Feminists are sending around a photo on the social media and the intertubes. It’s a picture of the back of a jacked dude wearing a t-shirt that reads:
RULES FOR DATING MY DAUGHTER 1. I DON’T MAKE THE RULES 2. YOU DON’T MAKE THE RULES 3. SHE MAKES THE RULES 4. HER BODY, HER RULES Feminist Father
I kind of like it, too, although I should get my quibbles out of the way first. The shirt suggests that we’re talking not about an adult woman but an underage daughter. And while I know we all thought we knew everything when we were 15, we in fact knew nothing at all whatsoever oh my goodness wasn’t it embarrassing we were so foolish I’m so glad we survived how did we survive.
So the idea that parents wouldn’t have dating rules during the parenting process is mostly just an abdication of parenting as opposed to some kind of feminist empowerment thing. It took me years to realize this but parents who didn’t have rules for their teens tended to be parents who just didn’t care enough about their kids to provide guidance.
But that gets me to the main reflection of this piece. While the shirt claims it’s from “feminist father” — it actually has some really good ancient wisdom woven throughout it.
1) Still Dad’s Rules
You’ll note that while the message is supposedly that the daughter makes the rules, there are in fact three additional rules after “I don’t make the rules.” And what this really shows us is the importance of having a dad around to provide the guidance he kind of claims he’s not providing.
If the father is out of the picture or not around to discuss rules, relationship outcomes are in fact less desirable. As the National Fatherhood Project puts it:
Being raised by a single mother raises the risk of teen pregnancy, marrying with less than a high school degree, and forming a marriage where both partners have less than a high school degree.
They also have data suggesting that the absence of a father is tied to greater risk of abuse, neglect, malnutrition, obesity, delinquency and incarceration, aggressive behavior and relationship instability.
So just the presence of this father is a powerful, powerful message to the daughter and to those she might date. And his mere presence is a positive factor in all sorts of outcomes.
2) Reinforces Women’s Sexual Gatekeeping Role
It’s totally controversial to say it, but it’s also true, that women are generally the ones in a sexual relationship to decide what level of intimacy — and when — will occur. Here’s an animated discussion of some of why that is:
Some feminists objected to that video on the grounds that “it’s bursting with false and blatantly sexist claims, like the ideas that men want sex more, women want marriage more, and the decline of marriage rates will destroy the world.”
Ah yes, where would anyone get the idea that men generally want sex more? Maybe from observing people with pulses or maybe from stuff like this:
CLARK AND A GROUP of students planned out a simple experiment, which played out in the spring of 1978: Five college-aged women and four college-aged men took turns standing at one of five quadrangles on the Florida State campus on a weekday. There, they’d wait until they spotted a member of the opposite sex, who — in their judgment — was attractive. They’d approach their target, and, in a cool, calm voice, state, “I’ve been noticing you around campus. I find you very attractive.” The experimenter would then ask one of three randomly assigned questions: “Would you go out with me tonight?” “Would you come over to my apartment tonight?” or “Would you go to bed with me tonight?” The results were fascinating. A total of 96 subjects — 48 men and 48 women — were propositioned, partitioned to 32 — 16 men and 16 women — for each question. Roughly half of the men and half of the women agreed to go on a date. But, when the suggestion turned sexual, the difference in responses between the genders was stark. None of the women agreed to go to bed with their male askers, and only one agreed to visit a male experimenter’s apartment. On the other hand, roughly three-quarters of propositioned males were happy to oblige such titillating proposals.
This is not to say that all of us XX folks want less sex than some men, just that, you know, in general there are biological distinctions between the sexes that result in different preferences.
This “feminist” t-shirt also says that the rules for dating are set by the daughter — and explicitly not by the guy dating her. They’re not setting them together or some such, she’s the one who has control. It’s true, but it’s kind of surprising to see it on a feminist t-shirt, even if the intended message is simply about feminist agency.
3) Women need protection
The other thing about the viral image is that the dad is buff. He’s subtly letting everyone know where the gun show is, if you know what I mean. There’s a strength in the image and it’s what makes the visual so powerful. Imagine if it were some scrawny, wimpy dude who was wearing it. It would have a totally different effect.
This speaks to the reality that women and men are biologically different and that women have vulnerabilities — particularly related to reproduction, honestly — that require societies to protect them. Whether that means protecting them from non-consensual sex or reproduction or protection from external threats while gestating and sustaining lives of children that result from sex.
This isn’t a bad thing — it’s one of the cool ways that men can use their natural gifts to everyone’s advantage. It’s just a truth that is usually downplayed or denied or treated in a less straight-forward manner.
Anyway, not quite a feminist t-shirt so much as an old-fashioned paternalistic one with a slightly modern edge. But not the worst thing to go viral in recent months.