The Accidental Feminist

I had an interesting discussion with my friend David Teal last Wednesday. David’s a smart guy and has read a lot. And I always consider it a pleasure to converse with people smarter than me. So this was a very fun conversation.

The word feminist carries a lot of different meanings for different people. In many cases, the meaning of the word is so mixed up with emotional connotations that people forget what the word feminist really means. According to the Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary sitting on my desk, feminist means “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men”.

As the father of three daughters, you could ask me “What professions should your daughters be prohibited from because they are women?”. I’d tell you “None!”. It strikes me as downright weird, but for a father in the 1960’s and even the 1970’s, the list would be a mile long. In fact the list would be so long that it’d be much easier to ask “What professions are acceptable for your daughter?” because the answer was so short – teacher, nurse, or secretary. How about careers as politicians, engineers, or construction works. You’d probably get a derisive snort, at best, from a man of the ’60s or ’70s.

How about this one – is a single mother of one or more kids an inherently bad thing? You don’t have to go back too many decades for the term ‘single mother’ to be something that people whispered behind the backs of the poor female who was “afflicted” with this condition. Here’s another question that might identify you, like me, as an accidental feminist. Should women (and in my case, I always think of my daughters) be allowed to compete for the same scholarships as men? My answer is “abso-fricken-lutely”. If they want a shot at an engineering scholarship or a military/ROTC scholarship or a athletic scholarship, then they have every right to compete for it. Again, this is the sort of thing that most men and women of the ’60s or 70s would’ve scoffed about and declare as radical feminist rhetoric. It doesn’t sound radical to me, it sounds fair.

Now feminism is also something that provokes a strong emotional response, especially in men. The basic fact is that any time roles change, society goes through a period of negation. That is, to be a feminist negates many of the traditional things found most valuable by or for men. This experience of negating the value of a man’s traditional role is very troubling to many men. I think that most of the troubles that white men are having these days is that it’s so fricken hard to tell what our role is. Go back 30 years and all you had to do was emulate John Wayne. Today – no such luck. There is no definitive role model to emulate.

If you take a look at my friend Steve’s blog, a feminist is a pretty nasty thing. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him NOT refer to an outspoken feminist as a feminazi. I’m not saying his experience with feminists is wrong. But it’s very different from mine because, well, I have daughters who I want to have every opportunity that my son has (which is the true dictionary definition of a feminist) AND because there are people who are basically man-haters (which I think of as Steve’s “feminazi”). So I kind’a feel like we’re talking apples to oranges here.

But after this LONG ramble, I find that I have actually and accidentally become a feminist. Weird, eh?



  1. I’ve been waiting till I had a moment to comment on this.

    My dad was the first “accidental feminist” I ever met. I used to roll my eyes when the double standard with which he was raised reared its ugly head, but fundamentally he was a feminist.

    Daddy was older than the other dads, but he wanted my mom to be happy and going to school and working made her happy. So when she said she wanted to go back to school to become a nurse, he was all for it. Then she wanted to get her Bachelor’s degree in nursing, and he was all for it. Then her Master’s in psychology, and he was all for it.

    Dad was proud of Mom’s career at a time when moms didn’t work outside of the home. Of course, by the time we were in high school it was becoming more common, but I remember the days when it just wasn’t done. My parents got sympathetic, “oh you poor people, your wife has to work” looks at the PTA meeting. Kids at school just sort of assumed that my parents were divorced because my mom had a job.

    And of course, my parents had three daughters. We wre expected to go to college, and if Daddy had his way we were going to grad school. He preferred it if we majored in math or science because then we could get a decent job in Huntsville. We were expected to start careers before we got married. We were expected to be able to support ourselves. He was fierce about it. It never occurred to me that other dads were not like that, but I know that in fact some of my friends’ dads did not encourage them or just expected them to go get an MRS degree.

    Part of what I appreciate about Tim is that he supported my choice to go to law school and start a new career in mid-life the way my dad supported my mom. It would never occur to him that law isn’t a great career for women. He is the sole man in an internet applications development group, and instead of bemoaning the lack of testosterone in the department, he thinks it’s the best job he’s ever had. He’s anopther accidental feminist, and I adore him for it.

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