You know those t-shirt shops at the beach? The ones where a third of the shirts have offensive phrases on them, a third are internet memes, and a third are nonsensical – and out of that mix maybe half of them are funny. I was at the beach a few days ago with my family, and my dad pointed out a shirt that he thought was funny.
It said “D.A.D.D. Dads Against Daughters Dating.” There was another shirt in a different shop that went even further. Not only did it have that phrase on it, it had a shotgun and words in small print that said, “shoot the first one and they won’t come back.”
I didn’t think it was funny.
I have a boyfriend. Why would I think a joke about killing my boyfriend is funny? And why should I?
It’s not “just a joke” when there’s a part of the joker that really means what they’re saying. It’s especially not “just a joke” when people get shot on a regular basis for all manner of stupid reasons. It’s not “just a joke” when it reinforces stereotypes about how girls need to be kept safe and virgin through no choice of their own. It’s not “just a joke” when the joke can harm other people.
I’ve dated a number of guys over the years, and over time I’ve learned how to figure out what I want from a guy. I’m probably not all the way there yet, but I’m a lot closer to understanding myself and my relationships than I used to be. And if I hadn’t dated anyone ever, there would be a lot that I missed out on learning.
But it’s not like this shirt is promoting arranged marriages or anything. Arranged marriages are fine by my book as long as everyone is consenting and there are ways to annul or divorce if it’s an abusive or otherwise harmful relationship.
And it’s not like it’s promoting celibacy as a life goal. If you want to do that, then that’s fine in my book, too. Again, as long as it’s an informed, consensual decision.
Maybe that’s one of the things that annoys me about that shirt. The daughter has no say in the matter. It’s her life. But it’s not her decision.
She is to be taken care of whether she likes it or not. And by taken care of we mean no contact with boys. No dating boys. No sex with boys. Because she might get pregnant? Or because she might become a slut? Which is worse? Or are they equal evils?
Because, really, we’re not talking about daughters dating girls here. That comes with it’s own slew of problems, but fathers toting shotguns isn’t one of them.
I asked my dad, why is the shirt funny? I don’t think it’s funny. It’s promoting the idea that girls need to be kept safe and secluded. Why isn’t there a shirt like that for a boy? And he said, because girls are the ones who can get pregnant. And I said, but a boy can get a girl pregnant, so why don’t you stop boys from dating? Would you think the shirt was funny if it was “dads against sons dating?” And he said, of course. I looked at him skeptically. (For reference, my dad only has daughters, so the question was hypothetical to begin with.)
Because no where did I see a shirt that said “dads against sons dating” or “moms against sons dating.” For daughters, fathers worry about them dating. For sons, fathers worry about what kind of girl they’re dating. (Another way this comes into play is the idea that it’s ok for a boy to date a “slut” as long as he’s not going to marry her. But it’s not ok for a girl to date a “bad boy” because she might turn into a slut.)
And no where did I see a shirt that said “moms against daughters dating.” Do mothers worry less about their daughters dating than fathers do? Maybe they do. Maybe they were daughters once and understand how harmful it can be to stand in the way of a romantic relationship their daughter may have. How important it is to stand with their daughter no matter what. Or maybe they’re not the stereotypical “caretaker” of the family. A mother can’t protect her daughter. Only a father can do that.
(Obviously the previous two paragraphs are based on stereotypes promoted by the shirt, not actual families. However, I do see this “dads shooting boyfriends” stereotype said as a joke a lot. Even in egalitarian places.)
What this shirt – and this idea – really promotes is a power struggle over the daughter, a tug-of-war full of testosterone and “I owned her first” statements and “she loves me best” exclamations. It promotes the idea that the girl is a piece of property to be kept or handed out as chosen by the father, not that she is an autonomous being with her own mind and her own body.
It promotes a poor father/boyfriend relationship.
And it creates, in that setting, a place where the daughter is not comfortable talking about her boyfriend, or sharing that relationship with her family. It creates a place where the daughter must always defend her boyfriend, because she knows the bias is against him. It creates a place where she will always be walking on a tightrope between her needs and hurting other people’s feelings.
It creates a place where the daughter must “give up” either the relationship with her father or the relationship with her boyfriend. Because in the end, she can’t have both.
This idea, “dads against daughters dating” is not just a stupid shirt. It’s not “just a joke.” It’s an idea perpetuated in many modern families. It’s the idea that fathers must protect their daughters from all boys and any boys. And when a girl gets married, her father must finally “give her up.”
It’s the idea that girls should not have sex before marriage, but it’s not up to her to make that decision. It’s the decision of the boy, not the girl. Because if it was the decision of the girl, then boys wouldn’t be so dangerous. The girl would just be able to say no and have it be enough.
It’s also the idea that girls don’t belong to themselves. They belong to their fathers, and then to their husbands. Their fathers must make decisions for them – by shooting their boyfriends so the question doesn’t even come up – because otherwise the girl might assert her independence. If it was the decision of the girl to get a boyfriend, you wouldn’t have to stop the boys from coming around. You’d have to stop the girl from going out. But the shirt says stop the boys and the girl won’t go out, not stop the girl…somehow.
Above all, this shirt promotes a poor father/daughter relationship. It promotes a relationship based on control, power struggles, and fear.
So tell me again why the shirt is funny?