In his new book, Father Figure: How to Be a Feminist Dad, Jordan Shapiro explores the connections between the traditional ideas of fatherhood and the outdated ideas about gender, sex, power, aggression, heteronormativity, and authority.
He demonstrates how these beliefs, which may have been helpful in the past, actually cause more damage than benefit in the present day. Therefore, fatherhood is in desperate need of a feminist overhaul.
Fathers in our society today need to take steps to enact their own self-reform when it comes to the oppressive patriarchal system which affects everyone, no matter which side of the power dynamic they’re on.
It is significant to nearly three-fifths of fathers that parenting is a major factor of their identity. Nevertheless, the current view of fatherhood does not match up to their experience.
A 2015 Pew survey revealed that the majority of fathers (57%) view parenting as a fundamental part of their identity. Nonetheless, the existing perception of fatherhood differs drastically from the actual experience of being a dad. The idea of fatherhood does not provide men with aspirational models, chances to contemplate their role, or psychological support. In this sense, fathers are in a state of confusion; they are unable to conceive of themselves without the benefits of patriarchy.
Consequently, some men have become resistant to change. They attribute the blame to women, mothers and the “identity politics” of college professors who are liberal (like myself). They are engaged in political debates against women’s reproductive rights as they are under the impression, without realising, that non-cisgender male bodies pose a danger. Undeniably, the only genuine danger is the absence of a significant symbolic foundation, a lack of a father-figure representation that has been adapted to agree with the existing cultural atmosphere.
Regrettably, a typical progressive response is to vilify those males who act in an angry and accusative manner in an effort to make up for their lack of assurance concerning their future. Numerous liberal people are fast to point out the absurdity and inconsistency of certain “tough guys”. I comprehend the thought; it is perfectly reasonable to rebuff the notion that privileged guys perceive themselves as victims.
An accusation of sexual violence is not the same as a witch hunt. Furthermore, I have no intention of backing those who use Twitter to complain about ‘cancel culture’ and the difficulty of being a man in today’s society. It is ridiculous for men to bemoan their lost privileges as the world moves towards gender parity. However, that doesn’t deny the fact that it is always disorienting and unsettling to relinquish the narratives that provide us with purpose and understanding.
No matter their correctness, their accuracy, or their fairness, the narratives that an individual believes in form the basis of their understanding of the world. The pain of these stories falling apart is real.
The narrative of the cis-hetero nuclear family being entrenched in specific gender roles has been crumbling. This is not a concept that is inherent, but rather one that was established when capitalism began to replace the artisan craftsman and family farms. This period of time brought about a dramatic transformation, both socially and culturally. The factory manufacturing and the tall office buildings seen in cities are a reminder that this change occurred.
In order to transition from an agrarian lifestyle in a psychologically healthy manner, society created a narrative involving sexism. This narrative outlines that men and women’s respective roles in the home were determined by biology and evolution, which in turn created the image of a woman staying at home and completing domestic duties. This specific gender divide between caretakers and breadwinners, however, is a modern invention and not a result of evolution.
In the pre-industrial days, there was not enough food to have half the population remaining inside to maintain the home. Every individual had to be a contributor in order to survive – hunting, gathering, farming, etc. It was not unusual for fathers to go off to war and leave the mother to handle both roles. However, it was not until the 19th century that men began to dominate the workplace.
Describing the masculine workplace as a “homosocial environment,” Michael Kimmel, an eminent academic sociologist of men’s studies, sees it as a place where men compete with each other. He believes that this detachment and competition developed because the feminine home was perceived as caring and nurturing.
Historian Stephanie Coontz observes that self-reliance was achievable for men because women were responsible for duties and commitments. According to her, specialization in certain behaviors, aptitudes and emotions was necessary for both genders, thereby rendering other traits dormant.
The industrial workplace was reliant on what is now termed as “toxic masculinity”, which is characterized by oppressive, homophobic, and misogynistic hostility.
In 2019, the New York Times published an article indicating that aspects of toxic masculinity involve concealing feelings, presenting a macho facade, and using violence to disguise vulnerability. The American Psychological Association then presented their first Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men in 2018. This document states that men are scared of being seen as “feminine”, leading to negative consequences such as mental health problems, cardiovascular issues, substance abuse, violence, imprisonment, and premature death.
Obviously, we would like to stay away from these unwanted results – yet it is silly to presume that toxic masculinity is exclusively an individual’s mental issue. Certainly not something we can handle with just enjoyable drum circles and outdoor trips. On the other hand, believing that this is the case just strengthens the usual patriarchal story of stoic self-sufficiency. Hence, we need to interpret and take apart toxic masculinity within the bigger economic, professional and family contexts.
Acknowledging this, it is important to recognize that hastily discarding the rigid characteristics of Industrial Age manhood may bring its own dangers. What will become of a man’s identity? He cannot jettison all his traditional masculine traits simultaneously. Identity formation is as much about what is kept in as what is released. Boundaries not only restrict and restrain, they also provide clarity and shape. We must reinvent these symbols, otherwise fathers may find themselves in a difficult situation.
Father Figure can play the role of a first-aid kit for fathers who have experienced harm while attempting to balance the needs of parenting with the more relaxed attitude towards masculinity in today’s culture. Thus, the idea of the traditional patriarchal outlook is gradually fading away.
The modern man is often stuck in a difficult situation as he tries to sort through contradictory messages. To solely adhere to feminism seems to go against the traditional role of a good father; however, to firmly commit to the traditional narrative of good fatherhood is seen as a betrayal of feminism.
Even when men try to balance between these extremes, they often don’t realize how their subconscious loyalty to typical patriarchal values reinforces systemic discrimination. As a result, they become disoriented when their well-intended efforts cause unintended results–so I wanted to show fathers how they could be more aware of the present cultural climate.
It is certainly not the norm for a man to compose a book on feminism. However, it is a necessity. The term “patriarchy” when broken down literally means “rule by a father” (derived from the Greek terms πατήρ/pater/father + αρχία/arkhia/rule). Thus, a masculine identity is seen in stark contrast to the misogynistic messages that have become ingrained in the thinking of many men–being a feminist is often portrayed as being an enraged, male-hating destroyer of masculine dignity.
It’s certainly not necessary for fathers to detest men in order for them to take on an alternative role in their family. It is possible for them to build a distinct parenting identity and to make a stronger impression of themselves while accepting gender equality as well as complete inclusivity. To put it simply, they can be fathers who are feminists.
How can one describe a feminist dad? I find bell hooks’ definition in her book Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics illuminating: “Feminism is essentially a campaign to put an end to sexism, discrimination, and subjugation.” This explanation is quite direct and does not appear intimidating, difficult, or hostile. Moreover, it does not imply that there is a struggle between men and women.
Feminism is undeniably rooted in the critique of the two-gendered hierarchical structure which entitles male privilege and allows for dominance, violence, and sexism. However, bell hooks’s definition is broad enough for us to recognize that patriarchy can also hurt men. It restricts them from certain rights, damages their confidence, and forces them to comply with sexist identity stories. Neither women nor men are solely victims or perpetrators of sexism; rather, patriarchy is an issue that affects everyone, regardless of whether they are subjugated or benefit from it.
Consequently, fathers of today must undertake a revolutionary feminist self-examination. This involves modifying their mentalities, temperaments, and tendencies. They need to recognize how many of their everyday, conventional, and common activities can reproduce prejudicial thoughts and reinforce oppressive systems. Certainly, I don’t assume that any individual will be able to erase a lifetime of sexist, oppressive thought processes just by reading my book. After all, feminism is not an ultimate answer to a fixed issue. Instead, it’s an adjustable instrument that provides the capacity to make purposeful anti-sexist and gender-sensitive decisions in varying and ever-changing conditions.
Shapiro composed Father Figure to demonstrate to men how to use it to their advantage, while also attempting to present a desirable image of a new kind of father figure, a guidebook for fathers who are working hard to make sense of the ever-shifting cultural storylines.
Jordan Shapiro’s Father Figure has been adapted and is used with permission from Little, Brown Spark, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company. No part of the publication can be reproduced without the authorization of the publisher, who holds the rights to this work. New York, NY.