As the famous Chris Rock routine implores, fathers with daughters have one job—one job—which provides the measure of their effectiveness as parents: keeping their daughters “off the pole.”
The roadmap for fatherhood seemingly provides two conflicting approaches for dealing with sons compared to daughters: successfully raising sons means setting a good example, being a positive role model, and generally making boys into men of strong character. Raising a daughter, by contrast, requires an obsession with female sexuality—suppressing it, protecting it from exploitation, and strenuously ignoring it in all its manifestations.
Popular culture has trained us to congratulate men who have boys, and commiserate when they have girls. After all, to fathers with daughters, all men become the enemy—irascible interlopers out to defile innocent young girls by treating them as sexual beings, whether by asking them to prom or coercing them into something more compromising.
Sitcom daughters provide ample set-ups for the concerned father routine–even the entire premise for one popular program, “8 Simple Rules (for Dating My Teenage Daughter)”–while the Second Amendment imagery of a father defending his daughter’s honor against a promiscuous suiter has entered the American lexicon with its own idiom: the shotgun wedding.
The problem isn’t that the world is devoid of sexual predators who view and treat women as objects—quite the opposite. The problem is that the cultural norm for fatherhood doesn’t recognize the difference between a woman’s sexual self-determination and a woman as a victim of hyper-masculine objectification. Men only want one thing, and it is all that women have to offer.
Incidentally, it isn’t all that unusual for fathers to encourage their sons to be the exact sort of men that daughters are taught to fear. Male sexuality gets the “boys will be boys” shrug of approval, because it is up to girls’ fathers to be on the look out; boys who manage to slip under the radar of watchful fathers have won the game at their expense.
The protective instinct credited in the outlook of fathers is not malicious toward boys or girls–it is genuine, affectionate, and desperately earnest. But objectification of women doesn’t exempt intentions. By treating daughters as objects lusted after by all other men, the same message gets through: girls are sexual objects, and men are out to get them. Good fathers are putting their seal of approval on a thoroughly bad message.
While conventional wisdom holds that slut-shaming (and the associated disrespect for any expression of female sexuality) is the stuff of school-age bullying and antisocial gossips, treating the father-daughter relationship in such a limited way actually extends the ‘slut’ label into the home. A father has unmistakably failed when his daughter carries that label; alternatively, a daughter has let down her father when she has been labeled a ‘slut.’
Besides being an unreasonable and unhealthy way for a young girl to develop any sense of her own sexuality, this kind of parenting dynamic effectively reinforces the same mentality that makes slut-shaming a socially normal behavior, for all genders.
At least as damaging is how this focus on women as perennial victims of male sexual appetites completely ignores the fact that boys are victims of sexual objectification, violence, and abuse on an alarming scale. The tendency to view men exclusively as perpetrators and women exclusively as victims makes it all but impossible to accurately measure the incidence of sex crimes, much less provide effective treatment and support for those targeted.
Any gender-based approach to fighting, preventing, and confronting sex crime is part of the problem it purports to be solving. Likewise, approaches to parenting that instill stereotypical views of gender and sexual roles end up damaging the self-image, identity, and potential of all.
Having a one-sided view of women’s sexuality is built on a one-sided attitude toward men. The result is that you don’t have to have a son to contribute to a negative, unhealthy worldview of men and male sexuality. Having a daughter and treating her like she needs protection—and that the definition of success hinges on hiding her sexuality from the men of the world—ends up ruining her conception of both genders.
Fathers haven’t failed when their daughters develop a sense of identity that encompasses sexuality. They fail when their daughters have unhealthy, unrealistic views of gender, and how genders are supposed to interact.
Photo Credit: Flickr