Proud dad Barack Obama speaks often about the constraints of raising two Black daughters in the U.S. Given the prejudices and obstacles that women, especially women of color, often face, Obama notes that he and his wife, Michelle, “raised our daughters to speak up when they see a double standard or feel unfairly judged based on their gender or race,” and they want them, “to see role models out in the world who climb to the highest levels of whatever field they choose.” For Obama, men are partially responsible for making this possible. “It is absolutely men’s responsibility to fight sexism too,” he asserts. “As spouses and partners and boyfriends, we need to work hard and be deliberate about creating truly equal relationships.”
Of course, Barack Obama is uniquely positioned to enact these changes, as are other men in power. But men who aren’t former presidents have equally powerful influence on the values and actions that will shape generations to come. Since men have privilege, they have influence. They have a history of patriarchal norms on their side that make their entry into positions of power, whether it is in business or government, far easier. For this reason, it is essential that men are recruited to work and push for gender equity. Recently, UN Women and other women’s rights groups have made outreach to boys and men a key part of their gender equity campaigns.
“Achieving gender equality is about transforming power relations between men and women,” states UN Women, adding that this inherently involves, “challenging notions of masculinity and traditional perceptions of manhood.” It calls on men to, “question power dynamics in their actions or their words at the personal, interpersonal and societal level and to take responsibility for a change.”
This responsibility extends to fathers, who straddle the need to both model and teach positive, gender-equitable behavior to their children. This year, examples of fathers doing their part for gender equity are plenty, from online forum discussions on equitable parenting to the myriad dads who showed up for January’s worldwide Women’s March. Online parenting discussions include mentions of “allow[ing] our boys to show a broad range of emotion,” “men doing so-called women’s work,” and “men [becoming] free to be equal partners at home, in the workplace, [and] in the community.” At the Women’s March, dads asked about why they were demonstrating replied with comments like, “I’m here for my wife, my two children, and my three granddaughters,” and, “fathers should be role models,” and, “all men come from women – without women it’s over.”
This Father’s Day, let’s celebrate dads and father figures everywhere and recognize men as vital allies in the fight for gender equity.