Fatherhood and Sexism

Fatherhood and SexismHaving a daughter changes a man’s notions about traditional gender roles. That’s the conclusion of a recent study published in Social Forces, a leading sociology journal. The study measured attitudes about gender roles before and after having a daughter or son. Fathers showed significant changes in attitudes after having a daughter.

Parents have long understood that having children changes the way that they view life, but in an age of constantly changing parental roles, scientific studies about fatherhood and sexism have been few and far between. What is known is that gender preference in offspring begins well before birth. A survey conducted at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, asked students, faculty and staff if they would rather have a son or a daughter. Women overwhelmingly wanted daughters. Men wanted sons.

The study’s researchers credited this gender preference to a parent’s desire to realize fulfillment through the success of their children. The opportunity for a woman to see her dreams fulfilled is viewed as more likely to occur with a daughter. For a man, the opportunity of legacy is viewed as more likely to occur with a son.

Even the most enlightened and well-educated man is apt to view the opposite sex as somewhat of a mystery. Ideology about gender roles is influenced by a person’s upbringing, education, culture and social experiences as much as it is by a person’s deliberate conclusions, but these two studies show that something else is at work as well. The way a man views female members in his family, whether a mother, sister or a daughter, is bound to influence the way that he views all women.

The significance of a father’s influence on his daughter’s psychological development and on her view of herself is well established. The interaction – or lack of interaction – between a father and daughter plays a role in the kind of partner that the daughter may choose later in life. Sociologists have observed that a woman’s desire to gain her father’s approval exists and persists even when the father’s behavior was neglectful or abusive. When a father has an enlightened view about gender expectations, his daughter is likely feel the benefit of that attitude all of her life.

Sexism issues, of course, can come into play whether a man fathers a son or a daughter. Sons are likely to model their attitudes about male gender after their fathers. The son’s attitude about female gender, however, will not only be influenced by his mother but also by the attitude that his father has towards women, particularly the boy’s mother. A son that observes his father treating his mother with respect will likely treat other women with respect as well.

Hostile sexist attitudes are easiest to identify. Sexism disguised as chivalry, behavior that some sociologists refer to as “benevolent sexism,” is harder to identify. These behaviors tend to reward women for fulfilling expected female roles. If a woman acts in a docile manner, for example, she may be rewarded with approval whereas if she asserts herself, she may be met with censure. Studies have shown that when women experience this kind of sexism in the workplace, their ability to perform decreases.

Role modeling is not the only way that children learn, but it is one of the most potent. Simply by demonstrating through language and behavior that all people deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect, fathers can help their sons and daughters live a life that is free from the negative effects of sexism.