Yesterday Rachel Held Evans shared a question from a reader wondering how to teach her daughter modesty without giving her a complex — that is, “without it becoming about hem lines, guilt and worthlessness.”
As the parent of a 3 year-old girl, I wish I had the answer. But there’s one thing I’ve decided to stop doing, in the hopes of helping my daughter cultivate a healthy view of herself, which I shared in a comment on Rachel’s blog.
I’ve stopped making jokes about how I’m going to invest in a shotgun collection when my daughter starts dating.
Jokes like these are just a bit of fun, right? A bit of fatherly bravado masking the fact that we’re in over our heads when it comes to raising daughters? A harmless coping mechanism for dads who are secretly terrified their daughters will meet a younger version of themselves someday?
There’s a whole cottage industry selling souvenir shirts with messages like…
Guns don’t kill people…
dads with pretty daughters do
Dads Against Daughters Dating
(Shoot the first one that comes around,
and the word will spread.)
But what message are we sending our daughters when we (jokingly) threaten to shoot their boyfriends? That violence is OK? That they’re just another possession? That there’s something wrong with them if we DON’T have to fend off legions of prospective suitors?
Consider some of the responses on Rachel’s blog…
“I grew up hearing that stuff, and I hated it.”
“As a teenager who never had a boyfriend, it always made me uncomfortable when family friends made jokes about the boys lining up and my parents having to fight them off… I definitely internalized the message that since the boys WEREN’T chasing after me, there was something wrong with me.”
Words — even those said in jest — mean something. Words have consequences. They shape our worldview. They impact our children’s view of themselves in ways we don’t even realize.
When my daughter hears me say I’m going to need a shotgun to fend off her future love interests, what I’m teaching her is that her body is something dangerous, something to be locked away, something to be ashamed of. I’m telling her that she’s my property and not her own person.
You may say I’m overreacting. But the fact is, for centuries women have been told they’re someone else’s property — their fathers’, their husbands’. Women have been told their bodies are something to be ashamed of, something dangerous, something to be kept under lock and key — most recently, by an evangelical purity culture which compares girls who’ve lost their virginity to cups of water contaminated by someone else’s spit.
Of course I want to protect my daughter from those who would treat her like an object. Of course I want her to make good choices about who she spends her time with and how close she allows them to get. Of course I want her to know that her worth does not depend on her willingness to flaunt her body like an Abercrombie & Fitch model.
But I also want her to know that her body isn’t something dirty or shameful. I want her to know she isn’t the property of any man — including me.
Make no mistake: the thought of my daughter dating someone someday terrifies me. But I’d rather send her into the world with a healthy view of herself than keep her locked away, while she develops a complex about her body and her sense of worth.
Which is why I won’t be investing in that shotgun collection after all.
11 thoughts on “How I won’t be getting a shotgun when my daughter starts dating, after all”
Interesting take and very thoughtful and thought provoking.
I have boys and this does not really come up. I don’t worry about the dating thing and it’s not only because they are young.
First, thank you for this post. I DESPISE the “have to buy a shotgun” comments, and you’ve helped me come up with an articulate response.
Second, to memyself above, I actually am teaching my six year old things that, I hope, will help when he dates. Things like if someone says no or stop, you have to stop, even if you think they want to keep playing that game. (No, I don’t relate it to dating, but I want my son to learn now that no means no).
It’s a good lesson to get. I am a h.s. English teacher in an inner city school. This topic has come up and I emphasize the point you make a lot. Too many students talk like a tough guy and make jokes. I’m not always sure when the jokes end and reality starts.
Messages such as these cause harm in all directions. It’s incredibly thoughtless.
It harms your daughters — like the comments illustrate, if there *isn’t* a line of boys at her door she may very well end up thinking there’s something wrong with her. I think it comes down to a lack of acceptance of female sexuality, really, especially the sexuality of young females.
Guess what happens ?
When parents send signals that sexuality isn’t acceptible, daughters (and sons) hide it, to the best of their ability, from their parents. Is this really what you want ?
They’ll probably -not- carry condoms, for fear that the parents might discover them and flip out. They’ll perhaps -not- take contraceptive pills, for the same reason.
They’ll -not- feel safe coming to the parents if they need guidance – how can you ask your father for guidance on relationships and/or sexuality if he flips out at the very idea you might want to have a relationship at all ?
They’ll have their sexual debut in the back of a car, drunk, after a party, scared and nervous. Instead of in the safety of their own home, with all the time in the world, with ample access to contraception. The odds of teenage-pregnancies or STDs go up a lot under such circumstances. (this isn’t mere theory — compare USA to Norway and you’ll find a teenage-pregnancy-rate 5 times as high !)
Ben, what a wonderful post! You’ve really addressed an important issue which people say as a joke. Jokes do have important messages, and the thing is that they get transferred most easily. I hope people take a closer look at what they hear and say, so many meaning and messages hidden underneath.
Here’s hoping no one needs to buy that shotgun!
Thank you for this. Your daughter will thank you when she’s older. How I wish my dad had been the same way. He still wears his DADD shirt…and I’m 26. I started dating and being sexually active a decade ago.