Many of my colleagues, most of them male, seem to be reproducing. I enjoy absorbing by osmosis the happiness and excitement of the expectant fathers. I enjoy making helpful suggestions as to baby names, although no one seems to like my suggestions. (What's wrong with Herbert, Hermione, Oscar or Bertha anyway?) And, of course, it's fun to meet the babies once they arrive or look at their pictures.
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.
Of course, on one level all of this is just harmless, light hearted water cooler banter. On another level, however, it reflects a totally irrational anxiety about SEX, and women and girls being sullied by SEX, and men on some level or another equating women and girls with SEX.
Sure, my friend tried to put a veneer of rationality over this weird view of daughters, but it really makes no sense. First, I think it's baloney and that this fatherly overprotectiveness isn't quite so well thought out as all that. Second, if there is a danger that our daughters might get raped or pregnant, there is a corresponding danger that our sons might be doing the raping and the impregnating. While the burdens of rape and pregnancy certainly weigh more heavily on the girl or woman, it would also be pretty awful if your son raped someone or became a teenaged father. Thirdly, our sons are probably in far more danger than our daughters when they go out into the world. Middle school and high school boys are far more likely than girls to engage in risky behaviors and more likely to engage in multiple risky behaviors, like substance abuse, fighting, carrying illegal weapons, or attempting suicide according to this study by the Urban Institute (see pages 4 and 5). And, according to this article, three out of every four suicides are men and two out of every three motor vehicle fatalities are men (many of them in single vehicle accidents in which the car ran off the road into an object like a tree). When you hear about a drunken college student falling off the roof of a building or a daredevil kid dying after trying some dangerous stunt, don't you automatically assume it was a boy? And doesn't your assumption usually turn out to be correct? And don't forget that boys and men are statistically more likely to be assaulted than girls and women. You don't generally hear about women getting beaten up in bar fights, nor are women as likely to get mugged.
Yet it's our daughters, not our sons, we get all freaked out about. The only reason for this double standard is our twisted discomfort with women's sexual agency. Cringe-inducing banter at the water cooler is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the evil consequences of this double standard. I think to be fair to our children of both sexes we (and by we, I especially mean you fathers out there) need to show more respect for our daughters' agency and ability to fend for themselves, and we also need to show a bit more concern for our sons and what they are doing and feeling. Parental protectiveness of children is surely a good thing if sensibly applied, but this nonsensical double standard doesn't help anyone.
More reading on this topic:
A chief aspect of civilization is the propagation of a society through its families and social customs. Modern western civilizations have always been held apart from third world nations and past monarchist or despotic societies because of the special standing that their girl children have had. Particularly the protective status that our little girls are accorded is one of the civilizing factors that separates us from the more brutal, uncaring societies where girls are treated as mere playthings, slaves or, worse yet, a curse on a family.
For many generations we have considered our girls as something to protect, to be kept pure and free of the ravages of a hard life until they are ready to enter into the world properly prepared. “Daddy’s little girl” is placed on a pedestal and we men joke of sending our little girls to a convent to keep them from those predatory boyfriends. After all, we were ourselves once young men full of raging hormones and we know exactly what those boys want with our little girls. Immediately thoughts of this send men in our society into protector mode.
We want to be sure that our girls are not mistreated, that they have loving husbands who will provide for them. And when the time comes for them to have children of their own, we Fathers want to be sure that our little girls will be comfortable and safe to raise theirs, as they ought.
Our cave man urges rise to the side of our daughters.
Or as Amanda puts it:
To summarize: The best way for men to avoid acting like men in less advanced countries is to be cavemen, since nothing says not primitive like being primitive. And the best way to avoid treating your daughter like a piece of property is to treat her like a piece of fairly expensive property. And the best way to protect girls from perverted men who can’t think of women as full human beings is to put those same kind of men in charge of them. And there’s nothing gross about a man who says, “I know what those perverts are thinking about my daughter, because I’ve had the same thoughts.”
With that kind of sharp thinking on its side, it’s a wonder the patriarchy managed to last a week, much less millenia.
p>2) A while back, also in a Pandagon thread, there was some interesting conversation (started by me admittedly) regarding those old hackneyed jokes about the protective father who puts the fear of God into his daughter's boyfriend to ensure that daughter's boyfriend doesn't try any funny business with his little girl. These jokes always drive me bananas for the reasons I explained in my comments. The valiant Mythago also waded into battle on this one and, as always, she did a bang up job.