As the father of 25 daughters, I'm starting to think women might actually be people
— Jess Dweck (@TheDweck) October 11, 2017
As a “daughter of a father” I sometimes think it would be hard to understand men, what they want, and why they behave the way they do, if I didn’t have one. I can understand when the daughters of gay parents (moms) — or in the seriously unfortunate cases where dads end up in jail, leave, or die — find it hard to make sense of them. I get that it can be hard to imagine they would have wants, needs, and boundaries similar to those women have, but you know, they’re people too.
Tati, tata, baba, papa, daddy, dad, father, whatever you call him, it is personal. The devolution of “daddy” to a taboo can attest to this. Over the summer, I was talking to my dad while we made the drive to and from my sister’s college in New York City. The trip was long, and I’m sure it made him more aware than ever that he was losing the women in his life that allowed him to function at an unhealthy intensity at work. You will later see why without us it would not only have been unnecessary, but impossible. We talked about a lot, though most of it was redundant and distressing because it clearly lacked any release. Slowly, I began to realize that his incessant criticism about the way people act was dictated by the priorities society encouraged him to accept. Socializing for what seemed to be the sake of talking was reserved for women, or my mom in particular, and his only job was to work in order to take care of his family (parents, wife, and kids — brothers when he feels like being generous.) Speaking to anyone needed good reasons: sharing political ideas, health, information, business, connections, formalities. Of course, these weren’t invariable missions he set out on as he initiated any conversation, but they were definitely reverberating in the back of his mind.
To him, my mom helping her brother by letting him live with us and finding him a job didn’t make any sense, and wasn’t worth it because her brother was ungrateful. But, my dad knows how women work. Even though he’d constantly remind her that giving anything without foresight wasn’t right, he expected her to “act out.” It didn’t stop there. His degree in economics couldn’t be wasted, so he would analyze each relationship to measure how much they’d cost. In this case he owed my uncle nothing except resentment. He would never communicate to someone who “wronged” him because he was sure they were aware of how they were impacting and insulting him. Additionally, they were easily discarded, because they weren’t part of the work/family deal he signed up for. This would happen with people in and out of the family, and he would act as though it didn’t affect his mental health. I was slightly infuriated by his inability to see the intrinsic value of relationships — that can’t be quantified by ideas or knowledge or money or power, but as a woman I was taught to be tactful in these circumstances. I turned to look at him, and I think I was the first to ever ask him sincerely, “Are you happy?” Seconds ago a flaming rage filled the car, but now I was answered with the chill of silence.
The more distance I have from home, the more objectively I can see these situations. My dad’s personal views about how my mom generally handled things shaped the way I view what is considered “feminine.” Because he was both an expert at assuming the dominant and more knowledgeable role, and because she survived on submission, my views were shaped in such a way that I equated femininity with weakness, passivity, lower intelligence, and being overly nurturing (to the point of neglecting yourself.) More importantly, I saw that he deplored of every one of those qualities. I never hated women, especially not my mom, but I did hate what it meant to be feminine.
I wasn’t the only one. As an adolescent, everyone around me seemed to suddenly start hating pink, admiring heartless “Sherlock” characters, judging based on intelligence and aggression (throwback to king of the hill,) and acting as if they were ok with the fleeting relationships they felt they had with people. Yes, the “I hate pink” phase has faded, yes, we have begun to tell men to “embrace their emotional side,” and yes, some have begun to realize how unrealistic and destructive it is to glorify Sherlock characters. Yet, I fear we are still holding on to the tainted ideas that we should welcome feminism by embracing masculinity and rejecting femininity.
I don’t know about you, but “fierce” and “black woman” have nearly become synonyms in my mind for reasons I’m pretty upset about. Among them is that it’s a reminder that they’re too vocal, that it’s surprising they have shit to say, and that whatever they’re doing is abnormal. I don’t know about you, but I still have problems figuring out how to dress, and rarely consider putting on makeup. This is not for fear of promiscuity, because lucky for me that’s not something I’ve internalized (is it because I haven’t been harassed enough or my weight issues? you tell me,) but for looking too “girly” to be taken seriously. I don’t know about you, but I still feel pride knowing I’ve worked myself too hard today or didn’t sleep yesterday. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure anyone else is more anxious when talking about their feelings than our own generation. In this instance I’m comparing my current experience with my experience in an isolated region of the Balkans, in addition to what I’ve heard coaches say about the 80’s and 90’s. Both tend to be behind in the social scene, but in neither case would people feel awkward saying “I love you” or showing affection in any way. Note: talking about feelings is not the same as sharing personal information, which we tend to do instead. People here and now are more guarded, and superficial things like social media and “hook-up culture” endures, despite everyone being aware of the caveats. Wouldn’t you rather scroll mindlessly through twitter than even attempt to make plans that likely require ridiculous coordination, time spent away from work you should be doing, anxiety about whether you’re worth spending time with, and probably more money than you’d prefer to spend? We are desperately searching for ways to be ok with the deterioration of long-term relationships, and mostly what we have right now is detachment.
What I didn’t realize while marinating in my indignation in the car with my dad, was that women adapted to be exactly what men needed them to be while they were setting out to meet society’s demands of them. For one thing, wives are the single person they are bound to. The single relationship they are obligated to maintain — which should, according to game theory, indicate an optimization of social welfare. Both parties seeking to maximize each other’s outcome to ensure the relationship remains perpetual. Women are not weak, passive, stupid, emotional, or nurturing by nature, but when the only priorities your partner has in life are to work and support the family, the things holding them together are the perceptions that they are strong, aggressive, smart, emotionless, and don’t need support. The same dynamic that may occur in gay relationships leads ignorant people to ask “who is the ‘man’ of the house?” Under the right conditions, these role fulfillment expectations perpetuate themselves. The delicate illusion that gender is related at all to intrinsic qualities continues to wear thin as feminism rises. No gender can be happy with these fundamentally flawed molds they’re expected to adapt to, and moving past them shouldn’t be questioned. But, listen to teachers when they tell you the movement began when women joined the workforce. The implications are significant, because right now we are all facing these ridiculous expectations and have no one to properly fill the shoes of the feminine role — with only a partial exception of pets (insert Rick and Morty reference here.) We can’t forget to analyze what was effective, what wasn’t, and why this discrimination emerged the way it did. Otherwise, we can easily fall into patterns of the past.