There are many similarities between Barack Obama and myself, more than might initially meet the eye when you consider him: A Nobel Prize-winning, former President and me: A white, middle class under-achiever, only useful in a pub quiz if it includes a round about Star Wars/Trek. Two things we have in common, though, are that we can both name all fifty US States (I assume he can, but you can never trust politicians) and that we both have daughters.
In August 2016 Obama wrote an article for Glamour in which he said: "When you’re the father of two daughters, you become even more aware of how gender stereotypes pervade our society. You see the subtle and not-so-subtle social cues transmitted through culture”. My wife and I had our first and only daughter, Molly, a little over three years ago and ever since I’ve wanted to try and be a better feminist, for her and for myself. I wasn’t starting from absolute zero. I had plenty of elements on my side. First and foremost, I wanted to be a feminist and had identified its necessity (which is a bigger step than it might seem). Having spoken to friends and coworkers about it I was surprised and dismayed to find that a lot of men in what I consider to be a pretty left-leaning, modern-thinking, flat-white drinking kind of circle still feeling threatened by feminism and/or focusing on its outlying extremes. A disturbing amount of men I encounter still believe if they buy into feminism it’s a fast track ticket to some kind of Amazonian dystopia where men are subjugated into herds of reproductive cattle.
I’ve also had help. Again, like Obama, I surround myself with a cabal of advisors and experts to ensure I remain on the straight and narrow. My chief of staff in my feminist presidency (ok, the metaphor is more than a little stretched now, also it has me as the most important person in it which is a massive bag of ridiculous) is Idil Sukan, a photographer, designer, producer, writer, comedian and a dear friend. She’s also incredibly well versed in all things feminist, at least twice as clever as me and teaches me to box (which I’m not sure if Obama does, just me and Justin Treadeau). I like to refer to her as my Feminist Spirit Guide because it pretty well encapsulates the arrangement while also giving it an overly dramatic
title and undercutting the fact that I’ve essentially enlisted someone to tell me how I ought to react to things.
Let’s make something very clear as well. It is not the job of women to teach us bumbling, innocent, Seth Rogen-y men about feminism. It should be everyone’s personal imperative because it is simply the right thing to do. However it is not all ha-ha fun-pants party games. Becoming a feminist is (and I’m stealing this wholesale from Idil, I do that a lot) a lot like taking the red pill in The Matrix. There are mountains of unpleasant truth to uncover and once you are down that particular rabbit hole, you will never look at a lot of things the same way again. Why do my eyes hurt? Because you’ve never used them before. There are far better people who you can go to for writing on feminism (Idil herself for one), but I feel I should give a quick example. A few years ago a group of college students developed a nail polish that could be dipped into a drink and would change colour in the presence of a date rape drug. My initial response was that this was a good thing. Why wouldn’t it be? Until it was pointed out to me that it was tantamount to addressing a rash of gun crime by dishing out bulletproof vests. I had to have this explained to me but gradually, with the help of women like Idil who have the ability to look at the world through that lens and cut through all the sexism, inequity and – yes – full on misogyny that we so blithely accept without question, I’ve begun to see the wood for the trees. I’m probably better at it than Obama now. Peace prize-winning charlatan.
As with the nail polish we should be putting the onus on men to make changes to their outlook and behavior. I am the first man Molly will know and her experience of me will influence her expectations of other men for years to come. When you consider the man who now resides in the Oval Office, Obama’s
comment on his role for his daughters becomes all the more pertinent: “it’s important that their dad is a feminist, because now that’s what they expect of all men”. We can and must be better feminists.