Early this week, People Babies unveiled an interview with former first daughter and current Today correspondent Jenna Hagar on the subject of family — which was predictably non revelatory, save for an offhand remark she made about her dad, George W. Bush.
“People laugh at this, but I think my dad was a feminist. He showed us that we could be whatever we wanted to be,” she told the outlet. “I want my girls to feel that way. I want them to feel strong and capable and feel like they can conquer the world.”
It’s a sweet sentiment, sure — and, as a daughter whose dad also told her that she could touch the moon if she reached for it, I understand the impulse to paint your fathers’ supportive parenting as an act of something more heroic.
But the truth is that what Jenna Hagar is describing isn’t really feminism: It’s being a good parent. And while you’ll be hard pressed to find a complaint about men being supportive of their daughters, it’s important to acknowledge the massive difference between empowering your own child and battling systemic injustice as part of a larger movement meant to level the playing field. One privileges the success of the individual; the other, the good of the whole.
To be fair, the idea that individual empowerment is a tenet of feminism is a very on brand interpretation in 2017 — so it’s little wonder that Hagar has the two mixed up. Pop feminism, marketplace feminism, feminism for the selfie generation: Whatever you want to call it, the point is the same, and it’s that we’re living in an era that largely positions feminism as a label you can opt into rather than one you earn for doing the actual work of activism.
That work, by the way, is advocating for the equality, choices, justice and rights to liberty for all women, not just the ones who happen to share your DNA. Telling your little girl that she can grow up to be whatever she wants to be is one thing. Showing women everywhere that you’re the kind of man who challenges the institutional sexism and misogyny that could keep her, and any other woman, from getting there is something else entirely.
But Hagar calling her father — a man who did zilch for women while he was at the country’s helm in the Oval Office — a feminist is more than just a misapplication of a term; it’s also a narrative that’s counter to the facts of his public policies. As a two-term President of the United States, George W. Bush could have shown women that he had a feminist streak. Instead, he did the opposite.
Lest we forget: This is a politician who, in 2003, signed the so-called “partial-birth” abortion ban into law and whose administration promoted abstinence-only sex-ed. His No Child Left Behind legislation wreaked havoc on young girls — and boys — across America. When he ran for a second term, the woman demographic was one of his biggest hurdles at the polls, and no wonder: Time and time again, he didn’t seem to be governing on our behalf — and there were moments when it seemed like he was actively governing against us.
Jenna Hagar is entitled to her own opinion of her father, of course. But, as the adage goes, what she isn’t entitled to are her own facts, especially when those facts run counter to universally accepted truths. In that sense, she reminds us of another first daughter insistent on her father’s feminism: “He’s a big reason I am the woman I am today,” Ivanka Trump said last summer. We all like to see the best in our fathers. That isn't a license to rewrite history.
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