“The patriarchy is a bitch, and I’m mad that my daughters have to grow up in it.”
Recently, I was invited to join a science fiction book club that meets monthly at a pub about a mile from my house. Most of the folks in the group are parents, so we meet at 8:00 PM, allowing for family time after work. The night of the club, I helped put our youngest to bed and then told my wife, Kat, I was ready to walk over. She paused, clearly surprised that I would be walking–not because I rarely exercise,1 but because it was dark outside.
As a 6-foot-2 white male, I have the privilege of not thinking twice about walking through my neighborhood alone at night. While anyone, anywhere, can be a victim of crime or police harassment, due to the nature of my skin color, size, and gender, being worried about it is not ingrained into my psyche.
The patriarchy is a bitch, and I’m mad that my daughters have to grow up in it. My daughters will think twice about going for a run late at night. My daughters are going to be taught and learn that men will see their bodies as objects. They are going to be taught that walking alone at night is an “invitation” to assault. Society will tell them that they are naive not to be afraid. They will be told they need a nice man to walk them home.
My daughters will live with a fear of sexual assault throughout their lives. One in six American women have been the victim of rape or attempted rape.
I’ll say that again: One. In. Six.
Think of six women in your life. There is a one in three chance that one of my daughters will experience sexual violence.
I feel outraged and impotent. I can protect my girls from many things, but I cannot protect them from this. When my girls are teenagers, would I let them walk a mile home alone at night? Would I let my teenage son? What should I do to temper the anxiety that all women are taught to feel?
I feel I can only do small things. While they are little, I’m trying to be the man who stops. If I am tickling my girls and they say the words “stop” or “no,” I stop. If they want me to start again, they have to tell me to. If they ask me to not hug or kiss them, I don’t. As they grow into teenagers, I want them to have an ingrained sense of what consent is and how people express it.
One of the tragedies of our society is that we teach women that they are not supposed to enjoy sexual intimacy. This is stupid. Not all women want to sleep with men, but many do, and you’d think that men would have figured this out by now. I want my daughters to experience the joys of being an adult human, which includes figuring out the sex life they enjoy. I am offended by “shotgun and shovel” dad jokes. I am offended by t-shirts like this one.2 I’m not afraid that my girls will have sex lives; I’m worried about the world that makes it an uphill battle for them to have a good one.
I cannot fix how we collectively treat women. I cannot fix that an obscene number of women will know sexual violence. But I think we can talk about it more. So…
To parents of daughters: What do you do to balance teaching your daughters to be both safe and unafraid? How do you convey that consensual sexual activity is both normal and pretty keen?
To parents of sons: How have you taught your son about objectification and consent? How do you teach him about the power he doesn’t know he has?
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Photo by: pietroizzo