Why women need a strong male role model too
I cannot overstate the importance of good male figures in childhood
I was incredibly lucky growing up to have fantastic fathers. Some of it was more ordinary, such as gaining an insight into ‘boy’ subjects. I learnt how to put up a satellite and how to solder, and how atoms worked.
Some of it was more extraordinary: an understanding of what a man should be.
We hear a lot about how important it is for young boys to know what positive masculinity looks like. And that’s still really true. Seeing dad stand up for weaker members of society, and seeing figures from your gender handling situations with dedication, calm and intelligence is important. But for women, particularly straight or bisexual women, knowing what healthy masculinity is can be lifesaving.
Thanks to my dads, I see men as people, and more than that, I expect humanity from them. I know men can listen. I know men can stand up for me when I need them to. I know men can teach, help and guide me. I know men can cry. I know a man has a choice in whether or not he hits me.
I drove my fathers mad as a kid (I once cut my dad’s hair badly on purpose) but they never, ever hit me. I learnt that men feel deeply and that they don’t have an inhuman resilience against emotional cruelty or stress.
I learnt that men aren’t Prince Charming, either: men can be grumpy and fragile about losing a pair of socks. Men are, of course, people.
When you have a very warped view of the opposite gender, whether that’s growing up believing that women are there to clean for you, or that it’s normal for a man to beat you up, that doesn’t disappear when you hit 18. And that’s dangerous.
I had a Russian friend (a cultural difference often ignored, by the way) at university who was routinely beaten black and blue by her boyfriend. I was stunned. “Why the hell don’t you leave him?” I asked. She shrugged. “Men are always going to hit you. It’s their nature.”
“No it isn’t!” I responded. “I never got beaten up by my dad as a kid. The only person my dad threatened to hit was a man who ever hurt me.” (He actually threatened to break their legs with a baseball bat and bury them alive in concrete under the garage.)
“Well,” she said, crossing her arms finitely. “Real, masculine men, hit their women.”
This image of masculinity sucks, as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you. It’s misandrist, it’s dangerous and it comes from a poor experience of good men. I’m all for strong single mothers, goodness knows I know some excellent examples, but you need, as a young woman, to see what a decent bloke is like.
You need to see normal, human men who don’t drink a bottle of vodka and smash your mum’s head into the fridge. You need to see a man giggling to himself because someone’s name in the paper is hilarious. You need to see a man cry because he’s not too repressed to confront deep sadness. You need that. Strength isn’t just being a judo champion, it’s being resilient enough to show how you feel inside.
Seeing a normal, nice father figure as a young girl changes how you perceive masculinity. And that’s a priceless gift in a world where being macho means punching a wall.