By JAMAL FREDERICK
When a father sees that beautiful baby girl for the first time and he looks into her big, brilliant eyes, all he can feel is his heart melting deep into his bones. When we look back up, we are new—instinct kicks into overdrive. Providing. Protecting. That’s our wheelhouse—what we automatically count as our mission as fathers to our daughters. Then the jokes ensue: it’s common to hear men say they’re going to “get the shotguns ready” for when the world notices their beautiful daughters. It’s a superficial and not-so-funny joke that does nothing more than center men in a conversation about daughters and put patriarchy on full display.
What we should be thinking about extends so much further than how we’ll keep a roof over her head, food in her belly and boys at a distance. “How will she be treated in the world?” “How can I empower her?” “What can I do in this world to make it better for her?” These are the things we should be thinking about. But all-too-often, we don’t. And that, plus a lack of accountability for unchecked patriarchy and toxic masculinity, makes our precious baby girls’ lives more difficult. And puts them in danger.
The fact is all-too-often conversations about sexual assault usually involve a plea to men to remember that the women they abuse are someone’s mother, sister or daughter—reducing women to a title, rather than recognizing them as fellow human beings who men should not rape. It’s shameful, but some men are so deeply imbedded in their patriarchy that they need something to remind them of and awaken them to women’s humanity.
Witness what went down on an episode of “It’s Not You, It’s Men,” a relationship series hosted by Tyrese and Rev. Run. In this particular segment, Amber Rose had to break down consent and insist that “no means no” to two grown ass men—men who are fathers of daughters, sons of mothers and should, as “relationship experts,” be really clear about such things. But having familial relationships with women didn’t help them see the humanity of women beyond the ones they’re related to.
We should be taking a page from President Barack Obama, who recently penned an incredible essay declaring himself a feminist. In it, he writes, “When everyone is equal, we are all more free.” It’s a simple concept with key words that should be standard: everyone, equal, free. The titles occupied by the women in his life didn’t give them their humanity, but his relationship to those women gave him his perspective. Being a husband, son and especially father made him more deeply contemplative about the world in which his daughters live in—a world that he may not have had to really consider if not for them. But he’s taken that knowledge and tried to apply it to how he governed as president of all humans.
In a world of creepy coaches and uncles, abusive partners, Brock Turners and Nate Parkers, I’ve come to realize that I’m not trying to raise a daddy’s-little-girl or a princess: I’m trying to raise a God. I want to fill her with every bit of Oya, Oshun, Yemoya, Sekhmet, Nzinga, Assata and Tubman. All her comic books, music and dolls need to reflect Black womanhood in all its multifaceted beauty. I need her to have Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” and Queen Latifah’s “Lady’s First” on repeat in her psyche. I know that affirmations will not make her immune to bad relationships, pay inequality or abuse, but if we, as fathers, are to protect our daughters, we must empower them and evolve ourselves into the feminists our daughters, women, and humankind need. Doing so will demonstrate healthy masculinity to her and serve as an example of how to be for our sons. My hope is that my choice to parent as a feminist—particularly as I raise a young son—will contribute to creating a generation of men that women will no longer have to recover from.
Like most systems that govern us (racism, segregated school systems, homelessness, a horrible two party political system) patriarchy is something that can be fixed… if we want to fix it. If we chose to do better. As fathers, we have to unpack patriarchy, rape culture, toxic masculinity and male privilege and challenge everything about ourselves, our world views and our place and power in it. It’ll take a lot of work, but for our daughters—and every one else’s daughter—it is worth it. My daughter is my firstborn, my heart, my baby, and I’m committed to making sure that this father’s love transcends both my male privilege and societal constructs. I love my daughter, therefore, I must be a feminist. Period.
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Jamal Frederick is a writer focused on fatherhood, mental health, and all things surrounding Blackness and culture. When he’s not working or trying to spend time with his family, he’s trying to figure out his purpose and place in the world. Witness his many public existential break downs on social media via facebook.com/jamalfrederick or twitter.com/jamalfrederick