The Message Behind Daughters and Overprotective Dads
Long before my daughter began dating, I had guys joking about how I should greet her prospective boyfriends. Sitting in the living room cleaning a shotgun was a popular idea. People who knew me a little better suggested I should sharpen one of the swords instead.
I also have a teenage son. Funny thing — not once has anyone suggested that when he brings home a prospective girlfriend, I should greet her with shotgun and/or sword in hand.
Heteronormative assumptions about my kids aside, the idea that I’d have to intimidate a girl into not taking advantage of my son seems absurd on the surface, right? But when it comes to our daughters, we’re flooded with “jokes” about how we have to use implicit threats of violence to keep the boys in line.
I keep getting into arguments where guys tell me sexism isn’t a thing anymore. That girls are just as violent and abusive as boys. That there’s no epidemic of rape and violence carried out by men and boys against women and girls.
Often in the same paragraph, these guys will talk about the horrible violence they’d inflict on anyone who raped or abused their daughters. Not once have I seen them express the same protectiveness about their sons.
It quickly becomes clear what they really believe. They know, deep down, that the threat of sexual violence against their daughters is real. That girls and women are disproportionately targeted. That one of the biggest threats to women — if not the biggest threat — is men.
This is not to say that men and boys aren’t assaulted as well. They are, and it happens far too often. Likewise, women absolutely can be abusers. But statistically, women are far more likely to be attacked, and men are far more likely to be the attackers.
And every time I hear someone joking about getting the guns out to greet the daughter’s new boy, I hear someone who knows how bad things are for girls and women in this society. Even if they don’t want to admit it.
June 14, 2018 @ 8:17 pm
When I hear a man making those kinds of “jokes” about his daughter’s boyfriends, what I hear is a man who remembers forcing, or trying to force, his dates to put out and who doesn’t want to think about what that makes him.
June 14, 2018 @ 11:21 pm
Well-said, Jim and Lee both!
When I started dating again after my husband died, my adult son and I joked about him sitting down with the guy and asking, “Just what are your intentions toward my mother?” Seemed only fair.
It is interesting, isn’t it, how people seem to assume that men should be possessive of their daughters and permissive to their sons. There is a long damn history of both of those, and they kind of dovetail, don’t they? If we permit our sons to act however they feel like, we then have to “protect our girls” from how the boys feel like acting. Maybe it would just be easier to teach both our daughters *and* our sons to be decent and restrained? Or is that just me?
June 15, 2018 @ 6:36 am
From another angle—less serious but, I feel, still important—the discrepancy assumes that men always want sex and women don’t. Which is bullshit.
All the guys I dated in HS were lovely and respectful. (The one I broke up with in 9th grade was a dick, but also really repressed.) I never once felt pressured to do anything I didn’t want, and indeed they checked in frequently about boundaries.
I was still sexually active (and safe) from sixteen onward, because I wanted to be. It was fun, and I regret nothing.
And whenever I see the dad-with-a-gun prom photos, I hope his daughter and her date are in an open relationship and have regular orgies with the marching band. Because fuck purity culture.
R. H. Rushefsky
June 15, 2018 @ 10:09 am
It’s also, I think, a throwback to the idea that while sons are their own people, daughters are basically property of their fathers (until they become property of their husbands). It’s always struck me as a “don’t you dare think you can take my property from me” kind of attitude.
June 15, 2018 @ 6:31 pm
A guy I know once said, ‘I’m glad I only have sons, because that means I only have to worry about their penises, and not all of the other ones.’
June 15, 2018 @ 10:54 pm
I’m with Isabel Cooper and R.H. Rushefsky on this one: the ‘fierce father’ construction doesn’t consider daughters to be persons with agency, but objects with no agency of their own, or at best wayward livestock.
This is in addition to your main point in the post, Jim, and Lee’s point – I’ve even heard men candidly state that they’re protecting their daughters from boys like their own teenage selves (which, in their minds, is what all young men are like by nature).
June 30, 2018 @ 7:13 pm
I think the dad-in-a-rocking-chair-with-a-shotgun is such an established humorous trope in our society that even otherwise pretty decent guys (who weren’t like that as teens, or ever) make such jokes without thinking. Rape culture is not promulgated only by rapists.
July 29, 2018 @ 10:12 am
Apart from rape — which is a real and legitimate threat — there is the fact that consequences for an unintended pregnancy are far worse for girls than for boys. I think some of the whole shotgun/sword trope is to communicate that there will be consequences for the boy as well.
The better solution, of course, is comprehensive sex-ed, and if the schools aren’t providing it, make sure your sons and daughters have access to and skills for condoms. Instead of meeting your daughter’s date with a sword, meet him with a banana and a condom.
But maybe have a sword on the wall for motivation.