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Pre-2008 Posts

Should Feminists Boycott Father’s Day?

In response to my Mother's Day post, Mother's Militant:  Mother's Day as Resistance, sage asked, in a comment, "I didn't know!  So what about Father's Day?"   I am responding with this post.

Unlike Mother's Day, Father's Day has nothing to do with resistance (unless it is resistance to change in the direction of liberation for women and all people.)  There is no stirring "Father's Day Proclamation" penned by an inspiring father-leader and available for us to dig up and post all over the internet.  There are no stories of the heroic self-sacrifice of fathers who dreamt and worked towards a new world of peace for their children and for all people, or of men demanding an end to violence, bloodshed, and war in the world.   There are no demands that wives not come to their husbands "reeking of carnage," nor is there a record of American fathers expressing concern for the children of fathers from other nations, as with the Mother's Day Proclamation of 1870.  The idea of Father's Day was not the idea of a father at all.  It was the idea of a woman who might just be the first father's rights advocate.  Upon hearing her pastor's Sunday sermon about the newly-proclaimed Mother's Day, Sonora Dodd thought about her father, a widower who had raised her and her five brothers and sisters, and decided if a Mother's Day celebration were in order, a Father's Day celebration also ought to be in order. 

Father's Day was not officially proclaimed a national holiday until 1966 under the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson and wasn't enacted into law until 1972 under the Nixon Administration. (However, you'll recall that the Mother's Day Proclamation was penned in 1870 and was not made an official holiday until 1940.)  Father's Day is now as commercialized as Mother's Day is, of course.  All are expected to remember the family patriarchs with a card, a tie, a phone call, some fishing tackle, under penalty of being viewed a disrespectful, lazy, ungrateful son or daughter.  Pastors across the country deliver sermons about the fatherhood of the divine patriarch and about the responsibilities of fathers, usually to "provide" and "protect".   And millions of children, old and young, stand before supermarket card racks reading card after card, searching in vain for an appropriate card for a man who may have abandoned or all but abandoned them, who could not be bothered to care for them, who may have abused them, molested, assaulted, incested them, whose pornography they may have stumbled across when they were young, who may have battered or otherwise harmed their mothers. 

Each year the U.S. Census Bureau issues a special Mother's Day press release and a Father's Day press release.   It's intriguing, the differences between these publications.  While there are paragraphs in each having to do with the giving of cards, there is a breakdown of the card-buyers only as pertains to fathers, where we learn that only 50 percent of all Father's Day cards are actually purchased by sons and/or daughters, with the remainder purchased by wives or bought for grandfathers, sons, brothers, uncles or "someone special."  On the other hand, we're told that Mother's Day is the third-largest card-sending occasion, with 150 million cards sent each year, but there is no breakdown as to who the card-senders are (or are not).   Maybe we all know that whatever cards are bought for mothers are bought by their children.  Maybe we are supposed to feel guilty about the children who don't buy cards for their fathers.  I think there are good reasons many children don't.

According to the U.S. Census press releases, 81 percent of women 40-44 years old are mothers; there is no comparable estimate as to how many men are fathers.  I am interested, for now, in establishing that by far, most women become mothers.  Moving on, according to the releases, 80 percent of mothers ages 15-44 whose last birth was 12 or more years ago, are in the labor force. 51 percent of mothers in the work force returned to work within four months of their child's birth.  We find no similar information for fathers– no information about how many fathers whose last child was born 12 or more years ago are in the labor force, or about how many fathers returned to work within four months of their child's birth.  Well, we all pretty much know that the fact of children's births do not really factor into the working lives of far and away most fathers– ever.

We learn that 18 percent of single parents living with children are men, for a total of 2.3 million single fathers, and that of that number, 16 percent live in the home of a relative or a nonrelative (can we say mother, grandmother, or new girlfriend?).  By contrast, there are 10 million single mothers living with children under 18 years old, up from three million in 1970.  No information is provided as to their living arrangements or incomes; what we can ascertain (but only by sifting through paragraph upon paragraph of irrelevance), is that 10 million single mothers is quite a few more than 2.3 million single fathers, many of the latter living with family.

We learn that in het couples where both parents work, only 6 percent of married fathers provide primary care for their grade-school age children, and only 20 percent provide primary care for preschoolers. 

Where both parents work, but different shifts, fathers were expansive enough to provide 32 percent of the care for their preschoolers during the time their mother was working.  Where fathers worked only part-time to the mothers' full-time, a whopping 38 percent of them were actually willing to be the primary source of their preschoolers' care, again while the mothers were working. Where fathers weren't employed at all and mothers were the sole providers for the family, 52 percent of unemployed dads were actually willing to care for their own kids while mom worked.  Imagine that.

The Mother's Day press release provides us with all sorts of useless trivia:  what month and day of the week are most popular for giving birth, the most popular names, and so on.  What it doesn't actually calculate or quantify or report is what we all know and don't actually need to be told:  that mothers take care of and raise the country's children.  And pay for care when they are working ($92.00 per week average for working moms with at least one child).  Mothers are taking care of the country's children in overwhelming numbers, even when they are married to their children's fathers, and even when the children's fathers are not employed.  Meanwhile, many among the comparatively small number of single fathers seem to have been able to make other arrangements– to move in with relatives or others.  And of the small number of single fathers, 22 percent have an annual income of over $50,000 annually.

The Mother's Report says nothing at all about child support, but the Father's Report emphasizes that 84 percent of child-support providers are men, who provide $3,600 annually, average.  There is no figure for how many fathers do not provide child support at all; there is only this breakdown as to those who actually do provide child support.  On average those fathers pay a whopping $300 per month for the care of their children. 

These facts of life have not, however, interfered with the penchant of some fathers to take advantage of Father's Day to air their grievances against such grave injustices as I've described above.  The first "equal rights for men" rally, sponsored by the "Boston Chapter of the Coalition of Free Men," "Fathers United for Equal Justice," "Children of Divorce," and the "National Congress for Men" under the leadership of "Men's Rights, Inc." was staged on Father's Day, 1982, in an event designed to link fathers' rights with Father's Day.  Last year, both Trish Wilson and Feministing blogged about the number of newspapers which published articles about Father's Rights on Mother's Day.  Citing to a father's rights article by Susan Dominus which Feministing had blogged about, Wilson wrote that she had been interviewed by Dominus for the article, but Dominus did not include anything Wilson had written to her in her finished article, including information Wilson provided about the numerous assault, battery, and kidnapping convictions against fathers' rights "leaders" named in Dominus's article.

Meanwhile, Rachel at Women's Health News cites to last week's report from the Center for Health Studies which reveals that a full 44 percent of women report being victims of "intimate partner" violence in their lives, "intimate partner violence" defined as having experienced physical abuse, forced sex, unwanted sexual contact, threats/anger, and or controlling behavior.  Even if you reject "threats/anger" as abuse (I do not), 92.3 percent of women who said they experienced threats and anger also experienced another form of abuse, as did 82.3 percent of those reporting "controlling behavior," (for those who do not believe controlling behavior alone is abuse.  I believe it is.)

Forty-plus years post-Second Wave, these behaviors I've listed remain the rule and not the exception.  40 years post-Second Wave, both Father's and Mother's Day have become occasions for the promotion of anti-woman, anti-mother media ops and actions by father's and men's rights groups and their apologists.  40 years post-Second Wave, fathers' sons and daughters wrestle with, and grieve, their treatment at the hands of their fathers. 

All of this being so, why are any of us — those of us who grew up with fathers of the pre-Second Wave era, those of us who grew up with fathers of the post-Second Wave era — celebrating "Father's Day"?  Why not boycott the day, listing all of the reasons here, and others, for our decision to boycott?  Those of us who have had the good fortune to be loved by decent fathers are fully able to honor our fathers every day of every year if we like, in any way we choose, as we will, because that's what relationship is about– it is about mutuality, honor, care and respect flowing from years and years of the same between two people; it isn't necessary to make it a societal mandate.  Good and decent fathers everywhere will support, or at least understand, this boycott.  They know what fathers do, and will agree that cultural and societal pressure to "honor" fathers who have hurt mothers and their children, and continue to are immoral, obscene and wrong.  If we boycott the day created to make what is true about fathers invisible, maybe what is true will become visible, more and more a site for resistance and revolutionary change.




2 thoughts on “Should Feminists Boycott Father’s Day?

  1. This is a toughie, Heart. I was one of those who loved your Mother’s Day post, but I don’t know what to say, really, about this one. I think what scares me most about the idea of getting rid of Father’s Day is that it will give MRAs something more, well, substantial to complain about. I think that most people DON’T know the roots of Mother’s OR Father’s Day and that would lead them to believe that it is absolutely “unfair” not to have a Father’s Day, regardless of any previous meaning. Nowadays they’re Hallmark holidays, nothing much more.

    I have a hard time thinking that it would be a GOOD thing for women to further encourage the idea (reality though it may be) that fathers are largely absent and/or abusive to the extent that fatherhood shouldn’t be celebrated (but motherhood still should). If I were a non-feminist, I might go, “Well look, if we really think fathers are largely shit, do we have any right to be upset with them when they ACT like shit?” If fatherhood is given an automatic negative connotation, then why fight for men to take accountability for their children at all? Who cares! Who would want such men around their children anyway! Why bother bemoaning the plight of a single mother?

    I believe that having a child raised in a muli-adult household is a good thing. I just don’t think, in our nuclear-family-idealized, heterocentric society, that it’s a good idea to focus positive attention on motherhood exclusively because in most people’s minds, if the father = bad, then that’s just more justification for men to ignore their children.

    Another equally cynical view on things like this is sort of how I feel about heteros who refuse to marry, giving their reasoning as “solidarity” with queers who cannot legally marry. This sounds all noble, but I can’t help but wonder how many straight men use this because A) it makes them sound really liberal and B) this way they always have an easy out of every relationship, as they’re able to say, “It’s not that I can’t commit to you honey, it’s not that I’m an overgrown teenager, it’s just that I feel really really strongly about GAY RIGHTS!”

    Somehow I get a sense of those same guys eschewing fatherhood (whether or not a kid gets born) because of some misguided/bullshit solidarity with feminism.

    I think we should get rid of both of them, honestly. Father’s Day for some of the reasons you mentioned (like the fact that it’s a luxury even to have a father, and a luxury to have a father you would WANT to celebrate), and Mother’s Day simply because it’s become an awfully conservative holiday where we all take our mother’s out to get manicures and give her cards about baking and shopping and otherwise trivialize the identities of women into 1950’s-era mothers that scarcely even existed in our reconfigured notions of the 1950s.

    Posted by Edith | May 20, 2006, 4:05 am
  2. What about all of the men who are good to women and daughters?

    Posted by Rachel Bondi | June 1, 2006, 9:29 pm

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