“The name of the site isn’t about me, it’s about an ideal I want to pursue,” says Ludo Gabriele, a 33-year-old father of two, explaining the meaning behind the title of his blog, Woke Daddy. “That’s a really important distinction. I’m not putting myself on a pedestal—we should all want to be better people and look at life and society and try and improve it however we can.” A sort of spiritual parenting journal where he publishes posts discussing the difficulties of both fatherhood and manhood, Woke Daddy is all about challenging the stereotypes of masculinity.
Gabriele launched the site earlier this year, two months after the birth of his first daughter Sofia, an event which he says led to some serious introspection. “Before she was born, I had to ask myself ‘Why am I afraid of having a daughter?’ he says. “I started questioning how I view women, how I view masculinity. It was a scary rabbit hole to go down.” In one of his earliest posts, entitled “Coming Out as a Male Feminist and Why You Should Do it Too,” Gabriele says that like many other men, he had been trapped inside a “man box” for much of his life. This box is a concept constructed by speaker and consultant Keith Edwards, who describes it as “a rigid set of expectations, perceptions, and behaviors of what is ‘manly’ behavior,” that men feel they must adhere to..
The blog has attracted plenty of attention over the last couple of months, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, some responses have been more positive than others. Gabriele has found himself in the position of being attacked by both the alt-right, who have labelled him a “cuck for life,” and by the liberal left, who have reprimanded him for seemingly only realizing the importance of feminism once it directly influenced his life (the birth of his daughter). “Was not a feminist until he was directly, personally affected by inequality. Says shit feminists have been saying for DECADES…. Nope” read one recent tweet directed at Gabriele.
Gabriele says that although he knew the blog would be polarizing, he had no idea how severe the backlash would be. “It was a very intense 24 hours when it first started,” he says. “I really wasn't expecting how ferocious the attacks would be and I did question if I should continue.” Although the reaction was unexpected, Gabriele says he understood it to some extent. “What I was saying was so different to what we accept as mainstream manhood,” he says. He also admits that he purposefully used buzzwords like “male feminist” and “toxic masculinity” to gain attention initially, but that he is now keen to distance himself from the terms. “I used them because I think they would make an important impact, but they’re something I want to refrain from using in future.” While it’s an honest admission, it may be one that leads Gabriele into further trouble with those who already think his “awakening” may be too little too late. “I wish I had had this epiphany earlier in my life,” he admits when questioned about this. “I’m not perfect, nobody is, but it is a process I started earlier in life. Having a daughter just accelerated it for me.”
In the aforementioned “Coming Out as Male Feminist” post, Gabriele writes: “All I want, at the end of the day is my daughter and my son to have the same opportunities.” It’s a valid, if obvious, point. According to a Joint Economic Committee Democratic Staff report published last year, on average, an American woman earns 79 cents for every dollar a man gets—this figure is even lower for black or Hispanic women. The same report also found evidence of what it refers to as the “mommy penalty” and “daddy bonus,” i.e. women with children returning to work are paid less than those without children, but for men the opposite is true. In fact, fathers earn on average 15% more than men without children. And within the home, women continue to take on the lion share of the chores. A survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that women in the U.S. spend on average two and a quarter hours each day doing household work, almost an hour more than men.
So how does Gabriele intend to tackle these important, but long-standing, problems of gender inequality? “It starts at home. That’s why I put ‘Daddy’ in the in the title of the blog,” he says. “It’s about the way we raise our children and how we act around them on a daily basis.” However, having grown up in low-income housing in France, Gabriele is aware that implementing a strong foundation in the home can only go so far. “When I was growing up, masculinity was all about being dominant and tough around your peers—the other teenage boys you were friends with,” he says. “You had to do that to survive.” After moving to the U.S. 10 years ago, Gabriele noticed similarities in the way men interacted with each other. “For a lot of guys, they think that if they don’t act a certain way, they’re not a man, or if they show their sensitive side, they’ll be outcast,” and points out that the “locker-room” actions and words of the current American president are just one example of toxic masculinity at the upper echelons of society.
Despite the criticism, it’s difficult not to admire Gabriele; as he admits, he is not perfect and some of the criticism leveled against him is warranted, but in the face of such vitriol and intense personal attacks, he’s vowed to persevere and to address mistakes that he’s made in the past. “Vulnerability is the real strength,” he explains. “It takes a lot to say, ‘I’ve been wrong for years and I’m sorry for it.’ What’s important is people realizing that it’s never too late to change.” And despite his reluctance to use the term, Gabriele is clear about what a male feminist looks like: “For me, it’s simply a man who believes that both genders should have equal rights and opportunities.” And you can’t argue with that.