Thursday, August 1, 2013

She's Someone vs. Narcissistic Fatherhood

[Content note: dehumanization of women, misogynistic slurs, slut shaming, verbal abuse, fat shaming. Just a whole lot of triggers, really.]

Often in discussions of sexism, well intentioned (but misguided) people will resort to the whole, "How would you feel if this were your daughter they were talking about?" or "These women are someone's mother, sister, and daughter. Think about it that way" narrative.

As has been articulated many times, this train of thought--while perhaps a step in the right direction from flat out woman hating--is far from perfect. There's been an image circulating around Tumblr for months that nicely summarizes why:

[Image text: an image of a presumably female identified person with her back to the camera. Text overlaid reads "she's someone's sister/mother/daughter/wife." The "sister/mother/daughter/wife" part is crossed out in red and "she's someone" is circled for emphasis.]

When we constantly talk about women in terms of their relationship to men, we affirm the dangerous implication that the measure of personhood is maleness. We imply that we should only care about women because they are connected to men. While this method of helping men understand sexist policies probably has its heart in the right place, the underlying messages are as misogynistic as any of the original practices (like sexual harassment for example) they seek to refute.

Simply put: we shouldn't have to teach men to respect women through the filter that "she is like a woman who is related to you." We should be able to teach respect for women because they are people and that should be inherently respected.

This is all 102 level stuff and not really news. But I received a submission over on Tumblr that really inspired me to write about this. It was a Facebook post by "Brandon Brutality" who is apparently Brandon Kane from Real World  St. Thomas. (There was a Real World St. Thomas?! I'm so out of the loop. Real World used to be a big time guilty pleasure for me but I stopped having cable in November 2011.)

Brandon wrote:

I find myself in an odd situation. I have zero respect for women and find them to be for lack of a better term "slutty spoiled cunts" yet I am having a daughter and my behavior and how I talk isn't the way a dad should talk. Hell even saying cunt in this status is a bit much. Idk what to do, I don't think there are any girls out there worthy of a relationship yet being a little man whore isn't the way to go either. I have no idea how to properly step up to the place. I have a lot of growing to do. Don't say growing up, fuck you. I am grown up, I just think most humans aren't worth shit. 
[Image text: Screen cap of Brandon's post.]

Oi. There is so much going on in that status and I don't even have time to tackle it all. But I was particularly struck by how we have this man here who clearly is deeply misogynistic and that's been his modus operandi, but when he finds out he's going to have a daughter all of a sudden he is examining his behavior, attitude, and language. None of those things have apparently ever mattered before but now he's taking a second to reconsider his position that women are "slutty spoiled cunts" because one of them will share 50% of his DNA.

My theory about fathers who think similar to Brandon is that because their daughter is of them, she is special and above other women and deserves the respect and admiration they would never usually bestow upon any of the "slutty spoiled cunts."

I think like this because it became clear to me, growing up, that my dad was one of these such narcissistic-father-misogynists. As I've mentioned a million bazillion times, my dad was frequently verbally abusive to me...but when he wasn't fixating on my fatness and generally bullying me to tears, he also did convey confidence in my abilities. (Side note, it was this meanness coupled with infrequently doled out praise that kept me striving for approval for so many years.) For example, he always told me that I could be anything I want to be, that I was smart, and that I should take that and be a successful engineer, no matter what people said about girls and math. (Engineering was, of course, his own unrealized career ambition that he projected onto me.) He told me that while he had the practical skills and a mechanical mind--I had all that from him plus the book smarts to actually pull it all off.

But this stood in contrast to how he treated other women, even my mother. As long as I can remember, he always made lewd comments about women's bodies in public (not to them, but to the people around him, ie my brother and I) and he actually wolf whistled. He also frequently talked shit at home about the work performance and behavior his female coworkers (especially the black women he worked with...a bigot through and through.)

It became clear to me by my early 20's, as I delved into feminism, that my dad was a misogynist. And yet here was this contrast with what he said I could do (be anything I wanted.) He truly believed that as his daughter, I was special...different...not like those other women (at least as far as smarts go...there were the things he did pick on me about.)

I've seen a similar attitude from other men who aren't bullies to their daughters like my dad was; men who share a "daddy's little girl*" relationship with their daughters but then hold outwardly hostile beliefs about all other women. To me this phenomena not only displays the narcissism that some men carry into fathering girls, but also the potential implications of the idea that girls are only worth valuing when they are directly connected to men. Dudes end up feel totally fine throwing around "slutty spoiled cunts" to describe all women because they continue to only see the humanity in the women/girls they are directly connected to. And again, when we try to leverage that, to teach men to be less sexist by saying, "She's someone's daughter/mom/sister," we only affirm the existing misogyny.

In a general way, we need a cultural shift that grants women the same respect and dignity that men experience. It's a large, multifaceted process, and one that can start with small shifts like erasing the whole "She's someone's daughter" nonsense from our talking points all together.

She matters because she's someone.

*While I think the whole "daddy's little girl" thing is a bit weird in general, I'm only talking specifically  here about fathers who simultaneously hold this view coupled with sexist views about other women. Not all dads who play into the "daddy's little girl" nonsense are like that.

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  2. Loved this article! I feel that "She's someone's sister/mother/daughter/wife" is still a valuable phrase. In general, the men who need to be told this in order to consider someone else's feelings only empathize with other men. It is a stepping stone on the path to a greater empathy, where the ultimate conclusion is "She's someone" and thus deserves intrinsic respect for simply being a human. But the really disconnected types need to be led to that empathy through baby steps. That is why I still believe it is a valuable phrase. If you get too far along down the path of empathy with someone who is still at the start of that path, you'll be too out of touch with them for them to take anything you say with merit.

    For example, I was heavy into watching court shows on YouTube for a while and one of them I enjoyed was Judge Mathis. I agree with him overall, although I do believe he still promotes rather sexist views sometimes. However, I tell myself, "Try to calm down. The people he is talking to have to be able to relate to him at least a little bit because if he's totally unrelatable, all the advice he's giving them would be completely ignored."

    I think it is important to remember that this is a tool for growing empathy in others, however, and not a point at which empathy ends. As I said earlier, the end result is realizing "she's someone." Excellent article!

  3. Well said. If only more of us could see things this way. I keep saying that we need to be teaching men that women are people. I really don't understand how so many grow up not knowing that.


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