Sitting at the BC Civil Liberties Association booth at the last Vancouver Car Free Day, I watched a man pass by with his two young daughters in tow. The man wore a shirt marked “D.A.D.D.” and in smaller script below this acronym it read: “Dads Against Daughters Dating”.
There was nothing unusual about this father, save for the fact that he wore his bias openly for the world to see, rather than in the furtive manner by which men slightly more educated in feminism tend to hold their uncomfortability about their daughters dating. Even the most liberal of fathers seem to fall into the role of protector when it comes to their daughters, although by protecting their daughters’ innocence (read: virginity), they often fail to take into account how that perpetuates tired old sexist narratives.
My father was like the man at Car Free Day, proud of his opposition to his daughter dating. My grandmother often tells the story of how he picked her up at the airport shortly after I was born, and prattled on and on during the ride back to the hospital about how he had a daughter, his little princess, and he wasn’t going to allow her to date until she was at least forty.
As I got older, the dating double-standard between my brother and I grew ever more apparent. Though younger than I, my brother could have female friends over whenever he liked, and go out with them on a whim. I, on the other hand, was treated to lectures whenever my father found out that I had gone out – gasp! – with a boy. On one occasion my father threatened to ground me for having a male friend over after school, and when I protested the injustice, he explained that he had once been a teenage boy, and knew exactly how my friend thought. Admittedly, this conversation was made rather amusing by my father’s complete and utter lack of gaydar.
I remember my (male) grade six teacher for Sex Ed explaining to our class why girls were treated differently than boys: girls could get pregnant. I never got this argument; after all, if a girl got pregnant, was there not a boy somewhere who was equally responsible for conception? Why was he allowed to escape all responsibility? Why was he allowed to go out, have fun, do what he pleased, simply because he didn’t have a uterus? Why were only girls forced to stay home?
Having been exposed to the same arguments time and again over the years, I decided to seek out the answers. I cannot say definitively that these are the only reasons, but never having been admitted into the patriarchal club of fathers, these are the only ones I’ve ever been able to uncover. The first is rooted in the same tradition that brought us marriage as an institution that transferred ownership of a woman from her father to her husband. The rationale is simple: a daughter is the property of her father, and if she dates a man – or worse, has sex with a man – that man is taking something which belongs to her father. A woman’s virginity was her father’s, not her own.
Now, this isn’t the argument I’m imagining most modern dads are identifying with consciously. It’s more of an underlying thing, ingrained through a lifetime of patriarchal socialization. No, today fathers use the rationale that a daughter, unlike a son, could become pregnant. This despite the fact that a girl who freely chose to have sex could insist that the boy in question wore a condom, or could choose to take birth control. Accidents do happen, but girls can take the Morning-After Pill, and even before this invention came about they had the right to procure an abortion. Yet I’ve never heard a father suggesting his daughter carry condoms in her purse; instead, they choose to go out in shirts proudly proclaiming themselves: “Dads Against Daughters Dating.”