My Father: The Anti-Feminist, Feminist
by Alex Quayle
My parents were in town visiting for a weekend while I was living in Boise, Idaho. I was in my junior year of college, and we were having a few beers at a local bar. It was during this particular evening that I discovered my father was, frankly put, an anti-feminist. It was startling considering I was currently neck deep in women writers classes, attending poetry readings focused on intersectional feminism, and writing essays about the role of women in Bram Stoker's Dracula.
My father asked me point blank, “You’re not a feminist, are you?” I lowered my glass onto the table and stared him down, the inflection in his voice triggering my adrenaline response. “Of course I am.” My father gave an over-the-top “ugh” and rolled his eyes. A rather heated and accusatory discussion then ensued, and after finishing our drinks and paying, I drove us back to my apartment in complete shock and feeling betrayed by my father.
This revelation of my father was (beyond) upsetting because my entire life my father had always instilled in me the idea that I could be and do anything. While that doesn’t seem like anything special, his ideals definitely stood out against all the other fathers and father-figures of my very Mormon hometown. While my childhood friends were being taught how to be good wives and mothers, my dad was showing my how to be a great leader; a loud, stubborn trailblazer.
Church leaders would tell me, “you’ll make a good wife one day.” My father said, “you’ll make a great president one day.” When girls at school were told, “he’s only hitting you because he likes you,” my dad was showing me how to kick, scratch, or punch anyone who tried to hurt me. There are so many moments where I can pinpoint my father creating the foundation of the strong-willed, unyielding feminist I look at in the mirror today.
The betrayal of his anti-feminism stung that evening at the bar. However, now that I’ve had enough time to chew my father’s surprising anti-feminist stance, I think that he is a good example of how progressive movements can seem wrongly motivated and executed if the only examples are based on those extremists that make headlines.
Considering my father has never experienced the internet (and all the resources that exist there) like my generation, as well as being unable to attend any higher education, I have to believe he simply doesn’t understand the movement and all that it stands for. It’s hard to admit, but my father is misinformed — and therefore complicit. Nonetheless, I have to trust that his actions and examples throughout my upbringing prove that, deep down, he is a feminist.
While I am well aware of the emotional labor men, especially anti-feminists, tend to put on women when it comes to researching feminism and understanding it, for me, my father is different. I have a deep, personal relationship with my father — he isn’t some internet troll — so putting in the time to try and explain the benefits of intersectional feminism to him is worth it to me.
Of course, in a perfect world I could lend him a copy of Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women and he’d consume it all in one sitting, finishing it a new man, but this isn’t that kind of world. Instead, I have to show him examples of remarkable women and feminism found within his life, my own, and in society. It’s an ongoing battle with few victories, but I see a shift towards, at the very least, a better understanding.
I might be biased and wanting to excuse my father of his anti-feminist sins, but I was raised by the man, and I know his heart is in the right place. However, I certainly felt an urgency in trying to cultivate a clearer understanding of feminism. Societal problems such as the glass ceiling, gender discrimination, and the pay gap are all still negatively impacting women and minorities.
Unfortunately, as much as I love my father and the way he helped cultivate the woman I am proud to be today, it’s important for me to remember that the way he votes is just one of the problems that arises from not understanding and being against intersectional feminism.
Overall, I think my father is an example of how it’s going to be essential that the millennial generation takes on the challenge of being the example the older generation needs. We resist, we research, and we stand resilient with our movements, such as feminism, and while it can be exhausting and frustrating, it’s important to keep pushing. I also understand that, compared to my 60-year-old father from Moody, Idaho and the son of a farmer, I’ve had an immense amount of privilege with my education and the resources readily available.
So, how can I, and others in my situation, try and rectify these kinds of situations? I wish there was a quick fix, but patience is going to be key. Attempting to help uniformed people understand the true objectives of feminism, rather than the caricatures created by extremists in the news headlines — and without antagonizing them — is certainly going to be challenging but necessary. While I may not be able to convince my father to take a women's studies class, I can share my knowledge of important, influential female figures with him and work to provide facts and accurate examples of feminism, hopefully lessening the stigma around it and helping him understand how beneficial the movement is to society.
At the end of the day, he is my father and I’m willing to take on this particular burden, but I understand not everyone can, and that’s OK. The hope that my father will one day understand and support feminism, proudly and directly, is enough for me to keep trying.