June is the month to celebrate fathers and while daughters appreciate the exemplary role these important figures played during their formative years, making fires at the lake and coaching their soccer team, a father’s job is never done. The most important thing a father can do for their daughter is to help pave the way for them and for all women to be treated as equal citizens.
Most fathers I know encourage their daughters by telling them, “You can be anything you want in life.” But is that the complete truth? As long as women are considered sexual objects they’ll always be rated as ‘less than’ in common society. Unfortunately, the diminished position of women reinforces the gender pay gap and makes them more vulnerable to sexual harassment and in some cases, victims of sexual and physical violence.
This issue has weighed heavy on my mind since reading that Trump’s long time lawyer, Michael Cohen tweeted a provocative photo of his college aged daughter sitting on the edge of a bed wearing black lingerie. When people questioned his actions, he was defiant and responded by calling the photo ‘spank-bank material’ accusing his critics of being jealous. In his own perverse way, he probably rationalized that he was promoting and praising his daughter but instead he was treating her like a toy, or even worse, a piece of meat.
Rather than accepting such actions and saying, ‘this is the way it has always been’ or ‘what’s the harm some locker room talk?’ there should be some personal responsibility regarding how these actions affect women’s status in society. The behavior of every father feeds the status quo and lays the ground work for evolving societal views. True equality exists for women only when their bodies are not part of the equation.
Consider research conducted by Jennie Huang and Corinne Low at the Wharton Behavioral Lab which showed that since the US presidential election, men are acting more aggressively toward women. As a result, they have concluded that ‘Trump’s election may have disrupted community norms around civility and chivalry’.
This is consistent with my own personal anecdotal experience. As a mentor to business women it is not uncommon to wake up and find a note in my inbox from a protégé seeking career advice. Unfortunately, since Trump’s ‘Pussygate’ tapes and their dismissal as ‘harmless’ by so many upstanding and influential men, I am finding an increasing number of those morning emails revolving around sexual harassment.
The nonchalant attitude of men towards treatment of women in the workplace seems to have given permission to every openly prejudiced male chauvinist and brought those latent ones out of the closet. Hiding behind, ‘boys will be boys’ they are now emboldened and believe that it is ‘open-season’ on such behavior. The stories are horrifying and disgusting. No decent father wants his daughter grabbed, groped, or exposed to veiled threats concerning her employment, yet sadly this behavior appears to be on the rise.
We have been making progress on gender equality over the last couple of decades with many systematic injustices such as ‘men only’ golf club memberships opening to women, but I fear that while we may have taken a step forward we are now taking two steps backward. Progress is rarely a straight road upward, rather a road full of peaks and valleys, with some stones to trip us along the way.
Under such conditions men should be aware of how their actions (and even inaction) can shift public opinion and how it really determines what the ‘norms’ are in reference to the treatment of women. We need our fathers to step forward and carry the torch to light up obstacles and help remove them from the path toward gender equality.
Here are three things fathers can do:
1) Encourage Voices NOT Bodies- We need men who openly admire women for their achievements rather than how they look. The next time you are tempted to comment on a woman’s appearance consider instead expressing admiration for one of her comments and compliment her for having found her voice. And when you witness others talking or acting inappropriately be ready to defend women and make it clear that such actions are not acceptable.
2) Do a Paradigm Shift- Rather than viewing this blog content defensively and seeing it as a limitation on your masculinity consider it instead as a portal to greater connection with your daughter. When you take a stand toward equality for all women, your daughter will feel more valued and will in turn, value you more as well. The enhanced relationship will be well worth the effort of seizing this opportunity.
3) Break the Pattern- Don’t participate in conversations that sexualize women such as, “Do you think they are real?” At first it may be uncomfortable being the outlier in a group of men, but eventually you will become adept at changing the conversation. Start by committing to watching and discussing films or TV shows where women are portrayed as strong, smart, problem solvers rather than as simply sexual objects.
We need visible role models and you, as a father can make such a difference. On a macro basis, greater gender equality will mean that fewer women are sexually harassed at work or killed by their spouses at home. On a micro basis, it will open doors for men to be more caring and emotionally engaged fathers. Finally, think how wonderful you will feel to be a force of good in the world, and truly deserving of all those Father’s Day accolades we’ll be sending your way.