Recently 15-year-old Ricarra Schock in Bangor, Wisconsin posed with her equally young date for a homecoming dance photo taken by her mom Sharee. Ricarra’s father Benjamin then jokingly stepped in and clasped his arms around the boy in a similar pose for a pic which they later captioned, “Whatever you do to my daughter, I will do to you.”
Funny, right? Not if you are a humorless feminist who believes protective fathers shouldn’t stifle their daughters’ sexual autonomy.
The Shocks’ photo subsequently went viral, racking up nearly four million views on Imgur and receiving quite a bit of good-humored media attention. Buzzfeed, for example, found it “hilarious.” Sharee explained, “We hope that above anything else this picture shows the love and protective nature of a dad with his little girl, but in a playful and not-so intimidating manner.” Even Ricarra’s date appreciated the joke.
Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon was not amused. “Who wants to break it to dads that their teenage daughters are not their property?” she asked. “I’m sorry, does a girl get a vote in what happens in her romantic life? It’s called agency. It’s called bodily autonomy.”
Someone needs to break it to Ms. Williams that it isn’t a matter of treating daughters like property. It’s simply a matter of protecting your child – and a 15-year-old is still a child – from potential harm or the life-changing consequences of making an unwise choice, which teenagers have been known to do. It’s sad that this even needs explaining.
At least Williams understands, or at least pays lip service to, the notion that fathers are supposed to protect and love their children, and to guide them to become adults with the maturity to make their own decisions. But she couldn’t let the phrase “what you do to my daughter” go, because it “implies that what happens in dating is something that is done to girls, who are mere passive recipients. It depicts boys as inherently predatory — and even if it’s in a jokey way, that’s insulting to them too.”
Ms. Williams’ beef is not so much with the Schock family. She concedes that the “Overprotective Dad trope is a timeless punchline” and that “not every moment of joshing around is an act of oppression by the patriarchy.” And that is where she should have let it lie, but she couldn’t help herself; she had to “step in to play Humorless Feminist Mom to the Hands Off My Daughter Industrial Complex.”
Her complaint is primarily with the media, which she castigated for treating it as “cute when a father steps in to police a girl’s private life,” and for reinforcing and legitimizing “the old message that a girls’ sexuality is somehow a negotiation between her father and her boyfriend.” She found it “creepy and gross” that the media would endorse “the notion that adolescent female sexuality is something to be guarded by daddy from outside invaders.”
In fact, adolescent female sexuality should be guarded – the alternative is irresponsibly to allow a 15-year-old girl potentially to find herself in a situation for which she may not be mentally, emotionally, morally, or physically prepared (the same goes for a 15-year-old boy, but we’re focusing on daughters). How does that square with Williams’ acknowledgement that fathers should guard and guide their children?
Williams herself notes that the girl in question is 15 years old. Fifteen – the same age as her own daughter. Would she allow her own adolescent daughter unfettered “bodily autonomy” and consider that to be good parenting? Is she truly concerned about what’s best for her daughter, or is she willing to risk her child paying for the mother’s unrealistic ideological ideal?
A father’s protectiveness toward his daughter is grounded in love, not ownership, and it is not based on the assumption that boys are inherently predatory. It is based on the wise understanding that his daughter’s sexuality is not a matter to be left to teenage impetuousness and surging hormones. Pretending that teens can and should be trusted to make unsupervised decisions about their “bodily autonomy” could very well result in the girl’s emotional distress or possibly worse: sexual assault or an unwanted pregnancy.
I have three daughters myself, all too young to date. But when that time comes, you can bet that I will not blithely and irresponsibly send them on their bodily autonomous way. I will raise them to make smart, safe choices for themselves, but I will also be there to protect them from youthful naiveté, impulsiveness, and choices they may regret – for their sake, not mine, and not because they are my property, but because I am their father.
From Acculturated, 10/23/15