Perspectives | Gender

On fathers and patriarchs

By - 19.04.2023

Can a boy who grows up in a patriarchal setting ever become a good father?

A political debate regarding reproductive freedom and assisted fertility took place in Kosovo’s Assembly in mid March after a new draft law on reproductive health and medically assisted conception was introduced. Deputy Speaker Saranda Bogujevci, who is herself pregnant and unmarried, said that women should be able to make independent decisions related to parenthood. They should trust science.

“Even though I haven’t had the opportunity to be […] married, I wanted to become a mother,” Bogujevci said in the Assembly. “It was important for me what science has to offer to me to exercise that right, and not for it to be determined by a man… that I must have a husband to become a mother.”

Her speech was a response to her male colleague from Vetëvendosje, Eman Rrahmani, who warned about the dangers that allowing “unmarried women” to have a child by a donor will pose to traditional family values. A few days later, on one of Kosovo’s primetime TV debates, two imams (whose opinions are highly regarded in the media) were given the opportunity to criticize Bogujevci and the draft law. One of the imams was particularly alarmed that allowing single women to have children by a donor was a selfish act that would deprive children of fathers and destroy the nuclear family.

This type of glorification of fathers’ roles in children’s lives made me laugh. Apparently if a woman chooses to exercise full autonomy and take the responsibility of becoming a solo parent, she is doing harm to the child by denying them the opportunity to have a father. This had men panicking. “What about the father?!” 

It is indeed a valid question. But I would rather try to answer a different question. Can men raised in patriarchal settings ever be good fathers?

First and foremost, one cannot talk about fatherhood without looking into how dominant social norms shape masculine culture and violent tendencies.

Praised for their sex before they’re even born, boys arrive into the world with a sense of entitlement. Their genitals are celebrated with costly and extravagant circumcision parties. As toddlers they are given military toys to play with and are excused when they use foul language. Boys will be boys, we’re told.

From femicide to daily cases of domestic violence, fathers have caused immense pain in our families. Fathers have taken away the lives of their children’s mothers, have broken families apart, have caused extreme emotional damage in children and other family members. Fathers are frequent perpetrators of economic violence as well. Women often must deal with their ex-husbands refusing to pay alimony. Other times their property is taken away from them in divorce. Consequently, these women are left unsheltered and poor. The men who commit these acts are fathers too. 

Boys who grow up and are socialized in an environment dominated by the patriarchy and where misogyny is the norm have little chance of becoming good fathers.

A father who violates and disrespects his children’s mothers (and women in general), cannot be a good father. How a father treats their children’s mother is of utmost importance. And yet, research shows that marital rape is shockingly common in Kosovo and that the courts, and society at large, fail to protect the mothers. Even where there is no physical violence, unequal gender roles in marriage reproduce repressive patterns.

Boys who grow up and are socialized in an environment dominated by the patriarchy and where misogyny is the norm have little chance of becoming good fathers. Patriarchy feeds boys and men with aggression, entitlement and emotional disengagement — the opposite of the qualities that are associated with responsible parenthood.

Being a responsible parent means loving unconditionally, putting others first and making sacrifices for the children. Given the strength of the patriarchal order, such qualities are rare in men, yet fathers continue to enjoy the status quo and a society that coddles them. 

The ideal of fatherhood that the imams on TV want so desperately to defend, and which the majority of society appears to be in support of, is at root a patriarchal construct that harms women.

A patriarchal man cannot be a good father because he doesn’t provide the care, respect, emotional labor and effort that we put entirely on the shoulders of mothers.

To inspire a new culture of fathers, we have to demand a new culture of men — men who deliberately let go of privileges passed down through the generations, who choose to renounce their patriarchal upbringing and take full responsibility for their behavior. Such a culture can only emerge through a responsive education system, mental health services, and an improved justice system.

Until we manage to come close to building such a system, we have to stop glorifying the figure of the biological father and make sure that women have the option of getting into a relationship with science. 

Feature image: K2.0.

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