"However gifted an individual is at the outset, if his or her talents cannot be developed because of his or her social condition, because of the surrounding circumstances, these talents will be still-born." - Simone De Beauvoir
This morning I was forwarded a link by my eldest daughter to the speech that Emma Watson (best known for playing the character Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise) gave to the UN. I was struck by the label she gave my son and I in the message that accompanied the video. “Inadvertent feminist.” What exactly did this mean? Naturally, I had to listen to find out. I played Watson’s speech over our car stereo while I drove my three youngest daughters to school. I told them, “you could be speaking at the UN someday too.” As Watson began to explain the aforementioned term, I got choked up, as a flood of memories came into my head.
I came to Canada as a single father of two children nearly 18 years ago. They were so small then, a boy and a girl. I was Dad, but by necessity, I was also Mom. Their birth mother had become estranged from them. I had left the US because I had been bludgeoned by media and larger forces than I, at my young age, realized existed. I was faced with a situation in which my opinions suddenly had to turn into actions. So, I left my homeland, and immigrated to another country with my children. I wanted a place for them to grow up that was open to ideas, to new ideals. A place that would nourish their individuality and promote their development as empathetic, conscientious people rather than a place, that I felt made aggression and monetary interests and power the major priorities.
When my family and I arrived in Canada, I was broke and unemployed for the first time in my life. I headed to the University of Victoria, hoping for a chance to work on my Ph.D.. In my doctoral research I wanted to explore the relationship between human rights and globalization, and opportunities to improve quality of life and increase autonomy in developing nations through entrepreneurial small businesses. But mostly I needed a job and income to raise my family on.
My children and I survived off a student budget, for a time, until, by circumstance, the University offered me a role as an adjunct professor. It was a God send for a single father. And while I accepted eagerly, I couldn’t help but consider the women out there by the millions, who were raising children on their own. These were women who by and large did not have the inherent privileges my gender, race, and middle class upbringing afforded me. Nor did they benefit from the material manifestations of my socioeconomic status. My education and my pursuit of further schooling allowed me a way out of a hopeless situation, yet there were so many women in the same predicament with far fewer opportunities than I, to change their circumstance. No matter how much they might want to.
Around this time I fell deeply in love and got married, and eventually had three more daughters. All of this only deepened my opinion that people are people, and should be treated the same no matter their gender, sexual orientation, race or otherwise. This belief my eldest daughter pointed out, has in a sense made me an “inadvertent feminist”.
A feminist, as Emma Watson defines in her speech, is “someone who believes in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes.” An "inadvertent" feminist, I suppose, is a person who does this without thinking of themselves directly as feminist. That being said, I don’t want this label "inadvertent" any longer. I am proud to say that I am a feminist, and proud to raise my daughters with feminist ideals. This has been a deliberate choice.
I read a lot while playing the roles of Mother and Father about “how to” raise kids. I read Reviving Ophelia and How to Father a Successful Daughter. I also read a book, Real Boys, which described the pressure young boys feel to appear stereotypically masculine, objectify women, and be aggressive. My son was no jock, but an intellectual and deep thinker, passionate and loving. The ideas I read in these books made me look deeper, first, at myself, as a young boy raised in a generation where gender roles were still rigidly codified. These books helped me understand “how” to get beyond some of the ingrained cultural paradigms I’d been part of, and break them down.
Today, I'm proud to say two of my children are university graduates. My eldest daughter now works for me and just graduated from McGill with an honors degree in Cultural Studies and History. My son is working on his Ph.D. in political science. Both ended up in fields where they were actively challenging oppressive political, social, and economic structures and constructs, and patriarchal practices that have persisted for centuries. I also have a daughter who, at 13, recently visited South Africa with her school, to collaborate with youth from around the globe seeking to create a better world, marked by sustainability and tolerance. With two younger daughters on the way, I could not be more moved, and supportive of the efforts of the UN in “He For She”, or respect more the words of Ms. Watson in her passion and involvement with this important issue.
I’ve said I identify as a feminist. However if I am considered an “inadvertent feminist”, I suppose, too, I am an “inadvertent health care” proponent . I believe people should be able to access health care no matter what their location, demographic or political status. I am an “inadvertent living wage” proponent too. I believe people should be paid equally for their skills, efforts and talents, regardless of their gender or race. And, too, I am an “inadvertent financial reform” proponent, where markets and access to market capital, should not be controlled by incumbent structures of financial powerhouses, but by the market forces and “crowd sources” that enable innovations.
When we are "inadvertent” in our actions or beliefs, we are not going far enough. May we all become aware enough of the ideals and opinions we already feel strongly about, so as to enforce them with determination. I believe women should to be treated equally. I believe a man can raise his children and be as loving and responsible for them as a mother. I believe men have the right be vulnerable and open in their feelings. And so I actively work to reflect this belief in the most important aspects of my life. In my family, my profession, and my personal relationships.
As Emma Watson said at the UN, quoting Edmund Burke, “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men and women to do nothing.”
It should not be the gender we are born with, but the passion we are given to become who we are. It should be each individuals right to participate in the world in the ways we may help and effect change, as individuals – woman or man.