Let me preface what I’m about to write with a caveat: I don’t have children. At least not human children. I have a four-legged permatoddler (dog) named Lemmy. But you’ll be relieved to know that there are no mini-mes running around, and for that, you should all take a moment to thank the deity of your choice.
Caveat issued. Now on to the part that will piss some of you off.
Hey dads with daughters, I’d like to bend your ear for a second.
Your little princess is a gift, both to you and to the world. No doubt you’re proud of her, and no doubt you’re concerned for her. You want her to grow up to be a strong, healthy, happy, independent adult. You want her to know her worth and be treated by the world as you would treat her.
I know that you’re kind of joking (and kind of serious) when you post pictures and memes to the effect of “Here are the rules for dating my daughter,” or “I’m going to shoot you in the face with my 12-gauge if you cross my precious baby.”
I have a few things I’d like you think about before you post sort of thing again.
1. Your daughter will have a healthier view of sex and relationships if you treat her like a soon-to-be adult human.
Your little girl is growing up, dad. Soon, she’s going to be out there making her own decisions. You won’t always be there to protect her, so rather than projecting an unrealistic machismo bodyguard vibe, think about teaching her to understand how she deserves to be treated.
Help her understand her own worth. Help her wrap her head around the idea that she doesn’t “belong” to anyone, other than herself. Not to you, not to her boyfriend, not to anyone. She’s responsible for making good decisions about how she’ll let anyone treat her.
2. Everything you do communicates your worldview to your still impressionable child.
When you tell would-be suitors that you’ll kill them if they wrong little Suzy, here’s what you’re really doing: You’re telling little Suzy that Dad and Boyfriend are the decision-makers when it comes to little Suzy’s romantic life. Put differently, you’re communicating that you see Suzy, and likely all women, as lesser than yourself.
That’s clearly bullshit, and if you said it out loud, your wife/child’s mother would probably punch you in your puffy pink gin-blossomed chauvinist face. But that’s the subtext of your rhetoric. Take it from me, I’m a rhetorical subtext aficionado.
Someday, God willing, your baby will grow up to marry a Lego man.
3. Treat your son and daughter the same (within reason).
I doubt you’d stand on the porch with a shotgun trying to intimidate your son’s prom date. And I doubt you’d subtly convey your winking approval of your daughter’s promiscuity if she played a little stick-and-move with the school’s wide receiver depth chart.
When you treat little Bobby and Suzy differently, you are reinforcing the stereotypes that Suzy’s going to be fighting against for the rest of her life. She’s already going to make 78 cents on the dollar vs. Bobby. She’s already going to have a tougher time getting to the corner office. She’s already going to be more likely to suffer from poverty in the wake of any breakup.
Want your daughter to be the exception to those shitty statistics? It starts by treating her differently than most dads treat their daughters. Treat her in a way that has her walking into the world unwilling to accept less than her brother.
And at the same time, want to help eliminate rape culture and misogyny? Don’t let little Bobby get away with “just being a boy,” and certainly don’t nudge-nudge-wink-wink his teenage douchebaggery (or worse) away.
4. Knock it off with the hollow, generic threats.
We live in a violent culture. People get actually shot in the actual face by actual bad guys every single day in our country. You’re not an actual bad guy, dad. You have almost certainly never shot another person, at least not intentionally. (You might have Dick Cheneyed a hunting buddy, but that doesn’t count.) You likely have no desire to go to prison for the rest of your life.
Your big talk doesn’t make you sound tough, it makes you sound like a suburbanite insurance salesman dad who’s writing checks your Sansabelt-wearing ass can’t cash. We all see through it, pops.
I know you’re just being goofy. I do. But I’d ask you to consider the fact that when you joke around about violence, you’re helping normalize violence.
People in our country are literally 10 times more likely than people in the rest of the developed world to get killed by a gun. That’s fucking ridiculous, friends.
And I don’t think your meme is going to kill anyone. I’m not an alarmist, and I’m not stupid. However, multiply your halfway serious joke times millions of people, and the idea of “shooting a boy who brings a girl home late” starts to sound less like a joke, and more like an eventual statistical likelihood.
Bottom line, dads: If you really want to protect your daughter, work to make the world a better place for women. Be the biggest, boldest feminist on the block. Teach her (and your sons) her own value in the world. Teach her to make her own good decisions and support her when she screws up.
Not because she’s your daughter, but because she’s your child who you want to see grow up to be an independent adult someday.