I always knew my father loved me. I was his first born, his oldest daughter. One of my earliest memories is of him sitting on the side of the bed, telling me stories about the full moon outside the window, and trying to coax me to sleep. I don’t think I was older than three.
He loved me (and he loved my sisters) but he was also a product of his upbringing and his generation. My father wasn’t what you’d call enlightened or remotely feminist.
From the time I was in kindergarten until I was well into high school, the highest praise my dad gave me or my two sisters was the phrase “That’s pretty good for a girl.” No matter what I did–honor roll, straight A report cards, landing a spot in the school choir, winning the election for senior class secretary–all of it was “pretty good for a girl.”
Sometime between the ages of ten and twelve, I realized “pretty good for a girl” came with the subtext of “but not nearly as good as a boy”.
I’m fairly certain that realization was my first feminist thought. Why was my straight A report card lesser because I was female? Why was ANY accomplishment of mine lesser for being a girl? (I still ask myself this question on a daily basis.)
Knowing that nothing I did, no matter how great or small, would ever measure up might have crushed me and caused me to not even try. Instead it pissed me off. It still pisses me off. All the stubborn determination not to give up, to be the best I can be at anything I do, springs from that.
When my daughter was young and my dad started saying the same thing to her, I started calling him on it. The first time I countered with “That’s damn good for anyone” it kind of stopped him cold. I could see him thinking about it, as if this concept that accomplishments of any kind were equally valuable, whether you were a boy or a girl, was brand new, unheard of and strange.
But my father doted on his granddaughter even more than his daughters, wanted the best for her, and he was willing to think–really think–about what his words meant. Change didn’t happen overnight, but he gradually stopped qualifying praise with “for a girl”. He’d stopped saying it completely before Steph was five.
The point is he was willing to change, willing to learn. “Willing” is the key word there. In a lot of ways my dad was a my way or the highway kind of guy, but once he realized what he was doing, he saw no reason to tear down the women in his life just because they were women.
The last few days have been full of “but not as good as a boy”, said in different ways, from different sources, and all I can think is holy shit, not this again. That is a very exasperated again, a tired of the bullshit again, a grow the hell up again.
My dad died when I was thirty-one. And all this…crap…made me think of him, and how he was willing to examine his attitudes and change, and wonder what he’d think of bugs and body shaming, belittling women’s accomplishments and all the rest.