Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Growing up Feminist with a Sexist Dad

My mom, whether she'd admit it or not, is a feminist. She's the one who told me if I ever got pregnant, she'd go with me to Planned Parenthood (although she also made it clear that she expected me to try not to get pregnant). She's the one who gave me her own copy of The Feminine Mystique when I needed to read it for class. She's the one who made it clear she didn't like it when my dad gave her an actual gold star for balancing her checkbook, and that she appreciated it even less when he took it away when she was off by a few cents some time later (I shit you not). She was the one who told me that I should live on my own, off of my own finances from my own job, and learn how to be independent before I ever moved in with a significant other. She was the one who told me that she would always love me, no matter who I fell in love with, and that she understood her own discomfort with same-sex sexual relationships was something she needed to get over. And she was the one who left my dad.

My relationship with my dad isn't much better than my mom's relationship with him. I didn't speak to him for three and a half years (for several reasons, but this particular stretch began after he criticized my driving, when he himself is the most dangerous driver I've had the misfortune to be in the car with), and I only began speaking to him again when I figured out exactly how I needed to construct our relationship so that I wasn't completely powerless. After all, I had figured out how to live without him for almost four years; I could now choose the distance.

But now that I've grown up, now that I can better understand how my dad ticks, and now that I've graduated as a Women's Studies major and embraced feminism, it's easier to tell when my dad's being a sexist assfuck, and harder not to say something to him.

For example, after my graduation ceremony, where I graduated as a Women's Studies major (and not as a Biology major), I sat through lunch as he made nasty jokes about the field, and about some of my classmates (such as how our one male major must either be gay or desperate to have sex).

Today, when I called for help regarding a car situation (specifically trying to figure out whether or not I should pay to have my current car fixed after a hit-and-run broke the bumper, or if I should buy another car), he mentioned that I needed to figure this out on my own, since I hadn't gotten experience with it in college, like he and my brother had. I asked what he had meant (specifically, "Dad, there's no 'car insurance' major in college"), and he explained that Biology and Women's Studies didn't exactly lend themselves to the situation. He added that he was pretty sure my brother had taken at least one Economics class.

I'm pretty sure a non-feminist might say something like, "Well, it's true that neither Biology nor Women's Studies is practical when you need to make a car decision." But GEOGRAPHY (my dad's major) isn't that helpful for it either. Neither is Economics, especially if you take an intro class (which is what my brother would have taken). Now, my brother was a Math student, which might have helped, but I don't think I need to understand linear algebra to deal with the car situation.

The fact is, I know how my dad feels about my choice of major, and my passion for feminist issues. And I know how he feels about what women should do (clean, cook, take care of the kids; they can work if they, you know, have time). And so I know better than to say, "Oh, my dad doesn't mean anything by it."

Because he does.

So, it can be difficult figuring out how to proceed with him, how much distance and what boundaries I need to reinstate, and how much he could possibly understand and respect as an anti-feminist parent of a feminist.

But I feel lucky that I have a feminist mom, that I have many feminist friends, that I discovered Women's Studies at school, that I became involved in violence prevention, and that I understand that my dad is the one with the problem. Things could be different; things could be worse.

Like I might have to buy a new car when some assdick hits mine, causing damage that won't ever stay repaired--OH WAIT, I do.


  1. awesome post. i also have problems with my dad. my mom divorced him after 10 years, and is now married to a wonderful man (my stepdad of 16 years). i live in a different state than my dad now, so that's my excuse to not visit. i've long since stopped trying with him, just going through the obligatory actions (it's easier that way, since he's a verbally abusive drunk and reasoning with him is frustrating).

    but yeah, i would certainly call my mom a feminist even if she doesn't call herself that. here's my favorite example: when i was in 9th grade i was reading a book where the heroine slept with this man, and afterward told him that she loved him. i asked my mom if that was okay, since i was under the impression that you had to love someone first before having sex with them. my mom's reply? "Well, you try on shoes before you buy them, right? If not, how do you know you want to keep them?" best advice from a mom EVER imo.

  2. I wish my mom would divorce my dad, but I'm glad she planted the feminist seeds in me when I was growing up.
    This is the same guy who called me 'orca' my entire childhood, the same guy who didn't want to teach me to shoot (but my brothers learned), and yelled at my mom for her depression.
    I too, have been there.