Feminism meets Father's Day

A salute to all the dads who don't treat their daughters like princesses

By Tracy Clark-Flory

Published June 20, 2009 10:01AM (EDT)

Some years ago, when she was 20-years-old, her dad announced to her that women were like shoes: "You have your fancy dress shoes that you wear out on special occasions, and you have your sneakers that you kick around the house in." So writes blogger Clio Bluestocking in a brave and heartbreaking post titled, "Daddy Issues." At the time, she asked her dad in response: "What about me, then. What if some guy treated me like the sneakers?" He responded: "I'd feel sorry for you, but I'd understand him."

It's an unusual story to tell ahead of Father's Day -- a story about learning what it means to be a woman. People tend to tell stories about how their dads taught them to play ball, navigate a tool box, fix a flat tire or mow a beloved lawn. These misty-eyed remembrances are rarely just about playing ball or mowing a lawn, of course -- they're about learning what it means to be a man, your dad's type of man. Stories about girls learning their place in the world are typically reserved for Mother's Day -- because, heck, what's a father have to do with womanhood or femininity? 

Looking at Clio's story, the answer should be clear: A whole heckuva lot. "In that moment, I knew that my father did not respect me," she writes. "My brothers would go through the world as men, while I was supposed to go through the world for men. Men were full people, and I was not. What's more, I was supposed to embrace that role, and any rejection of it was a problem with me, not with the world." Some women successfully fight against that kind of nasty paternal influence, others internalize it, and many, maybe most, struggle somewhere in between those two extremes. I don't bring this up ahead of Father's Day to say: Pssh, dads suck, they don't even deserve their own day! I bring it up to point out just how profoundly important they are.

I've been thinking this week about my own dad, and what I can write in his Father's Day card that expresses that same old feeling in a way that feels new. I keep coming back to this: "You helped me feel that I was a perfectly OK person -- but, mind you, not a perfect little princess." That's because he took me windsurfing, skateboarding, skiing, rockclimbing and rollerblading. We caught frogs and kissed banana slugs (and never with the idea that one would turn into a prince). He didn't try to turn me into a tomboy or a substitute son, he simply celebrated me as a kid.

When I started wearing makeup in high school, he would subtly comment that I looked nice when he caught me without my caked-on foundation and liquid black eyeliner. When I wore my four-inch high-heels to school, he'd playfully wrinkle his face and inquire, "Are you comfortable?" Sometimes he would follow up with a comment about it being unfortunate when fashion crippled women. If only I'd listened then, I might not have a podiatrist on speed-dial.

He never made me feel bad about trying to meet the beauty status quo, but he made it clear that it wasn't something that he particularly valued or expected of women. Of course, that was only reinforced by his relationship with my Mom, an obvious equal and friend. In their house, sex wasn't meant to be something that men conspired to get and that women used to get their way; it was something special, but, at the same time, it wasn't so special as to define your personal worth.

Clio's father helped drive her to feminism with his comparison of women to inanimate objects; my pops made feminism (and essentially humanism) seem pretty obvious. So, as Father's Day fast-approaches, I think it's perfectly appropriate for this ladyblog to recognize all the dads out there who are treating their daughters like perfectly OK people. We salute you.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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