From Our ReadersDear Dads: Here's How to Talk to GirlsFrom Our Readers

I grew up a feminist. I wasn’t raised in a family who spoke about the fact that women and men are equal over dinner; it just never occurred to me that they were not.

That is, until I was subtly told so.

My father is an amazing man. That statement is something that goes through my mind every single morning I wake up to the smell of his coffee, thankful that I have him in my life. I grew up in a home where my father cooked, cleaned, picked me up from school, got the groceries, and ran errands alongside my mother, all while working a long, disorganized schedule as a restaurant chef. It never occurred to me, or to anyone who knows my father for that matter, that someone as open-minded as him could be sexist.

I never dared to mention this anywhere else before because it feels like I’m betraying a wonderful man—one of the greatest, most hardworking fathers, if I may say so myself. However, I feel that I owe it to myself and every other daughter in this world to let fathers know how we actually feel when we hear things like “Men are superior drivers.” or “That seems like hard work, let your brother do it for you.” We feel as if we are not as powerful as we actually are. It might make us doubt ourselves. At one point we might even ask: “Are we truly equal to men?”

I remember when my father was teaching me how to drive at 16. I was having difficulties learning parallel parking, as many people do. As I hit the curb for the third time that day, my father said to me what he still mentions every now and then in the midst of his road rage: “This is the reason why women aren’t good drivers, they’re too afraid.” I was never afraid of driving until that moment, and I have never not been afraid since that day.

About three years ago, I bought a small, three-shelved bookcase from Walmart, and although I insisted on assembling the shelves on my own, my father made my younger brother assemble it, mentioning how I needed a “man” to help me out. To this day, I have a three shelved bookcase in my room with one raw side of wood facing out in full display.

One of my favorite quotes is by the beautiful and talented comedian, Sarah Silverman, in her HBO special We Are Miracles. She says: “Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it’s a mistake, not because they can’t, but because it would’ve never occurred to them they couldn’t.” I would have never thought that I was incapable of putting together an easy five-step bookcase on my own until I was I told otherwise. I would have never imagined that I should be responsible for keeping men from harassing me until I was told to not “advertise something that is not for sale.” Not in a million years would I have thought to myself that I could not be a professional football player until I was told that I would be more successful in sports like soccer or volleyball — or “Why not get into ballet?”

I grew up imagining I could do anything that any one of my brothers could do. Society decided to disagree with me and threw obstacles in my way. A person was at every corner telling me that I could not achieve all that I dream of because I was born the wrong gender. The truth is, I could have taken every single obstacle and turned them all into a stepping stone to get me where I wanted, if the one man in my life who I trusted more than anyone else believed in me. Instead, I hid from the world, I hid from the challenges, and brought up every excuse for not pushing the boundaries, because deep down inside, I began to believe I was not good enough.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your story. Your dad sounds like a great guy with a few small faults. I’m not a perfect dad either, but I hope to keep an eye on my words and not discourage my kid(s) in anyway because of gender. This post is a great reminder that words are powerful and I need to be extra careful about the words I speak to and around my family.

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  7. If someone (does not matter who it is) tells me “You cannot do it” or “You cannot do it alone” I am not likely to believe it unlike there is clear and convincing evidence. I therefore do not value the following statements or consider them fancy : ““Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it’s a mistake, not because they can’t, but because it would’ve never occurred to them they couldn’t.” ” I was never afraid of driving until that moment, and I have never not been afraid since that day.” After all, I doubt if any one has doubt regarding the relative difference between genders and influence of gender across a wide range of human activities, abilities, behavior and performance

  8. I encourage my two daughters based on their desires and talents. Not based on their gender. But to deny that there are inherent differences between men and women is just unicorn, pie in the sky thinking. It’s okay to think that way, but be prepared for disappointment.

  9. I grew up in a feminist household. As a male the assumption of equality was a very basic one, never refuted of considered to be wrong.

    As I grew up and grew older and half children of my own, I realized that men and woman are *not* the same. We are equal in our worth and our right to live and enjoy the things in life that make us happy, but we are mostly definitely not exactly the same.

    It did not mean that I change how I interacted with my daughters (I had no sons, so I treat my daughters the same way I would have done my sons), but it was having daughters, who unlike my wife, didn’t have internal influences telling them they had to be a certain way, that made me realize that men and woman *are* different and that ignoring that fact can be detrimental.

    I now believe that true feminism is about worth and allowing people to live and grow as they see fit, not about equality or sameness.

    To me this is a good thing. It makes us stronger and the world more interesting.

  10. This is a very personal and also very biased story, the same would be true for mothers and girls, for fathers and boys and mothers and boys. I’ve seen mothers telling daughters: “Okay girls, lets go shopping, thats what we do!”… which is the same thing. Also I’ve seen fathers tell boys: “You want to do cartwheels? That is so lame, come kick a ball with me, what real man do”. This story is targeting ‘dad’ instead of ‘parents’, which is just the opposite of what you want to achieve (treating men and women equally).

  11. I wouldn’t have thought in a million years that I should be afraid to say true things like “generally, men have more muscle mass than women.” To my daughter. But now you’ve made me afraid to even talk to her. Forever. Maybe you should leave the blogging to the boys.

  12. Great article, however I’m a single father to divine little girl and I will continue tell her every day that she can be anything she wants, just as I would do if she were a boy.

  13. The roles are reversed in our home. My mother does the discouragement, while my father is the one that believes in me. Even women can be misogynist or just plain assholes. Sexism and douchebaggery, I believe, know no gender.

  14. As a single father raising a 10 yr old, I wonder this to myself everyday, am I doing and saying the right things. I always have to tell friends and family, to let her try, they mean well, but I want my daughter to feel unstoppable. I always let her try first, then instead of doing it for her, we do it together. She talks about doing all sorts of stuff when she grows up, and I always responded by giving her facts about the profession and looking up videos. I’ll never tell her she cant, because I truly don’t know if she can or can’t. I rather her learn for herself and grow stronger in the process.

  15. I support feminism. I think men and women are equals, if anything women have clearer minds. But, men like your father are in plentiful. Like your father, mine always asked me to look after my elder sister. Anything demanding slightest of physical effort, I did it for her. As a teenager, I used to think he loved her more, as a 23 year old I realized my father is indeed a sexist. But, my father was in an accident recently and was put in the hospital, he told me that I should look after my sister (even though she is married). I couldn’t resist asking him why he thinks women cannot take care of themselves and I also accused him of being a sexist. He told me – ” I don’t care what you think or what the world thinks, all I want is my daughter to be safe. I want her not to get hurt. I’d do anything to prevent my daughter from getting hurt, even if it means taking her freedom away”. Mind you, my father is a very open minded and a good man. I am torn, I don’t know what to think anymore. May be you should just talk to him and hear his side of the story too.