Australian Father’s Day, of Things to Wax Poetic, and Me

In Australia, Father’s Day is the first Sunday in September. Because of this, the day falls victim to the international church standard of every first Sunday being a fast and testimony (“F&T”) meeting. Many people bear particular testimony of fathers on this day, and some bishops allow for special primary presentations during the Priesthood lesson hour of church. But for the most part, Father’s Day is not institutionally celebrated within the Australian arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The absence of the institutional adaptation within Australian culture with a simple “F&T Sunday swap” has always bothered me, in many ways more than it bothers my husband. To me, it is a glaring example of the Americanization of the correlated church; it is also an example of sexism.

 

My husband is a good father, and I love him for many reasons, including his fathering skills and loving father’s heart. I find joy in recognising and celebrating him as the father of my children; for me, it is an egalitarian recognition of shared parenting within the walls of my home. I like having my children select gifts for him, and help me make and decorate his favourite kind of chocolate cake.

 

In preparation for this, I took one of my daughters shopping for Father’s Day a week ago. It was a lovely spring day (seasons here are opposite to the northern hemisphere), and I enjoyed having one-on-one time with her. She mentioned knowing about something that her dad had looked at on the previous weekend when he had taken her to do the shopping, so she and I were on an easy hunt. We found the items she recalled he wanted, and happily went to the checkout counter. The checkout counter had a display of Father’s Day cards on it—and these cards were just up my alley. The cards were sold by a charity that raises money for low-income families to use for school supplies and uniforms. For us, school fees, requisite books and supplies as well as school uniforms cost something in the market of $500 per child at the start of the school year. This is not an optional fee; it is required. The aim of this charity was to help provide funds to low income families to get these necessary school supplies for children to attend school. Not only that, the charity also helps low-income students to attend and participate in extra curricular arts and sports. Yes, it was just the kind of business I love to support.

 

Next awesome thing: Embedded in the cards were seeds. So, father and child would plant the card from whence flowers would grow. Be still my heart! So much beautiful symbolism! Father’s seeds being planted with celebration in mother earth in Australian spring! Oh! and then the long term relationship symbolically shared between father and child watering and caring for the plants— well, it all just made me want to wax poetic!

 

But then I really saw it:

card display

Daddy’s Little Man vs. Daddy’s Little Girl.

 

I hoped that the cards might be different on the inside, but they weren’t. Inside said the same thing. I was shocked by how much this bothered me….because there was so much good. So, so much good. But I was stuck. Was my daughter only a “girl” whilst another woman’s son was a “Man”? Why? Wasn’t it blatantly obvious that this was berating to females? The mixed messages of compassion and sexism confused me, and I decided I could not buy a card.

 

Instead, I photographed it. The cashier was curious as to why I wanted to photograph the display. “It’s sexist,” I said bluntly. She looked at me blankly, as another cashier and the man in the next line peered over, curious about my statement. The cashier looked at me blankly.

 

“It’s meant to be cute….” she said, confused.

 

“See?” I said, “Man and girl. It says ‘Daddy’s little man’ and ‘daddy’s little girl.’ Why couldn’t they have used ‘boy’ instead of man? Or written, ‘Daddy’s little woman’?”

 

“I just think it’s cute,” She said. “It’s meant to be cute.”

 

The man next to me looked more intently at the display. Another woman came over to see what the fuss was about, and I began to feel like I was causing a scene. I didn’t want to cause a scene. I quickly took a photo that came out blurry. So I took a breath, then tried again. This time the image came out. I was suddenly feeling angry.

 

“Yep….” I muttered as I punched in the pin number on my bank card to pay for my other purchases, “but it is sexist to label the female as a ‘girl’ when the male is a ‘man.’”

 

“Oh, I just think it’s cute,” she said again, as though she was trying to explain to me that it wasn’t meant to be political.

 

But it was political. “I’m a feminist,” I said soundly. “The card is sexist. ‘Boy’ is equal to ‘girl,’ and ‘man’ is equal to ‘woman.’ The cards are unmatched. They are not positioning women and girls as equal to men and boys.”

 

“Is it the same inside the cards?” she queried, looking inside, but not making eye contact.

 

“Yes,” I said.

 

“I just think it’s cute,” she said yet again, and started to stack things under the counter. She was trying to get away from me. So I took my bag and my daughter and left, feeling the cashiers’ and shoppers’ eye rolling as I walked away, anxious to avoid a scene.

 

But I am a woman. And a daughter. And I have daughters. And those words…..

 

I felt like I often do at church: I am the ‘girl’ in the room with a Priesthood ‘man.’ I am the Australian’girl’ in the American ‘man’ church, where idiosyncrasy of calendar and culture, even in relation to support of the traditional family– still only have a child’s voice: a voice that is too easily overpowered by the corporate, American, church of man. Yet…. the church is so much of who I am and what I love. I have a testimony of the Book of Mormon. I have a testimony of Christ. The church has so many things of which I want to wax poetic!

 

But. Daddy’s Little Man vs. Daddy’s Little Girl.

 

Too often, the words do not match.

 

Maybe the cashiers and other customers talked about me after. Maybe they laughed about the situation. Maybe they just forgot about it, and labelled me as a daft rebel-rouser. But what if they didn’t? A week later, I still wonder if I left a good, or bad name for feminists. I was concerned that these strangers would label feminists as women would didn’t support education for impoverished children, or that feminists weren’t environmentally astute. Or that feminists didn’t appreciate “cute.” Just as I worry that people challenge me about my testimony when I speak up for women, or non-Americans, or any marginalized group, when I am only allowed the voice of a girl. Because I care deeply about these things. Really, this is just the kind of card I want, just the kind of organization I support. Just like this is the church wherein I want to worship, serve and participate.

 

The card was too much like me. I think that is what bothered me the most.

 

In the end, I resolved to send an email to the charity. Because I support them and their goals of education and the environment. Plus, I am sad that I didn’t get a cool card that could be planted. But I am a feminist. And the words in the card were not. So I could not buy it.

 

Could you buy this card? Why or why not?

Spunky

Spunky lives in Queensland, Australia. She loves travel and aims to visit as many church branches and wards in the world as possible.

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. Hedgehog says:

    I couldn’t have bought the card. First there’s the mismatch. But second I really, really hate it when a boy is described as a little man. Let them be boys.

  2. marcella says:

    I would not have bought the card either. Good for you for taking a further step and contacting the organization about it.

    Don’t think for a second that we do any better with Father’s Day here in America. As a child I used to complain that Sacrament meeting on Mother’s Day was all about Mothers, but on Father’s day there were zero talks on the subject and usually the men all got up and sung a hymn for the special musical number. Only rarely did the Primary children even sing. My dad would just laugh and say it was because men planned Sacrament meeting and didn’t want to make a fuss for themselves. As an adult I’ve noticed there is always some level of disparity between the celebrations. Finally, a few years ago I was called into the ward RS presidency and voiced my dismay that the women got a dessert buffet during RS hour but the men got nothing. We decided to start something for the men. They seemed to like it but it has not continued with the subsequent RS presidencies so I suspect it was a fail for starting a new tradition. Maybe some wards celebrate the men as well as they celebrate the women, but it’s not that way everywhere.

    • spunky says:

      Thanks for your comment, Marcella!

      I agree that father’s day as a whole seems off of the radar. A part of me doesn’t mind about the absence; but I’d prefer to see both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day celebrations go by the wayside at church.

      For me, the whole thing was a symptom of a greater illness: the illness of the American church not being in tune with families, not being in tune with cultures and congregations outside of North America (because not just Father’s Day is snubbed), and the assignment of child-like qualities to all females where all males are assigned adult characteristics.

      It’s one big train smash.

  3. Cruelest Month says:

    I wonder if there isn’t an element of valuing priesthood over fatherhood? Fathers actively parenting doesn’t seem to be valued as much as spending time on *important* priesthood callings. Boo on Australian LDS leaders not honoring the important work of fathers who parent.

    • Spunky says:

      I wonder the same thing, April. I think it further denegrates women in the parental “role,” where as “men” are primarily in “priesthood” (I.e. non-nurturing / leadership) role. In this, it devalues both women and fathers.

  4. gmtair says:

    I am a father and I See your point and agree with you 100%.Good on you for saying something. too often these days it is left to a few to do the work of many, if more people believed in equal opportunity the world would be a far better place. I rum a small air conditioning manufacturing business in Australia and my daughter works with me on her off days from university. She woks as hard as any male employee I have ever employed with a better attention to detail.

    I also agree with some of the other comments kids need to be kids and enjoy their childhood both boy and girl and have a loving safe environment to grow up in

  5. Jess R says:

    The disparity between the way fatherhood and motherhood are discussed in the church really bothers me. If we as a people are really as committed to families as we say we are we should be emphasizing fatherhood the same way we do motherhood. And it also bothers me that the signage at the store didn’t bother anyone else. *facepalm*

  6. While not the main point of the post, I wonder why they don’t just switch fast Sunday. Fast Sundays in my area are often moved up a week to accommodate stake and general conferences. It is easy and not unprecedented.

    • spunky says:

      I know. I don’t get it, but I do think it is a fear of upsetting the ‘american’ church headquarters. American mission presidents move fast meetings around in this district to accommodate and advertise for missionary opportunities, but because they celebrate Father’s day in June, it isn’t even s blip on their radar. And the Australians either feel they can’t upset church headquarters, or don’t know if and who they should ask to change anything. Its a fear of the corporate church, not unlike the fear many women, especially MoFems, seem to have of the corporate church.

      • Ziff says:

        That sounds so frustrating, Spunky. I really liked how you put it in your post:

        “I am the Australian ’girl’ in the American ‘man’ church, where idiosyncrasy of calendar and culture, even in relation to support of the traditional family– still only have a child’s voice: a voice that is too easily overpowered by the corporate, American, church of man.”

        As you say so well, the reasons you’re ignored are just piled on top of each other. Being female, being geographically separated from the US center of the church, being culturally separated. Incredibly frustrating.

  7. Ziff says:

    I’m glad you didn’t buy it. I can see why you might wonder if you left a good or bad impression of feminists on the cashier and the other shoppers. I hope they at least might have had a fleeting thought about the sexist his-and-hers stuff like this that is so common.

    I think this line in the exchange is the most telling:

    ““Oh, I just think it’s cute,” she said again, as though she was trying to explain to me that it wasn’t meant to be political.”

    It just strikes me again that this is the type of sexism that is the most insidious, when it’s not *meant* to make a statement about putting women down. It’s seen as just the natural order of things, the way things ought to be. And unfortunately, since people aren’t thinking misogynist things when they’re making such stuff, they can feel okay about it, and accuse people like you of just choosing to be offended over nothing. And that makes it so much more difficult to fight and change than conscious sexism, where people might at least be aware of what they’re doing.

Leave a Reply