On the eve of Women’s Equality Day — the anniversary of the 19th Amendment — I accidentally bought my son a girls’ sweatshirt.
Well, my mother-in-law bought it. I helped pick it out. It has fitted sleeves and a contrasting zipper for a look that I would describe as hipster rather than girly. It adheres to my “no cutesy crap” rule for college-sports apparel.
But when I saw the receipt — “NCAA YOUTH GIRL FAUST BRNOT FZ HOOD” (cool name, actually) — my gut told me I had to take it back. Because GIRL.
Forget for a moment that my 1-year-old daughter wears brother’s hand-me-downs all the time. I grew up in an age when dudes dressed like dudes, before the later-millennial boys got all emo and started buying pants in the juniors section. And thank God, because I never had the body to pull off girls’ jeans. Not that it matters. I’m a man, damn it.
A man who just admitted to spending an afternoon clothes shopping with his mother-in-law. A man who stays at home with his kids, changing diapers and cutting sandwiches into Batman shapes while his wife goes out and wins the bread. Moreover, I’m a man trying to raise a baby girl into a smart, empowered, badass woman. And that’s why Women’s Equality Day has me riled up.See, I spend too much time on Facebook. A lot of my friends — several of whom are smart, empowered badasses in their own right — are excited about a bunch of dudes trying to invent a nail polish that detects date-rape drugs.
I thought it was pretty cool until another friend shared this article, a reminder that drug-detecting nail polish is just another way of putting responsibility on potential victims. The fact remains that women can’t feel as safe as men do in a lot of situations. It’s one example of inequality that is symptomatic of a larger problem.
Talking heads have turned “feminist” into a dirty word. Journalists ask male executives about their private jets but ask female execs about their kids. People don’t just argue that women don’t deserve equal pay; they say women aren’t capable of doing equal work. And, on the fringes of society, an online community for misogynists incubated mass shooter Elliot Rogers.
I’m not innocent of all this. I’ve been a creep to women because I thought it was funny. I’ve felt like a girl owes me affection just because I was nice to her. But now, because I grew up, because I had a daughter and because I chose to be a stay-at-home dad, I’m on the front lines for Women’s Equality Day.
So I make a point of reading my friends’ feminist posts on Facebook. I follow A Mighty Girl. I watch Anita Sarkeesian. I try to understand sex-positive and body-positive parenting. Did this Verizon commercial show up in your feed? Those parents are awful. But if I’m above this kind of gender-normative parenting, why do I care if my son has a girl’s sweatshirt, especially when I requested that my daughter get a boy hoodie for her birthday?
It’s because closing the equality gap isn’t as simple as inventing a product or consuming some online literature. It takes work on both sides.
My wife is working every day, proving her worth on the job and leading by example. I have dad friends who are working too, putting their families above their careers and taking the lead on parenting. None of these people have private jets.
I need to put some work in as well. Not on raising kids who are smart or empowered or badass, but on raising a brother and sister who are kind, who share a strong sense of empathy. It doesn’t matter how manly I feel in the process.
We’re going to keep the sweatshirt. Because GIRL.