Wednesday, June 19, 2024

May good dads win the battle for men’s souls: female lives depend on it

There’s a man who attends the March 8 women’s march every year.

He did not march this year, “out of respect for the separatists,” he said, but still, he showed up to show his support dressed in a plastic tunic with his daughter’s face on it and the message, “Don’t forget me, I’m still missing.”

His daughter Esmeralda disappeared in 2009, but he refuses to stay quiet about it. What parent would?

Another striking image of a father that’s recently gone viral is a man in Paraguay, standing alone at night on the side of the road. The photo was taken by his daughter, who says he walks to the bus stop to wait for her every night until she gets home from work.

In the weeks since writing my article on motherhood in Mexico, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about fathers here as well.

I think about my daughter’s father, who has embraced the job of raising her with gusto. We’re not together anymore, but he clearly takes his job as father seriously, guiding her, teaching her, caring for her and protecting her, a far cry from the stereotypical “weekend dad” who only shows up for the fun stuff.

While we might not see eye-to-eye on everything, I do not worry about her when she’s with him because I know that she is safe and happy.

I think about my current partner. He’s not a father himself but has enough caretaking instincts and playful disposition for the both of us, which my daughter benefits from greatly. He often cares for his two-year-old niece for full days at a time. He plays, changes diapers and never, ever loses patience, which is more than I can say for myself.

A couple of weeks ago, when his brother (our niece’s father) came to pick her up, I marveled at the way they cared for her between the two of them. I’ve seen plenty of women during my time in Mexico swoop in to take over childcare responsibilities from men. I do not have the inclination nor the instinct to do so myself and simply sat back to enjoy my after-meal coffee while they busied themselves attending to her needs.

Could things be changing, I thought? Is the definition of fatherhood finally expanding to mean equal involvement of fathers when it comes to the maddening, boring, tedious parts of raising a child?

Among the men around me, it seems to be.

Then again, who’s to say? I can only speak of how things go on in my own house, I suppose. I can only guess at who does the bulk of the domestic and childrearing work in individual homes. Among most of my friends, it’s definitely the women.

Still, though. Seeing more fathers than ever changing diapers and carrying around sparkly school bags gives me hope.

Every woman is somebody’s daughter. Most fathers love their daughters, right? Certainly, the fathers that I know are doting and caring, though to be fair, “the people I know” are not a representative sample of the country.

My biggest questions about the missing women and girls, then, have to do with the identity of the perpetrators of these disappearances, which almost always end in murder.

Do they have daughters? Sisters? Mothers? Do they care about any women, even just specific women, perhaps? Or do they think that women simply shouldn’t exist unless they’re personally useful to them? Do they lack respect for all life or just female life?

Are the perpetrators of these crimes a handful of bad people who commit them over and over again with impunity? Or — much more terrifying — is it a common, widespread crime committed by men who see an opportunity to do something they want with very little chance of getting caught?

I am extremely sad to say this, but the more disappearances there are, the harder it becomes to argue that a handful of psychopaths — and not some dark, misogynist corner of the culture — is to blame for the endurance of this type of crime.

We don’t know if these criminals have daughters they love, because we don’t know who they are. Whoever they are, they’ve so far been great at hiding among us. My terrified guess is that it’s a substantial number.

The most viral image of all lately has been of 18-year-old Debanhi Escobar standing on the side of the road in her skirt and hi-tops. It is believed that after having been sexually assaulted by the taxi driver who was driving her, she insisted on getting out of the taxi. The last photograph of her is the haunting image on the side of the road captured by the taxi driver to “prove she’d gotten out of the car.”

After asking for help at a transport company across the road — whose security tapes from that night have mysteriously disappeared — she disappeared. Her body was found several days later in the subterranean water tank of a nearby motel. Ms. Escobar’s father has accused the Attorney General’s Office of negligence and failing to take his daughter’s disappearance seriously.

When it comes to taking the disappearance of women and girls seriously, I think that at this point we could very well accuse the entire government of ignoring the problem.

During the week that Debanhi was being searched for, after all, there were 80 more disappearances of women and girls in the country, more than half of them between the ages of 10 and 18, a fact that positively turns my stomach.

This was a steep increase from the previous week. What’s not increasing at all is the budget allocated for fighting violence against women.

Someone recently suggested to me that perhaps the media attention femicides receive inadvertently encourages similar crimes, as it’s possible that those with the inkling feel emboldened to go for it, assured that they won’t get caught.

If reporting on these tragedies is truly contributing to more, then we’re in even more serious trouble than I thought.

In this cultural battle for the soul of Mexican men, I just hope the good dads win.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, and her Patreon page.

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