a strong and independent woman who fulfils her full potential.
After doing a lot of reading about the history of feminism, examining media stories around the issue and engaging in my own self-reflection, I have concluded that I won’t be raising my daughter to be a feminist - well not the modern iteration of feminism.
An extremely brief history of feminism
Western women, particularly in the early ninetieth and twentieth century, were prohibited from having the same rights as men. Of course, I don’t need to explain why this was absurd. The woman suffrage movements that spread throughout western society gave women their rightful freedom to vote.
Later, we had two devastating World Wars which forced western women into the workforce while men went off to go and kill each other. Becoming part of the workforce made women realise their own economic potential – they did not have to be domesticated housewives as they could do the factory and office jobs just as well as the guys. This epiphany planted the seeds which eventually grew into the spirited feminism movements of the 60s and 70s, finally bringing about the much-needed equality between men and women.
So far, so good.
Fast-forward to 2019, and this new incarnation of feminism has me worried. Instead of pushing for equality (despite claims that modern feminism is promoting equality between the two sexes, the messages I am seeing from feminists tells a different story) modern feminism is now about cultivating female superiority while ridiculing and dismissing masculinity in its entirety.
Therefore, i have developed my own beliefs around femininity that I am going to impart on my daughter, so she grows up into a happy woman rather than a miserable one, filled with unrealistic expectations.
Women are not better than men. Men are not better than women. We complement each other
Anyone who knows me on a personal level is aware I am not religious, but I do consider myself to be spiritual to some degree. I sometimes read the Bible as I find it to be an excellent guide when I find myself facing morally tricky decisions. The Bible clearly states that women were created by God to support men and help them.
In my mind, God created men and women with different characteristics so the sexes can complement each other. This is what I will teach my daughter. Modern feminism, utilising mainstream media as its primary vehicle, seems to be driving home the message that women are competent and independent and men are bubbling and inept Neanderthals. Women have gone from being damsels in distress to the saviours of humankind. In modern feminism's attempts to rightfully champion women, its advocates have swung the pendulum too far in the opposite direction.
It’s my responsibility to show my daughter that men are caring, confident and competent – not the idiots that modern media wants to perpetuate.
I want my daughter to understand that there is nothing wrong with doing things to make your boyfriend or husband happy (and ditto for the man as well). Wanting to please your male partner does not make you a weak woman. It does not make you a conformist to the "patriarchy." It makes you the type of woman that a man will do anything to keep by his side.
Not all traditional masculinity is toxic
I don’t deny the fact that some men, particularly those with status and power, have abused their positions to sexually exploit young women. Recent high-profile cases are a testament to this. I will never condone the actions of a man using his status to dominate a woman in any way, and I will teach my daughter never to tolerate it either.
However, I will not teach my daughter that traditional masculinity is terrible. Toxic masculinity has become this buzzword that seems to encompass anything men do that make them inherently men. Cheeky banter, checking out a pretty woman, play fighting or being competitive – all of this has been categorised as toxic masculinity at some point by modern feminist commentators. Just take a look at this condescending Gillette ad as a case in point.
Quite frankly, I find the concept of toxic masculinity to be ridiculous, and I will teach my daughter not to be offended by a man who play-fights or a man who is competitive or a man who kindly and appropriately expresses interest in her.
Being pretty and feminine will always be important to high-quality men
I would love my daughter to go to university, obtain a degree which she enjoys studying and then totally owning the corporate world or be a brilliant artist. Whatever makes her happy and, it goes without saying, she should accomplish goals for herself, not to impress men.
Having said that, I will tell her that if she wants to one day marry a high-value man (one who is masculine, responsible, reliable, caring and hard-working), then she will need to pay attention to her appearance and ensure she has traditional, feminine qualities. Telling my daughter that looks don’t matter is ridiculous. There is a reason the market value for the beauty and personal care industry in the UK alone was expected to have reached over 15 billion euros in 2018.
" I want my daughter to understand that there is nothing wrong with doing things to make your boyfriend or husband happy (and ditto for the man as well). Wanting to please your male partner does not make you a weak woman. It does not make you a conformist to the "patriarchy." It makes you the type of woman that a man will do anything to keep by his side. "
Of course, I will never tell my daughter she needs to resemble a malnourished, catwalk model or she must have curvy hips and a massive backside. Beauty is subjective, and she must work with what she has. But I will teach her to take care of her physical appearance and try to stay as attractive as her age will allow. Not only to attract a man but for her own health and self-esteem as well.
You cannot have it all immediately
The notion that “women can have it all” has been the rallying call for modern-day feminists. Women cannot have it all, and I believe many women don't buy it. Modern feminists would have you think that all women can grow a career or business for twenty years and then expect, at 40 years old, to bear children with any high-value man of their choosing. While they are indeed examples of women who have achieved this, this is not happening in droves.
Thanks to the marvels of modern medical technology, women are freezing their eggs in their late thirties and forties so they can put off child rearing without the fear of being childless when they grow older. But freezing eggs is far from a guaranteed success.
As a father, it is my responsibility to teach my daughter the reality of her biology rather than regurgitate the falsehoods about womanhood that is perpetuated by our current feminist commentators. I will show my daughter that if she wants healthy children, she will need to have them while she’s in her twenties to thirties. If she wants children with a highly-desirable man, she will need to be maternal and feminine.
Finally, if she wants to be the best mother she can be in the early years of her child's life, she will need to work less for some time. Her career will be waiting for her. But I will never tell her she can have everything because it’s more likely that she can’t, and she must prioritise.
Ultimately, I must be the best version of a man I can be
Raising my daughter to have a healthy relationship with men will eventually come down to me. How I behave as a man, how I treat her mother and other women will form her understanding of intersexual dynamics. Inevitably, there will be outside influences but her first point of reference will be me, and when she's a fully-grown woman, her expectations of men will be anchored to how I raised her.
There is a well-known platitude that says women end up marrying men like their fathers. If there is truth in that, then I absolutely must strive to be a good man.
If I don't want modern feminism to be responsible for shaping my daughter's understanding of men and the world around her, then I must ensure I am the best version of a man that I can be. It's what our daughters deserve and desperately need right now, instead of modern feminism.