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My Dad Is a Feminist, and That's Changed Everything for Me.

Narrative Activism
by Emma Thieme Jan 18, 2017

On Jan. 21st, my parents will drive an hour to our state capitol to march in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington — an event that’s expected to be one of the largest demonstrations in American history, taking place in D.C. on the same day. When I told my boyfriend that my dad was going, his first reaction was to ask why. And for a second, it was funny for the two of us to picture my dad marching alongside thousands of women, many of whom are expected to be wearing what’s called a “pussyhat.”

The only explanation I needed to give my boyfriend was, “the march is for everyone,” but his question got me thinking about the politics I grew up with, and especially about my father and what I’ve learned from him.

My dad is the most politically-aware person that I know. He doesn’t have a college education, he’s always worked in the trades, but he can speak more eloquently and more compassionately about politics than any intellectual I have met throughout my education. If you don’t know how the housing market crash happened, my dad can explain it with specific names and dates. He can recall decades-old Supreme Court decisions. He follows the careers of up-and-coming journalists with an intense interest. He can quote the Constitution far beyond the first and second amendments. If there is bullshit afloat in the United States political system, my dad does not rant about it on Facebook, he doesn’t even have Facebook, he pens a letter to whomever he feels is responsible. In fact, my father communicating with politicians via letters and emails is so commonplace in our family that I almost forgot to mention it here.

When my college education turned toward women’s studies, my dad studied women’s movements too. Each time I came home, he had a new feminist factoid to give me so I’d know he was on my side. Sometimes, though, these attempts at solidarity came in heavy personal stories instead. I will never forget the car ride I had with my father when he told me that as a young man, he had been the only one at a party to stop a group sexual assault that was occurring on an unconscious woman. He acted alone, he got hurt, but he was successful.

At the time, I snarled at all these attempts my dad made at connecting with me. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized how privileged I’ve been to have had a feminist for a dad. When I was growing up, my parents worked a lot, night shifts, my mom, especially. My sister and I spent a lot of time with my dad. He often made us dinner, he had to brush and braid my waist-length hair, he coached our farm league and he picked us up from field hockey practice. He didn’t do any of that to make a statement or to challenge expected gender roles within a marriage, he was just doing what he could to raise his kids alongside my mom. Before I could realize it, and probably without even meaning to, my dad set the bar for every man who I have ever let into my life.

Although my dad has always been moral, he hasn’t always been into politics. My dad grew up outside of Boston in a suburb called Needham. He was the son of a World War II veteran and the youngest of five brothers, three of whom fought in Vietnam. Boston and its surrounding suburbs were different when my dad was wandering them in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He’s recalled watching people step over the corpse of a homeless man, the murder of a friend’s sister that happened in his neighborhood, and the immense, surreal contrast of walking out of a polluted Boston alleyway, into an impeccable Fenway Park.

The America that my dad raised me in was very different from the one that he was raised in. And yet, many of the same issues still persist. While my dad grew up watching activists protest nonviolently against desegregation, and get beaten in the streets defending their Constitutional right to vote, my generation is waking up to the fact that police brutality is the civil rights issue of our time.

When my dad was a teenager, abortion was illegal and birth control was widely unavailable. And yet, 44 years after Roe v. Wade was decided, the two daughters he raised still have to walk by screaming protesters carrying grotesque signs every time we need a checkup at Planned Parenthood.

Before I could realize it, and probably without even meaning to, my dad set the bar for every man who I have ever let into my life.

Today, my dad can talk politics because he’s spent his entire life paying attention. That life brought him to create two daughters — and if you’re the father of daughters, how can you ignore how the political system treats women? Especially if it hasn’t changed much from how it treated your mother, or your wife.

My outspoken, Red Sox-loving, Harley-riding, gardening-mechanic dad is marching with a bunch of women on Jan. 21st because his eyes are open to the struggles of women everywhere.

While my parents march together in Maine for my sister and me, I’ll be marching in Washington D.C. for them. I’m marching because my parents taught me that a woman’s body is her own. I’m marching because I watched Ferguson unfold on the news while I was living with my parents, and all three of us woke up to the pattern of police brutality. I’m marching because Flint, Michigan has now gone more than 1,000 days without clean drinking water. I’m marching because climate change is a scientifically-proven fact and the political administration I’m about to live under is one of very few on Earth that doesn’t believe in it. I’m marching because I’m a low-income resident of rural Maine, with $35k in student loan debt, working full-time in a field that I have a degree in — if my Affordable Care Act benefits are repealed, I’ll have to go without healthcare. I’m marching because I’ve spent years working in restaurants alongside undocumented immigrants, and I’m proud to have New Americans as friends — the dwindling population of my state needs them here.

I’m marching because I’m my father’s daughter and I was raised to pay attention. Yes, maybe it’s a little funny to picture my dad writing yet another letter to a politician who may never read it. Or to picture him marching in a sea of women wearing pussyhats. But if there’s one thing I’ve come to respect about my dad, it’s that he acts when others don’t. Sometimes he stands alone, sometimes he gets hurt, but often, he’s successful.

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