Dads, Stop Acting Like You're 'Protecting' Your Daughters If You're Just Controlling Them

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and PhotoAlto/Laurence Mouton/Getty

Feminists (and really anyone who believes in and advocates for girls and women to have equal human rights, including body autonomy) had their world rocked recently when rapper T.I. openly — and, dare we say, enthusiastically — admitted to monitoring his daughter’s virginity. And not like with some 19th-century “promise ring” thing or a cross necklace tethered to her neck to remind her daily of her purity (although those are pretty warped too). He bragged about actually verifying with her doctor that his 18-year-old daughter’s hymen is intact.

But as much as this admission made us all vomit with disgust, it didn’t shock us as much as it should. Because this type of controlling behavior—where dads parade around, boasting about the things they do to “protect” their girls—remains far too common, even this far into the 21st century.

There are still “promise rings” placed on young girls’ fingers, given only if she makes the solemn vow to “save herself” for marriage (girls only by the way—boys can stick their penises wherever they want, apparently, because their fingers remain ringless). There are still dads brandishing shotguns as nervous teenage boys ring their doorbell. And, as T.I. reminds, us, there are still dads who actually check their daughters physically for signs of sexual activity.

All in the name of “protection” because these dads claim to “know what’s best” for their girls.


But what is it really about? Control.

It’s about being the “big man” who mandates where his (girl) child goes, who she sees, who she touches and who touches her, what she wears, and anything in between that proves who the real king is. And it’s gross AF.

He is insecure and scared of his daughter growing up and leaving his watchful eye, and this so-called “protective” dad tries his hardest to stunt her growth and slow down time so that she’ll always be that small, naive, innocent little girl, right there on Daddy’s knee.

Only T.I.’s daughter is 18 years old. Her father has no business talking to her doctor about her body. At all.

None of this protects their girls. Rather, it damages their father-daughter relationships, and it destroys these girls’ sense of self-worth.

Such is the case for teenage girls everywhere, who are long past sitting on Daddy’s lap and being tucked in for bed with their dolls. Yet that seems to be how so many dads still see them. Unfortunately, that refusal to let their daughters grow up, experience the world, and make their own decisions does not “protect” their girls—it only disrupts their development and ability to function in the adult world.

An article published on Madamenoire addresses this obsession dads have with policing every aspect of their daughters’ lives, including discouraging financial independence, preventing girls from having friends that are boys, and even dictating their career path.

“Control and patriarchy can and will parade around under the guise of protection when left unchecked,” the article asserts, before addressing 11 more ways that some dads will attempt to control their daughters in the name of “protection” (only let’s be honest and just call it “misogyny”).

For example, prohibiting male friendship does not “protect” your daughter from anything. It does, however, stifle her ability to make genuine friendships, as many women find loyal, trustworthy friends in boys and men. Also, newsflash, Dad! Your little girl will eventually go out into the world, where (gasp!) men are. How do you expect her to navigate work relationships, community relationships, friendships with other parents as she becomes one herself (if she chooses), if you never let her have authentic friendships? There will be men at her job, on her street, at her children’s school and extra-curricular activities, and really, anywhere she goes. You cannot prevent that reality, yet you can stifle her ability to have a conversation, feel safe, identify a person she can trust, and learn how to remove herself from an uncomfortable situation—which is exactly what you are doing by preventing her from choosing her own friends.


Furthermore, allowing girls-only friendships sends a false message, and that is that boys are dangerous, and girls are not. Oh man, do you live under a rock. Growing up, I can tell you first-hand that some of the most dangerous “friendships” I had were not with the kind boys who drove me home, let me cry on their shoulder on a hard day, or spotted me an extra $5 once in a while so I could see a movie. No, the most “dangerous” were the vicious, insecure mean girls who shattered my self-worth and whose influence caused me to make unsafe choices that I still regret.

If you really want to protect your daughter, talk to her about what true friendship looks like, and encourage her to befriend people who validate her, look out for her, and love her just as she is. Gender doesn’t matter.

Enforcing a strict dress code is another common (and bullshit) way dads “protect” their girls. Yet, as the article states, this is not what’s happening. “When a father is hellbent on enforcing rigid and unreasonable dress codes for his daughter, his lips say that he’s protecting her from the judgment of others and of course, the attention of boys. In reality, he’s teaching his daughter that she has limited bodily autonomy and that she is responsible for regulating the male gaze. Both messages are equally harmful.”

You are taking away your child’s ability to express herself, dress her body in a way that makes her feel comfortable, and figure out her own personal style, which is a key part of teenagers’ identities.

Finally, one of the most damaging ways dads try to control their daughters, as T.I. showed us, is by monitoring closely what they do with their bodies. This not only shows girls that their fathers don’t trust them to make safe, smart choices, but also prevents them from learning about their own bodies. Exploring and evolving sexually is a part of growing up—an essential part. All kids should have comprehensive sexual education. All kids should know the risks of having sex and be equipped with measures to stay safe. All kids should be taught how the human body works, how to take care of it, and how to enjoy it.

You want to protect your daughter in this scary world? Tell her she’s strong. Let her face a challenge and overcome it. Take her to a self-defense class. Talk to her about safe sex. Encourage her education.

Dads like T.I. teach girls to be ashamed if they are “marred” by the loss of purity. They teach girls that their value is based on that one act—sex—and not on their integrity, kindness, intelligence, or generosity. And they teach girls that if their hymen (and the vow it’s proverbially attached to) is broken, they are damaged goods. (And, we all know by now that a hymen can’t correctly dictate your virginal status, but that’s besides the point.)

None of this protects their girls. Rather, it damages their father-daughter relationships, and it destroys these girls’ sense of self-worth.

Much of this so-called protection dads are committed to stems from the fact that they have a vision for their daughters’ future, and their choices trump their child’s wishes. For example, many girls are expected to get married to a man and have babies, regardless of sexual orientation or whether or not they want to actually be mothers. For this reason, girls aren’t allowed financial independence or taught how to manage money. Why would they when Daddy’s plan is for them go to straight from his house to their new husband’s house and be supported by his paycheck only as they begin work as a baby factory?

Other fathers expect their daughters to go into high-pressure career fields and be doctors or lawyers or engineers, and they don’t take into account that their daughters may want to take a different path.

These visions lead men to dictate so much of their daughters’ lives (“You must remain a virgin, or else no man will want you,” “You have to attend this college,” or “I’m not supporting your education because you are meant to be a mother who stays home”) and, in the end, only drive their girls further away into a life of unhappiness.

As a parent, I get why they are protective. Keeping my kids safe is my number one job, and something I don’t take lightly. I know the world can be dangerous and the thought of my kids being hurt keeps me up at night quite often.

But we parents have another equally important job, and that is to help our kids grow into fully functional adults who find self-fulfillment in whatever path they choose. Adults whose lives are full of love and friendship, who know the importance of hard work, and who feel valued and appreciated by those around them.

We can’t do those things if we dictate their every move, or scare them into compliance. If we measure the inches on their skirts. If we prohibit friendships based on gender. If we choose their futures instead of letting our kids take their own path. And if we refuse to accept that teenagers explore sex and need education on safety, protection and consent.

You want to protect your daughter in this scary world? Tell her she’s strong. Let her face a challenge and overcome it. Take her to a self-defense class. Talk to her about safe sex and enforcing her personal boundaries. Encourage her education. Teach her how to take care of herself. Tell her she can do or be anything she wants to be.

And finally, tell her you are proud of her—not because of her virginity or clothing or job choice or whom she dates. Tell her you are proud of her spirit and fierceness and empathy and integrity.

Dads, tell your girls you are proud of them, just as they are. That’s what they really need from you.

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