It’s become a common tactic for male politicians of every stripe and creed to pick up the laurels of fatherhood to let everyone know that they care about women because they do not condone shitty things happening to their daughters. “As a father I would never want my daughter to be treated like that.” It’s like, well Christ, I would hope not.
We’ve come to believe that this is a pretty innocuous assertion, but that shouldn’t be the case.
The issues that these politicians are referencing, like sexual assault and harassment, shouldn’t happen to anybody. Finding sympathy or outrage by thinking about how it would affect you via someone you care about is shitty. This stuff happens to people all the time. You shouldn’t need a female family member to act as your personhood placeholder to get pissed about that.
I won’t deny that fatherhood can play an important role in men becoming more aware of women’s experiences. It can shed a whole new light on things. There’s evidence that suggests some men who have daughters are more sympathetic to obstacles women face, and when these men are CEOs, judges, and lawmakers their decisions are more woman friendly.
However, this is not universally true. Donald Trump has daughters. Bill Cosby has daughters. But they had no problem making women’s lives worse because those women weren’t their daughters. Conversely, there’s the case of Paul Joseph Wieland, a Missouri legislator who wanted to change the ACA in part to limit his adult daughters’ access to contraception; his lawyer even said that Hobby Lobby’s employees were to Hobby Lobby as Wieland’s daughters were to him.
Wieland’s assertion brings me to my next point. If your only method of considering women’s issues is through thinking of all women as daughters, you’re still an asshole. Sure, maybe your kid likes you as a protective authority figure, but do your co-workers/fellow legislators? It’s this kind of mindset that makes some men think that they are more knowledgeable and dependable than most women regardless of experience or leads to inaccurate generalizations about how all women want X no matter what they actually say.
Obviously, these guys don’t think all women are literally like their daughters, just the ones worth talking about. Consider the response of fellow GOP politicians in light of Trump bragging about assaulting women. Paul Ryan said that women should be “championed and revered, not objectified” and Mitt Romney said Trump’s remarks “demean our wives and daughters.”
While the intent of these comments is to say that women deserve better, how it is said and what that implies matters. Does Paul Ryan believe that Hillary Clinton should be championed and revered because she’s a woman or is that treatment reserved for a different type of woman? Does Romney think that perhaps there are other women who may find the idea of Trump’s grabby hands demeaning? Why do women need to be perfect and/or relatives for assault to matter to these guys?
This kind of thinking permeates to how those in power make decisions, whether it’s a senator’s nauseatingly detailed scenario of a rape that would make abortion legitimate to him or a judge, in case of woman-led misogyny, saying that a sex worker can’t be raped, and claiming they can demeans “true rape cases.” The underlying assumption is that bad things happen to bad women, and for most politicians, that means their daughters are magically excluded.
When a politician puts his daughter on a pedestal, and then uses this flawless idea of a woman as his way to interact with half of humanity, he’s just as bad as a childless misogynist. That image he has of his daughter is still about him and what having and protecting a female child says about him. What his daughter wants and what her needs are take a backseat to her dad using her like a certificate that says, “I give a shit!” Never mind all those other women he’s not listening to.
Again, I’m not saying that men can’t grow and change from raising daughters or that recognizing those changes is bad. But the assumption that fatherhood is a cure-all for sexism or that caring about a female family member means that someone cares about all women needs to go. If a man believes in gender equality, he’ll do more than talk about how he likes his kids; he’ll prove it with action.