Monday, June 17, 2013

Feminist Fathering

Loy Lyons-Attorney at Law and Freetown Collective's
Mostly known as the sultry baritone of the up and coming lyrical trio Freetown Collective, Lou Lyons in his private life is a proud and devoted father to six-year-old daughter Naeema, the true “plum seed of his eye," as his first born and only child. Father-daughter relationships are often described as special, despite continual contention around the responsibility of men and the care of their children, the importance of their role is undeniable, or is it? 

Lyons has credited feminism with what he describes as his enlightened understanding of gender roles and by extension his role as a father. This 28-year-old scholar admitted to being embarrassed just five years earlier after an encounter with a close friend, having considered himself an avid reader and researcher, to admit to having never heard the word feminism and knowing nothing of the teachings. 

Today, he owns the title pro feminist, the prefix ‘pro’ acting as an acknowledgment of his own privilege as male and the inability to speak for women in spite of personal empathy or political solidarity. Lyons felt secure in this new knowledge because, “I could read it in a book” he said with a grin, which helped him not to dismiss the extensive body of literature that exists and trivialise its meaning in ways that seem common-place in everyday parlance due to a general lack of information or exposure.

Tasks he relayed are shared equally between himself and his wife, with no sexual division of labour in the care of their daughter. 

"Feminism helped me to understand that gender roles are not naturally determined and I began to actively interrogate those ideas and ask what gave them any merit,” he explains. The social responsibilities of a father are pre-determined by society, for example how involved you should be, what is acceptable, what lines and boundaries should or should not be crossed and what types of conversation you should be having with your children." These rubrics have been frustrating to men and fathers who want to participate more actively in their children’s lives, principally when it comes to intimate nurturing, including bathing, diaper changing and feeding of children, particularly girls. He says though overt disapproval may not be expressed, subtle reactions by others tell you you are not qualified or make it uncomfortable for you to feel comfortable.

Lyons, also an attorney-at-law, was also able to give insight into how family law functions in reinforcing the gender role of male provider. He explained that it was far less likely for a woman to be brought up on a maintenance claim, with the judicial sanctions for this kind of action being almost “biblical”. Further, the burden of proof appears to be lighter for a woman seeking custody of children, especially if the case involves a father who is an unskilled worker. This he says puts the man in the position of having to pay maintenance while losing access to his children, extending inequitable circumstances for men whose situation may not be helped and are seen as underperforming by society’s standards.

When questioned about his own practices, Lyons shared his morning ritual with Naeema, which includes combing her hair, preparing her lunch kit and dropping her off to school. Similar to Spike Lee’s classic Jungle Fever where Flipper (played by Wesley Snipes) walks Ming to school every day and uses that time for bonding, so too does this real life father-daughter duo. He also boasted of Naeema’s interest in cars and how he has his own little helper to help him wash his. Like her father, she also owns many instruments, though significantly less expensive but a good replacement for the dolls that he does not encourage due to the lack of representation of the variety of women that exist, particularly in Naeema’s life context. 

No reference was provided by Lou’s own father who had two sons, so at the age of 22 on becoming a father himself, a new handbook had to be created based on intuition and a lack of fear of being contradicted. This however had nothing to do with control or power but in fact quite the opposite. When asked about the decision-making process when it came to Naeema, Lyons said much of the reasoning was left up to her, rejecting any rigid notions of parental hierarchy. 

“Given the opportunity to think, children can be quite intellectual about their circumstances and can understand,” he affirmed. Making a conscious decision not to perpetuate male dominance in his relationship with his daughter has encouraged her capacity for independent thought and left room for her to comfortably challenge him, though the challenges are fairly manageable at the tender age of six. 

He did however admit to fantasising about when she is older and able to hold her own in debate and show him up for his anticipated conservatism in years to come.

“In my ideal parental circumstance I do not want to lay down any rules but to continue in our custom of conversing and reasoning everything.” 

Ah, the language of equality and justice, spoken like a true feminist!

Source: Trinidadexpress

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