Today is Fathers' Day.
Yes - World Cup. I know. But Fathers' Day.
Somehow I feel like less of a man because I’m not obsessed with the world cup. I had to some research to understand anything about the groups and how England’s loss to Italy might affect their chances. Group D is a tough group…
Not knowing about football is an issue. It’s a real thing and it’s something I’ll come back to a bit later.
23 years and 27 days ago, my son was born and I became a father. 23 years ago today was my first Father’s day as a father.
I was in my mid thirties - certainly already a man by any chronological, genetic, and physiological criteria, but becoming a father - and especially the father of a son - was a watershed moment in manhood anyway.
Suddenly, I not only had to be a man but I also knew that I was going to be the example for my son of what a man is.
And I had no idea of what a man should be.
One thing I thought about immediately was “men play and watch sports!”
I have never been sporty. I never enjoyed baseball, American football, real football, rugby, basketball, NASCAR, or any of the other stereotypically male sport. I didn’t play them and I don’t like to watch them.
Men drink beer. I tried. Really, I tried. I don’t like beer.
Fortunately, I like films where things explode and there’s lots of action, and I don’t like films with lots of beautiful scenery and great character development… unless of course they’re set in space and stuff blows up.
Are stereotypes socially conditioned? Of course they are. Do you know that high-heeled shoes were were once specifically male footwear? Did you know that blue was once considered the proper colour for girls and pink was for boys? There were times when men wore long, flowing locks, when clerical work was done only by men, when lace was menswear, when school-teachers were only men, and when men who did not cry were looked at with suspicion.
Cheerleaders were originally men and cheerleading was thought too masculine for women.
And beer - the brewing of beer was not a “bro” thing - it was pioneered and dominated by women.
Although I’ve more or less come to terms with not fitting many of the male stereotypes, I want to suggest that the conflicting images of what a man is are a serious problem in our society for everyone - for men, women, and children alike.
When I talk about the challenges faced by men, I don’t in any way mean to or want to diminish the challenges that women face. We still live in a society where being born male is an advantage. It means greater independence, greater freedom from harassment, greater earning potential, and more credibility in leadership. Our society still lives with an enormous amount of unearned male privilege.
But, every man I know also recognises that the notions of masculinity that we perpetuate are a problem for them.
“I think it's harder for men to talk about problems we're having. Women seem better at genuinely sharing things with each other - men are often trapped behind their façades unable to really communicate about how they're feeling. That can be very lonely. You end up feeling increasingly isolated, and it just gets harder to bridge the gap.”
What kind of father was I supposed to be for my son? What model of a man would have been best?
What does Kipling offer as a vision of manliness in his poem, If? A man is to be a master of his world. A man is to have no emotions. Men are strong and are not affected by what goes on around them. Being upset or angry - that’s for women. And if it’s for women - if it’s feminine - then it’s bad. There will always be stereotypes and they will always shift. That’s a continuing challenge, but it pales in comparison to the fact that we denigrate the feminine.
And this, ultimately, is where the problem lies for men, for women, and for children. It is where the greatest danger is found for all of us, whether masculine, feminine, straight, gay, bi, trans, intersex, gender-queer or however we understand our identity and orientation.
The problem is misogyny - the diminishing and devaluing of anything considered to be feminine.
This is where problems arise for all of us.
Women are harassed by men who want to prove themselves masculine and powerful. Why? Because femininity is automatically bad.
Men are confined to ill-fitting stereotypes that keep them from being what they would want to be become because anything considered feminine is automatically bad.
Gay men and trans men and intersex people are mistreated because there is a femininity there, and the feminine is automatically bad.
As a father, I have tried to be myself. I have not done the things I knew that society expected me to do - to watch sports, and to guzzle beer. I have shown my son that it is not shameful for a man to be outearned by his wife, to love to cook at home, or to take up a profession that - at least in the US - is dominated by women.
I have not - in any way - been a perfect father, but in living with the understanding that my own feminine side is as much to be embraced as the masculine.
We human beings are blessed with a wondrous diversity of characteristics. When we all learn to embrace the masculine and the feminine equally, then we can each be freed from oppressive gender stereotypes and the damage they cause.
We begin this good work with ourselves and with our children.
Happy father’s day.