Why Would Becoming a Dad Make You a Feminist?

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Aug. 1 2014 8:44 AM

The Problem With Dad Feminism

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It shouldn't take having a daughter for men to care about feminism.

Photo by Pete Souza/White House via Getty Images

This article originally appeared in The Cut.

No act of personal writing makes my skin crawl like when a father sits down to describe what having a daughter has taught him about the female experience. It’s nothing against dads. I love mine, and I also welcome feminist awakenings whenever and however they occur. But often the writer-dad’s newfound sensitivity is overshadowed by his prior obliviousness: He was apparently unable to empathize with women before one sprung from his loins. Did he take nothing from his other encounters with half of humanity? Not even from his mother?

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The latest entry to the genre is an open letter from AllHipHop site owner Chuck Creekmur to Nicki Minaj on the topic of the glorious, bare-assed artwork for her latest single, “Anaconda.” Creekmur writes that he used to take Minaj’s hypersexualized image in stride. Now, though, things have changed: He has a daughter. “I wasn’t even shocked,” Creekmur wrote in the letter, published on MommyNoire. “I was just disappointed.”

Creekmur’s letter has all the hallmarks of a broken-curfew lecture: proof he was once young and cool, a reminder he knew her when, and a promise that he only says this because he cares. Most condescending, Creekmur gives Minaj a homework assignment: “When you get a quiet moment answer the following questions. How is Onika Tanya Maraj doing? How does she truly feel about Nicki Minaj right now? What is your higher purpose with young girls (and boys)?”

This tone suggests that Creekmur has forgotten Minaj is not in fact his small child. (“AllHipHop has been historically uber supportive of the rapper Nicki Minaj,” he writes. “That’s YOU, homie!”) And forgotten that she’s probably too busy being an unapologetically bossed-up hero to answer his inane questions. But the real problem here is that Creekmur was apparently not bothered by the hypersexualized marketing of women in his industry—and what it might signal about gender inequality more generally—until he acquired his own personal mini-woman.

“As a man, I can appreciate the virtues of your perfect posterior,” he wrote. “The dad guy is not a happy camper, particularly now that his lil’ girl is transitioning into a young lady.” In other words, when Minaj’s ass is on display for Creekmur’s benefit, it’s all cool. But when she risks inspiring his own flesh and blood to put HER ass on display, it’s a problem. This complaint misses the sexist context for Minaj’s artwork: People were talking about (and speculating as to the authenticity of) Minaj’s butt a long time before she showed it to us so matter-of-factly. The objectification she’s now trying to embrace and control is all but unavoidable, especially if daughterless dudes keep on blithely objectifying women. Creekmur’s letter embraces a male corollary to the old virgin-whore dichotomy: proprietor-customer.

Creekmur’s “It’s a Girl!” revelation isn’t the only one that leaves something to be desired from a feminist perspective. Having a daughter inspired such profound revelations in one The Art of Manliness writer as “Men are born to protect” and “Every girl is some guy’s daughter.” Next time you hit the strip club or roll your eyes in HR sexual harassment training, think of your fellow protective man and daughter-haver! A Good Men Project writer had the good sense to direct his open letter to his “little one” and his little one only. Her existence made him realize—in the makeup aisle of his local Target—that women face undue pressure to look good. “Maybe a father’s words can deliver his daughter through this gauntlet of institutionalized shame and into a deep, unshakeable sense of her own worthiness and beauty,” he wrote. (In the battle of One Dad’s Words vs. the Rest of Society, I’m not optimistic.) Even the most basic principles of gender equality sound unctuous when they’re delivered in the form of a fatherly reminder that Daddy’s Little Princess deserves feminism. Like the viral Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter T-shirt from the "Feminist Father." Can rule No. 5 be no novelty tees about my sex life?

There is some evidence that daughters make men feminists—research shows that having a female child makes legislators more likely to be more supportive of reproductive rights. But it’s not a magical ticket to enlightenment. A more recent study found that having more daughters than sons and having a daughter first “significantly reduces the likelihood of Democratic identification and significantly increases the strength of Republican Party identification.” I can only imagine how scary it is for men to have daughters. But when they vote for Republicans that protect women from (and penalize women for) the sexual and reproductive freedom men enjoy—or shield their daughters from the female objectification they otherwise enjoy—they only enforce women’s status as daughters and wives. It’s hard to bring down the patriarchy by reveling in your status as a patriarch.

The best response to dad feminism that I’ve seen came under much graver circumstances than “Anaconda.” During the #yesallwomen debate that followed the Isla Vista shootings, a meme circulated that shortened “She’s someone’s daughter” to “She’s someone.” It’s more succinct than an open letter, and it would look good on a T-shirt.

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