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May 01, 2006

Thank you, Happy Feminist

The Happy Feminist on pathological fatherly protectiveness:

What I find irritating however is all the lame joking when a girl baby arrives on the scene. The fathers with baby girls joke about not ever letting them date or not ever letting them out of the house. The fathers with boys joke that they are relieved because they would be too worried all the time if they had a daughter. I once challenged a good friend of mine, the father of a bouncing baby boy, when he made such a statement. He gave me a lot of nonsense about how girls are more vulnerable to rape and pregnancy, and then made more jokes about how, if he does ever have a daughter, she's never leaving the house until she's thirty.

Well said, HF.

Amanda also has an excellent take on this creepy topic.

I realize that I'm lucky to have a terrific dad who never said ridiculous stuff like that, even in jest.

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Comments

You mean your dad never took you to a Purity Ball? I guess that explains why you're living in sin with Thad. And why you could care less about Lindsay, Jr.

To be fair, rape, sexual assault, etc. are scary things. I have to remind myself as a parent that the best defense against them is to raise a strong, independent and knowledgeable daughter. But, of course, this is an advanced parenting lesson that many never get.

I also think a lot of fathers have too many memories of how reckless and insensitive they were as teenage boys, and how much harm they at least could have caused the people around them. I’m actually worried more about how my son will be as a teenager than my daughter for precisely this reason. (I also have a strong Platonic sense that it is far worse to do injustice than to suffer it.)

The thing is, the damn critters are born already having minds of their own. I’m fairly sympathetic to any parent who falls back on asinine clichés as a defense against the sheer terror of it all.

I'm sure it's terrifying to have kids. I just wonder why dads (and moms) don't joke about keeping their sons in until they're thirty.

Somehow parents seem to have more self-confidence about teaching their sons not to abuse than about teaching their daughters to avoid abuse.

Sadly, this might be empirically justified, if only because one bad guy typically victimizes a lot of women in his time. In my sharply limited and unscientific sample, almost every single parent who's taught their male child not to victimize has produced an upstanding citizen. A slightly lower percentage of parents who taught their daughters all the commonsense rules to avoid sexual assault (pro-feminist or not) have managed to raise daughters who have emerged unscathed.

My father joked about keeping me in until I was thirty.

Its not a creepy topic.

I'd think most women would understand where these dads are coming from, even if their own opinions are different. And I've heard mothers say very similar things.

Of course mothers say the same things. That doesn't make it not creepy. (A lot of people seem unable to grasp the concept that because something has been utterred by a woman at one point in time that doesn't mean it can't reflect sexist assumptions.)

On a slightly related topic, I was visitng some distant relatives once and they had friends over with two adorable small girls. The dad started to go on at length about how it would be hard for the younger girl when they grew up and folks would start to compare them. Because they were both so adorable, I didn't understand what he meant. Then he started to go into an in-depth analysis of each of his girl's bone structures and why the one would grow up to be more attractive than the other. He didn't seem to have any comparable level of insight into their emerging personalities. This is yet one other example of the way people talk about young girls that creeps me out. Not to mention all the cutesy heterosexual play-acting.

I've got a coworker who jokingly says that he wants his daughter to grow up a lesbian, so he wouldn't have to worry about the guys she might bring home....

Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I think that the most irritating thing about this attitude is the false belief that you keep people safe by locking them in the house.

Really you just wind up raising dysfunctional shut ins. You know, like Eli.

I endorse Rob's assessment. Although spending 16 hours a day in a law library isn't so much "shut in" as "tethered."

I just wonder why dads (and moms) don't joke about keeping their sons in until they're thirty.

1. Vestiges of old sex roles. Male children are still very often raised with the expectation (or imbibe it from their immediate social environment) that in order to be genuinely masculine they should be tough enough to withstand the violence of everyday life -- the "suck it up" attitude. Female children are not normally raised this way.

2. Arguably, anxiety about girls and sexual assault is quite understandable in a society where (depending on whose statistics one cites) roughly some 25-40% of women will experience some form of rape or sexual assault in their lifetime. (Yes, boys are at risk as well, and are disproportionately at risk from other forms of violence... but see 1, and add to this one of those curious intersections between traditional sexist and progressive rhetoric which over the past generation has made talking about violence against men specifically something of a taboo.)

I am the father of sons, and my wife and I decided before we had any children that we would let our children, regardless of sex, date as soon as they earned blackbelts. Even given that men are empirically a greater threat than women, we feel this makes sense even for boys because:
1. Boys are threatened by other boys in non-date settings in non-sexual ways more than girls are. Not letting him date will give him an incentive to learn karate to protect himself in a way that will be fair to any daughter we have.
2. How do we know our son will be straight? Parents who do not consider the possiblity that their sons may be gay and therefor vulnerable to date rape are not only bigoted, they are stupid.

These comments have an enormous weirdness about them because in some cases it seems that the fathers and other male kin are actually imagining that they were 16 again out on the prowl. The jokey kind of way this comes up is related to, but distinguishable from, the actual intention of watching and controlling girls more closely. It's as if the guys are changing from offense to defense in a big male game.

This kind of thing has been systematic in many cultures, in which you protect your own family's women while preying on other families' women. The joke is a survival or vestige of that ethic, if not an actual expression of it.

I do think that it makes sense to be more fearful about girls than boys, though. The risks are just greater in several respects.

Funny.

Today, at a lunch on W 44th Street NYC. Our host, a genial Italian-American guy originally from Brooklyn, made essentially the same comment, about not letting his eleven year old daughter date until she was twenty.

The women at the table--not ultraconservative by any means- understood completely. I think that the dangers young girls face are real, not at all the same as those facing boys of the same age. It would be a long and unnecessary conversation to get into--you know of which I speak.

The comments made by this dad come from a loving heart. I've got no problem with such comments. If we don't have anything worse that this to talk about, the world must be in great shape after all.

"...a lot of nonsense about how girls are more vulnerable to..."

"nonsense" doesn't speak of the source of the nonsense, so the complaint can be noted but not resolved. Not that I am such an expert but clearly, such fathers are at the very least, not paying attention. My daughter could have her feelings hurt but so can boys...they are just inclined and often succome to inculcated programmng not to show they are hurt. Jokes about Jewish mothers, only a slightly exagerated characterization of what I have observed to be a species of mothering not particularly confined to any sect, might be fruitful subjects for study: is it neurotic overprotection to send food to your kid in college? Is that an identifiable set of protective ploys? Is it benign? If you filter it out, is there a remaining set of protective curtailments of a child's freedom that are distinct and suspiciously over the top?

Starting when she was a juniour in college, our daughter went on a number of long distance solo bike treks in four continents. She discussed plans with us but was not asking permission. Rather than endure our advice, she only told us about visiting Syria after she got back.

The parent who can disengage, tell themselves "kids happen" and admit the child is actually a new person more than a projection of the parent onto the future, probably won't stray too far. When it is specifically the father who is being over protective of the daughter, yes, it has creepy undercurrents of sublimated sexual interest. I would keenly like to see someone run the DNA of incestuous fathers against some controls AND do a sound inventory for abusive upbringings and intelligence. It would be so valuable if we had a clue whether the nature or the nurture could give us any warnings of at-risk girls [or boys for that matter I suppose]

"...a lot of nonsense about how girls are more vulnerable to..."

"nonsense" doesn't speak of the source of the nonsense, so the complaint can be noted but not resolved. Not that I am such an expert but clearly, such fathers are at the very least, not paying attention. My daughter could have her feelings hurt but so can boys...they are just inclined and often succome to inculcated programmng not to show they are hurt. Jokes about Jewish mothers, only a slightly exagerated characterization of what I have observed to be a species of mothering not particularly confined to any sect, might be fruitful subjects for study: is it neurotic overprotection to send food to your kid in college? Is that an identifiable set of protective ploys? Is it benign? If you filter it out, is there a remaining set of protective curtailments of a child's freedom that are distinct and suspiciously over the top?

Starting when she was a juniour in college, our daughter went on a number of long distance solo bike treks in four continents. She discussed plans with us but was not asking permission. Rather than endure our advice, she only told us about visiting Syria after she got back.

The parent who can disengage, tell themselves "kids happen" and admit the child is actually a new person more than a projection of the parent onto the future, probably won't stray too far. When it is specifically the father who is being over protective of the daughter, yes, it has creepy undercurrents of sublimated sexual interest. I would keenly like to see someone run the DNA of incestuous fathers against some controls AND do a sound inventory for abusive upbringings and intelligence. It would be so valuable if we had a clue whether the nature or the nurture could give us any warnings of at-risk girls [or boys for that matter I suppose]

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