When a father has a daughter he is profoundly confronted by the reality of female personhood. In her, he is invited to acknowledge human dignity anew. This is because a daughter provokes a non-erotic love for one of the opposite gender. This love directs him to cherish, to protect, and to nurture his daughter, and in this love, he rediscovers the meaning of love.
A daughter helps teach her father, not only what it means to be a dad, but what it means to be a man, and therefore, what it means for him to be a human being.
Men often grow up in the secret delusion of a double-standard. What is this double-standard? It is the belief that only men are meant to be sexually promiscuous; it is the belief that sexual responsibility is gendered; it is the belief that boys should be encouraged sexually (at least implicitly), while girls should be discouraged, protected, or sheltered.
Because normative sexuality involves boys and girls, because a boy is not promiscuous without a girl, such an attitude is not only hypocritical, but also undermines the possible realization of its own goal. In fulfilling male sexuality (according to the double-standard), one must violate female sexuality. In doing so, one merely disavows social responsibility for women or girls outside one’s own home.
With this in mind, we can consider the 2014 Adam Sandler film Blended. It features him as Jim, a father coming to terms with his daughters sexuality. His daughter is dating and getting physically romantic with her boyfriend. Eddy, the father of the boyfriend, played by Kevin Nealon, attempts to empathize with Jim, the girl’s dad:
“Whoa. Oh, my God.” (Jim)
“Emotional. Time passing. Changes.” (Eddie)
“It’s… it’s… It’s…” (Jim)
“You gotta let it go. Turning the page. Moving on.” (Eddie)
“She was a little kid just a…” (Jim)
“Processing it. Accepting it. The circle of life. Painful, though.” (Eddie)
“It hurts, right?” (Jim)
“No. Not for me. I got a boy.” (Eddie)
In this snapshot, viewers are presented with the profound tension of the so called double standard. But what I want to suggest is that Jim is not just being a knuckle-dragging Dad. Rather, it is Eddie who has abdicated his social and fatherly responsibility. It is not that Jim needs to stop being an over bearing father, but that Eddie fails to grasp the responsibility of having a son.
It is only in recognizing men and women as worthy of and responsible to the same standards that we discover the true meaning of human dignity. And it is only in embracing a social responsibility for one another that we discover the meaning of human morality.
God in his wisdom granted men the opportunity to be fathers of daughters that we might rediscover this truth.
The True Meaning of the Double-Standard
The untenability of this double standard (untenable in practice and reason) stems from a moral vision which is too narrow. That is, contrary to a belief that our sexuality should be granted greater freedom, it is rather in the greater restriction of our sexuality that men and women are dignified.
There are two ways that we admit the double standard. The first is a participation in objectification (pornography, leering, predatory dating behavior, etc.). The second is when we attempt to protect women from men in an unconscious manner. In the first case, we harm both men in women. In the second case, something weirder is occurring. We implicitly admit that male promiscuity threatens women.
It is this second case which presents an insight into the nature of gender, sexuality, and love.
Consider the trope of the father with his shot gun, who scares off the boyfriend. If we follow the logic of this theme, there is something that Dad wishes to protect his daughter from.
Secular feminism suggests that Dad is really just embodying a male or religious prejudice. Instead, a girl should be permitted to freely explore her sexuality without judgment or restriction. In other words, the problem is that girls are not being treated like the boys.
But if we examine the motive of this protective behavior, we do not find the motive is social shame and abstract morality. Rather, we find a desire to protect a daughter emotionally, physically, and personally from the harms implicitly known to be inflicted by premature sexuality.
We can therefore turn this double-standard on its head and see that its failure is not in seeking to protect daughters, but in failing to provide sons and men with the same protective boundaries. In limiting protection to girls, the character of parental care is not merely hypocritical, but distorted, taking on a merely cultural facade.
Both Genders Need Care and Protection
If the impulse to protect daughters is honestly examined, we discover that its source is not a merely normative or biological prejudice. It stems from the recognition that sexuality has far reaching consequences, affecting nearly every aspect of our existence (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual). To be sexually promiscuous is to stunt our development, to injure our ability to form and maintain relationships, and sends out a confusing messages regarding the nature of our humanity.
Simply put, when a father protects his daughter, he is not just imposing a negative morality, but recognizes, however imperfectly, that she is much more than a sexual being. He longs for her to be treated with such dignity, and more, for her to see herself in this light. It is only in this light that gender, sex, and sexuality are reclaimed.
Sex is neither the goal of human existence, nor even the highest end of male-female relations. Rather, it is a picture and enactment of the particularity and unity of marriage. Primary to physical sexuality is the dignity of the human person and the potential for communion.
In such a realization, we can come to re-calibrate not only our understanding of fatherhood and human sexuality, but also of masculinity. Fathers, sons, and all men are called upon to respect, not only daughters and sisters respectively, nor even wives and dating partners, but all women, and all men. Part of this indeed means acting protectively.
What we find in the double-standard is that there is an innate calling upon mankind, not only to couple, but to serve one another in social responsibility.
The desire to protect a daughter is not a sign of an outdated morality. Rather we are not reaching far enough, unless we seek to protect every one of our neighbors from any violation or violence to their personal and sexual dignity. The casual wink we give to male sexuality is an injustice to men and women.
As is often the case, the truth demands more of us, rather than less. But in its demand, the truth also offers something much greater. In the place of sexual freedom, it offers human meaning and purpose. In the truth, we discover the meaning of a gendered human society, the boundaries which make it tenable, and the freedom to authentically love one another.