Thursday, August 6, 2009

Growing up Feminist with a Sexist Dad II

I'm not going to go into too many details right now, but here's a short summary:

My father is not a good father, sexism aside. He has always treated me differently than he's treated my siblings, and it's not simply that I'm not his favorite. Again, this is the man who used to throw me in the basement when I was little. I'm not saying I was a little angel when I was little (on the contrary, I was so stubborn that even my mom might be at her wit's end; of course, I'm STILL stubborn, so go figure). He never really grew up; dealing with him is like dealing with a self-centered, greedy five-year-old.

When I was seventeen, I stopped talking to him. I didn't talk to him again until I was almost twenty-one. During that time, I looked at colleges, took the SATs, picked Tufts, picked my majors, and developed new passions, feminism in particular. I had been in a long-term sexual relationship, which he had only heard about in passing from my siblings. He had gotten married.

I don't know why I began talking to him again. I think it was because I thought I could deal with him, create my own limits, gain some control over the relationship I would have with him. I was wrong. Sometimes things were better or worse, but he never stopped talking down to me, never stopped trying to control everything. I knew he hadn't changed, but it was becoming harder and harder to have any agency in the relationship.

Recently, I've had a tough car situation. I had asked both parents for help. My mother helped. My father did not. And in the process, he insulted me. About women's studies. I called him out on it in what I consider a very straight-forward, un-angry email.

The response I got was nothing short of astonishing. It was a massive novel-sized email, one that rivals the ones I used to send to my ex (Rob, I doubt you'll ever read this, but my dad's email makes the ones I sent you look like tweets). And the whole thing was about him being in the right, and how he feels.

The best part?

I had told him I was hurt that he had made fun of women's studies (and my classmates) shortly after my graduation. By shortly after, I don't mean a few days. I mean about an hour and a half. He also implied strongly that because I was a WS major, I COULDN'T DO MATH. Here's what he had to say about my hurt feelings:

As for my apparent disrespect for your passions, I am bothered by the overall notion that I am supposed to support your passions. If you were passionate in the same way Osama bin Laden is passionate should I blindly support that? I am allowed to have my own opinions and views just as you are and I am happy that you are a passionate person. But unless you have explained to me that you have come to those views thoughtfully and logically and rationally I am not going to simply support them because you are my daughter. I think the missing link here is that by not communicating with me for more than three years I did not see you grow into these views and passions; instead, they are being presented to me in an apparent final form. Once I understand how you got to where you are now from where you were when I knew you as a teenager, I will be more capable of supporting you in the way you want me to. I am your father, not your cheering section. Regardless of all this explanation, I am sorry that I offended you at lunch after graduation with my comments.


I am planning on sending my dad the following email:


No one who truly loves me would ever say the things you've said to me. Don't ever sign a message with "love" again. You are a liar.

Do I care if I get disowned? Not remotely.


  1. Wow...brava for your strength. Your dad's privilege comes through pretty strong, in his demand that you justify your beliefs to him - yet I doubt you get the same freedom, no? He's clearly never imagined that you, of course, met his views just as fully formed as he met yours, and yet he never had to explain every element of how he came to form them before you'd respect him.

  2. It is especially difficult to stand up to the authority figures of our childhoods. I am having to address my parents' misogyny directly for the sake of their grandkids, and it is very difficult--not only for the ongoing relationship, but because I'm realizing more and more everything I internalized as a little girl. Bravo to you, and thanks for writing this. Others will read it and gain strength from it.

  3. Without going into much detail, since this is one of the very few things I don't blog about, suffice it to say I relate.

    I've said many times that behind every feminist is a misogynist dad, lol, and the older I get and more feminist women I know, the less that seems like a joke.

    (((huge hug)))

  4. Phira, I'm really touched by your comment, thank you. I'm one of the "lucky" ones, I guess, in the "having a misogynist dad" sweeps - my Dad (after my parents' divorce) was letting me attend his parties in the late 70s in Toronto to which he had invited his various gay and lesbian friends, introduced me personally to Judy LaMarsh (author of The Gilded Cage, about benevolent sexism), and so on. He was killed in 1981 in an accident, though.


  5. I've had similar issues growing up with a sexist and selfish dad. His excuse was all men were assholes. He carelessly warped my understanding of relationships and mutual respect. I lost sight of the possibility of love during my adolescence: for myself, friends, or my future soul mate. Forming my identity as a self respecting woman was a very difficult process. Thanks for sharing your experiences, and I applaud you for choosing your field of study. I feel much better now as things continue to gain focus with the strength I've gained by realizing there exist caring and thoughtful people of both sexes who believe in equal rights, and whom don't act as though it's only possible to think of oneself.

  6. I can completely relate to you and sympathize! My dad is an alcoholic in denial who is also very sexist in his views on womens roles. Just last night I confronted him that i knew about his problem with alcohol,weed, and cheating on my mother... It didn't go over well at all. He sat me down in the living room floor and screamed at me for knowing his personal buisness. When he began to threaten me my mom stepped in and Rolfe me to go outside,my dad wouldn't allow me to leave... Instead I had to listen to him discipline my mom and I for opening our mouths. He thinks that women shouldn't speak unless allowed to. His philosophy is that women should greet there husband at the door with kisses and have dinner on the table. Aside from the fact that he has many problems he still denies them all. So on Saturday I'm sure I'll get the same excuse, that he is going to check on a job, but he will be gone for hours and come bAck drunk:( as a 14 yr old I feel that his prescence is to much stress.

  7. Waaw , you're so lucky ! I swear if I didn't need his money for school , I would have left just like you . Until I graduate from college , I actually have to live in his house ( because unlike my brothers , I am not allowed to travel to attend a good school and actually have a good life .) I gotta give him credit though , he gave me a choice for my career choice : engineering or medicine . You know , "real" careers . According to him , if I actually pursue any of my passions , I will become "even a bigger bitch" than I already am . Hope I get to tell him how I feel like you did , bet it felt great !