Poll: Fathers and Feminism

My dad first told me the story of Miriam one Sunday morning as he was preparing a Gospel Doctrine lesson.  His interpretation of the story was unlike anything I heard in Church–a woman as the central character, leading people, defying conventions.  It was mind-blowing.  He did this often as I grew up, giving me a love of the Old Testament and a passion for feminist biblical interpretation.  When I got mad about the women’s positions in the Church, he was right there, mad with me.  When I said I wanted to go to Divinity School, he couldn’t have been more proud. I realize I’ve been very lucky to have a feminist father.


EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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14 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    I have a wistful feeling when I read about your experiences with your dad, Emily. My father died when I was a baby, and my mom never remarried. I have no idea what my dad would have made of my feminism.

    • BethSmash says:

      My dad also died when I was a baby and my mom never remarried, and I often wonder what he would think of me now, not just in regards to my feminism, but in lots of different ways. However, I have a feeling that his opinion would be similar to my mother’s. That she can’t always understand where I’m coming from (particularly with my extremely liberal politics) but she loves and supports me anyway.

  2. Macha says:

    Growing up, I knew that my parents expected me to go to college, and I never, ever heard anything about them expecting me to get married OR have children. I come from a family of strong, confident women, and I knew I would always be supported whatever I did. But I don’t know if that was more because my parents just weren’t helicopter parents or because they really believed in women’s rights. Whatever they believed, they never pushed it on us, to the point that I was probably in high school before I realized they were democrats.

  3. amelia says:

    Not enough answer options here. I’m very much a feminist because of my relationship with my dad. But he is not a feminist and would probably be horrified were I to suggest he is (though I think he is in the ways that matter the most). I suppose I could have said we don’t talk about feminism, so I don’t know how he feels. But the fact that we don’t talk about feminism (and we don’t) has nothing to do with whether I know his attitudes and beliefs and ideas about sex and gender. He has many times in my life encouraged me to pursue activities and education and career opportunities that are not at all stereotypically “female,” especially in the Mormon church. And he takes great pride in my successes and always tells me not to change who I am in order to be more stereotypically feminine so I can find a man. I know I mystify him sometimes. He has asked why I cut my hair so short (short enough to be a man’s haircut and that I am mistaken for a man often). He has criticized the make-up I wear (too dark, too much, etc.). So I know he isn’t just universally on board with anything I do, but he is still proud of me and let’s me know it, even when the things he’s proud of are not traditional. And he certainly wasn’t repressive. He was just my dad–my dad who didn’t let stupid, limiting notions of gender dictate what he would do or what he thought I should do. He is very much a product of his generation, so there are some things he believes that I wish he didn’t. But mostly he just loves me and wants me to have the very best and he doesn’t let prejudices about what it means to be “female” shape what he wants for and loves in me.

    And now I’m crying cause I’m such a daddy’s girl and I miss him.

    • Whitney says:

      I could have written 99% of this about my dad. Feminism isn’t really a top concern of his, but he always pushed me to excel in school. My dad’s an engineer, and I think that’s what he wanted me to become–if not an engineer, then some other kind of scientist. He never said I should do things to attract a man, never said I should wear more makeup or lose weight or anything, never suggested that once I was married I should start having babies right away and be a SAHM. So even though I don’t really think he’s a feminist, the way he treated me certainly made ME one. (And I mean that in the best way.)

    • de Pizan says:

      My dad was the same. He and my mom had a very traditional marriage. He died while I was a senior in high school, and we never really talked about feminism, so I’m not sure what he thought about it. I imagine he would feel the same as your father. However, my family had 7 daughters, and 1 son (the son being the second to the last). Perhaps because of he had so many daughters, he taught us things he might not have otherwise if he had more sons–building bedrooms in the unfinished basement, how to run the tractor, car maintenance, etc (although he had only one brother growing up and so never fully knew how to relate to a house of women I don’t think). It was also expected of all of us that we would get an education, whatever we did with it afterwards was up to us, although it was assumed we would get married and have kids and probably stay at home for a while. The education/work part was really reinforced after my dad died and my mom tried to find work–she only had one semester of college and had never worked in the 26 years they’d been married.

  4. Mellina says:

    My father had three daughters and no sons. When we were young he was heavily involved in the ward scouting program. I was often jealous of how “the boys” got to go on camping trips every month(even during the winter), and the girls only got girls camp once a year. One year, the ward was having trouble coming up with the money to pay for girls camp (even after fundraising on the girl’s part). I remember talking about it with my dad and how he was frustrated that girls camp was in jeopardy. He said it was not fair that he(and others) couldn’t donate money to help with girls camp, but that they could give all the money they wanted to scouting. It was one of my first realizations of unequal treatment to women in the church.

    • amelia says:

      Mellina, my dad was heavily involved in scouting, too. He took his troop on some kind of outdoor adventure every single month, often more than once a month (usually weekend trips, but in the summers there was at least two and sometimes three week-long trips). It made me mad that the boys got to do things like camping and backpacking and the girls got to go to girls camp which always felt like a sad imitation of the real high adventure trips the boys went on. I must have spoken up about it enough to get my dad’s attention, because the summer I turned 14 he was the counselor in the stake presidency over the youth program and he started an annual YW backpacking trip, with three or four weekend trips and a weeklong excursion in the High Sierras. I went every year and I *loved* it. The trip went defunct not long after I let for college, due to lack of interest in the YW in the stake and the fact that my dad was made Stake President and didn’t have quite as much time to be involved. But it was a lot of fun while it lasted. And it meant a lot to me that my dad went to bat to get a new opportunity for the girls in the stake going.

  5. TopHat says:

    My dad is sexist. We went to see them for Christmas a couple of years ago and I had to call him out on a comment at the table during Christmas dinner- awkward, but if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have felt good about it. Growing up, when my mom was too busy to make dinner, it was assumed that I would do it because I was a girl. I learned, though, that I could say, “But Rick hasn’t started the grill yet!” and since grilling was the boy job, my brother would get the brunt of the “Where’s dinner?!” instead of me. Yeah. It wasn’t really nice of me, but I really hated the assumption that I would do dinner because I’m a girl. And there are other stories I could tell, but let’s not ruin the festivities. 🙂

    Happy Father’s Day!

  6. Hydrangea says:

    My dad has always encouraged me to ditch gender stereotypes and be myself. He’s far too conservative for the term “feminist” but he has been supportive of any direction my life has taken and has always challenged me to ‘keep up with the boys.’

  7. April says:

    My dad wouldn’t call himself a feminist, but he has been supportive of feminist ideals in many ways. My mother was sexually abused by an older male relative throughout her childhood and I have witnessed his support of her as she has challenged the culture of secrecy in her family. He has encouraged me in my educational and career aspirations. When I asked him how he thought the husband “presiding” in the home was supposed to be applied, he told me he couldn’t think of any practical application for that and suggested I wait to apply that one until the next life, when we would have further light and knowledge.

  8. Beatrice says:

    Answering this question is hard because I don’t feel like I fit well into any of the categories. My dad really supported my educational pursuits, but now that I am graduated and have a son, I know that he feels like it is the right thing for me to stay home with him while he is little. This breaks my heart a little bit because he was so supportive of my educational and career goals prior to my son being born. However, I know where these sentiments are coming from because my dad strongly believes in the teachings of the church about moms staying home and he wants the best for his grandchildren. I think this is a hard balance for any parent, feeling strongly that one thing will be best for your child, but having your child choose to do otherwise. It is tricky for parents to figure out how to love and support their child while continuing to encourage them to do the “right” thing. However, there are a lot of really positive things about my relationship with my dad so I try to focus on those as I continue to do what I feel is right for myself and my family.

  9. alex w. says:

    I don’t really know what my dad’s opinion of feminism is, but I think there’s a good chance that it’s not that great. I don’t have any plans to find out, though, in an effort to keep our relationship as good as it can be (which unfortunately isn’t that great right now). He’s really conservative in his views and doesn’t seem particularly warm towards feminism, from what I can tell. My mom and I generally have our crazy liberal conversations when he’s not around.

    However, I wouldn’t say that he’s really sexist. He has always encouraged me to get an education, and now that I have a BA, he asks me if I want to eventually get a master’s degree. I think his main concern with feminism would be in relation to church structures, abortion, and the like.

  10. I feel like my dad is a feminist, but the word itself scares him.

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