What most men and fathers are seemingly unaware of is that mothers of our daughters have a truly frightening task: teaching our daughters how to be safe in a world where at least three of five girls will be subjected to sexual abuse or other forms of gender abuse in their lifetimes.
Our beautiful teenage daughters desire to be boldly and vividly alive, fully self-expressed, socially popular and accepted by boys and peers. They demand of us that we permit them the freedom to dress as they please in pursuit of self-expression, popularity, and belonging. They are furious and resist us when we deny them freedoms they feel they deserve.
Our daughters simply do not recognize the terror we live with on their behalf. Our beloved daughters cannot know what we know – how easy it is for them to become the next statistic: abused, raped, drugged, abducted, exploited, enslaved, or murdered as a result of their female gender.
We adults respond by attempting to suppress our daughter’s natural exuberant sexuality and sense of self-expression. We attempt to hem them in with rules; we (naively) enforce curfews. We’ll interrogate and give the stink-eye to potential male admirers. We make ourselves become gatekeepers in a desperate pursuit for their safety.
To add insult to injury, our nightmares and anxiety will remain with us for the rest of our lives, well after they have left the “safety” of our home. We will do the best we can to numb our anxiety the day we see them drive off without us to protect them.
And men, we are not as helpful as partners to our spouses as we might be. All too often our female partners, the mothers of our children, feel alone and unsupported by us, as if we did not care about our daughters. We often minimize their all to real concerns.
By way of offering a mitigating defense – I would assert that many males grow up in a world in which some kind of masculine “sucking it up” is our norm.
Growing up in the very same gender-distorted society as our female partners we adapt in our own unique way. We learn to survive our male lives with, “Tomorrow is another day. It’s not so bad. Take a break. It will feel better in the morning. Have a beer.” Or, to quote King Solomon, we’ve learned that, “This too, shall pass.” And it does indeed pass – until it doesn’t.
However, this adaptive male worldview and set of coping, survival perspectives makes us poor partners when it comes to raising our daughters.
In effect, the bulk of responsibility for our daughter’s safety winds up on the plate our female partner’s shoulders.
I’ll never forget the day when my fifteen-year-old daughter turned to me in anger, noting and resenting the fact that, “men were looking at her differently now.” I knew exactly what she meant. I sympathized that that is the way the world is. I tried to explain but I, her dad – had nothing to offer. Atlas shrugged.
I admire, appreciate and honor all female partners and mothers of daughters for shouldering the burden of our daughter’s safety. I deplore that we as male partners and fathers of daughters have largely left it that way.
So the challenge, for both mothers and fathers is: What is next?
A few suggestions as the man I am who admires the women in my life.
- Talk about it. Talk about our feelings as we watch our children mature and evolve.
- Stick to the 80/20 rule – wherein we listen 80% of the time, speak 20% of the time.
- Support the mothers of our children – even when we might rather not.
- Talk to our daughters and sons, appropriate to their age, as they grow and develop. What they can grasp at age 11 will grow yearly at least till they reach age 25.
- Don’t fool ourselves that a some spontaneous generational shift will occur without our personal participation.
Your turn: What would you offer?
Hint: Accepting that our world is and will continue to be a place where women are abused is not an acceptable answer.