When Amal and George Clooney, a notorious prankster, welcomed their twins last week, the couple shared the news with People magazine with a humorous note:
“This morning Amal and George welcomed Ella and Alexander Clooney into their lives. Ella, Alexander, and Amal are all healthy, happy, and doing fine. George is sedated and should recover in a few days.”
The whole world laughed, and countless jokes continued to shower over social media. I get it; men are typically viewed as squeamish, especially when it comes to the gorier elements of childbirth, and it feels very pro-woman to praise our tenacity while kidding about men. And while this may be all in good-natured jest, as Father's Day approaches, I can't help but think that maybe we would all be better off if we gave fathers a little more credit. Because as I see it, fathers are a pivotal component to true feminism.
Fathers’ roles in children’s lives—particularly in their daughters’ lives—are extremely important for raising equal minded men and women, that is, a feminist society. For decades, the data have shown that to help daughters flourish, fathers need to not only be present, they need to participate closely in their daughter’s life. Research as recent as last year has revealed that even "boomerang fathers," dads who have been out of the picture for a number of years and then return, have a significant impact on adolescent daughters' mental health. And it's no surprise, fathers are usually the first exposure a girl will have to what men should act like.
Evidence suggests that fathers will shape how a woman views herself, views relationships, and how she views the world. “From infancy, girls draw conclusions about what men are like from the men in their life," psychologist and family counselor Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker wrote last year for PsychCentral. "His relationship with her mother or his significant other is her template for what her relationship with a man will be when she grows up.”
As a woman navigating modern challenges of body image and relationships, I know too well the value of a father in helping to stave off the pressures women face today. Psychology professor and author Linda Nielsen echoed this in her 2014 report for the Institute for Family Studies, explaining how fathers help girls learn that their worth isn’t based solely off of looks. "Well-fathered daughters are less likely to become clinically depressed or to develop eating disorders [and] are less dissatisfied with their appearance and their body weight." In addition, they don’t turn to other males for validation and self-worth as frequently. “The well-fathered daughter is also the most likely to have relationships with men that are emotionally intimate and fulfilling....As a consequence of having made wiser decisions in regard to sex and dating, these daughters generally have more satisfying, more long-lasting marriages.” A study The Atlantic published found that girls who had healthy relationships with their fathers were about half as likely to experience teen pregnancy, compared to single parent homes or girls who had poor relationships with their fathers.
Of course this isn’t to say children without active fathers are doomed. Without doubt, countless single moms are killing it as the lead parents when fathers have left the picture. But supporting single moms doesn't have to mean putting men down. Feminism is about teaching girls that they’re not disadvantaged for being female, and they don't need to be like boys to be equal. The reverse is true for boys—they should be taught how to appreciate girls as equal players. And those boys grow to be men, they should know that role of father is no less dispensable than that of the mother. If not for themselves, then at least for their future daughters (and sons).
So let's try laughing at dads a little less. Men are equally as capable as women of being active parents (not sedated like George Clooney!). Men showing up, taking equal responsibility for their children, and sharing the loads of parenthood is #HeForShe feminism at its best. UN Ambassador Amal Clooney would surely approve.
Photo Credit: Horace and Mae Photography