A.O.C. and the Daughter Defense – The New York Times

Posted: July 26, 2020 at 4:57 am

Brett Kavanaugh invoked it. Mitch McConnell used it too. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have each talked about it, and this week, Representative Ted Yoho joined their ranks: he, too, is now a member of the having-a-daughter-makes-me-an-ally-to-women or at the very least, should-excuse-my-bad-behavior club.

Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, Im very cognizant of language, Representative Yoho said in a speech on the House floor this week, denying that he called Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman Congresswoman from New York, a fucking bitch after a confrontation on the steps of the Capitol.

Mr. Yoho later expressed regret for the abrupt manner of the conversation, in which he told Ms. Ocasio-Cortez that her statements about poverty and crime in New York City were disgusting. But, he noted, I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family and my country.

On Thursday, in a speech on the House floor that has since gone viral in which she read the vulgarity into the Congressional record Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said, I am someones daughter too. She said shed planned to ignore the insults its just another day as a woman, she said but changed her mind after Mr. Yoho decided to bring his wife and daughters into the fray.

Our culture is full of platitudes about fathers and daughters: the Hallmark card, the weeping dad at the wedding. But invoking daughters and wives to deflect criticism is a particular kind of political trope and one thats been used throughout history to excuse a host of bad behavior, said the historian Barbara Berg.

The love a man has for the female members of his family, particularly his offspring, is presumed to have special power to humanize the other half of the population, to allow him to imagine the world his daughter will inhabit. Sometimes, in fact, this happens. Other times, the Daughter Excuse comes across mostly as cynical ploy.

As if familial affiliation alone equals enlightened attitudes towards women, said Susan Douglas, a professor of communication and media at the University of Michigan. Its like claiming I have a Black friend as if that makes you anti-racist.

There is social science thats shown there is something to being the father of a daughter.

In a study called The First-Daughter Effect, Elizabeth Sharrow, an associate professor of public policy and history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and her colleagues, determined that fathering daughters and firstborn daughters, in particular indeed played a role in making mens attitudes toward gender equality more progressive, particularly when it came to policies like equal pay or sexual harassment protocols. The researchers also determined that those dads of firstborn daughters were, in 2016, more likely to support Hillary Clinton or a fictional female congressional candidate delivering a similar pitch.

Our argument is not that it is genetics or biology, but that it is proximity, said Dr. Sharrow. In other words: The daughters help the fathers see the problems they may have previously dismissed.

Witness basketball star Stephen Curry, who has written about how the idea of womens equality has become a little more personal for me, lately, and a little more real, since having a daughter.

Or Dick Cheney, whose views on same-sex marriage shifted earlier than many might have expected because of his daughter, who is gay.

And yet.

Daughters influencing fathers views for the better is far different from fathers using their daughters as shields and excuses for poor behavior, as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez described Mr. Yoho in her speech.

Its also different from fathers using them as props, as Dr. Berg puts it, to emphasize their alignment with womens causes or, by contrast, their disgust over behaviors perceived to be in opposition to them.

Consider Justice Kavanaugh, who during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee about allegations of sexual assault by Christine Blasey Ford spoke repeatedly of his daughters (as well as his wife and mother) and noted that coaching his daughters basketball team was what he loved more than anything Ive ever done in my whole life as if loving coaching and allegedly treating women badly as a teenager are mutually exclusive.

Men have often pointed to their relationships with and love for some women especially wives and daughters to combat claims that they have mistreated other women, said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. We have seen this both inside and outside of politics, especially when men are subject to accusations of sexual harassment and assault.

In the wake of the 2016 reports on comments made by Donald Trump on the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape, a host of fathers-of-daughters came out to condemn the behavior. Mr. McConnell noted that as the father of three daughters he believed that Mr. Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere, while Mitt Romney said that the comments demean our wives and daughters. (It is perhaps worth noting that Mr. Trump, too, has daughters.)

Similarly, in response to revelations of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein, both Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who had worked with the disgraced Hollywood producer, expressed their disgust on behalf of their female offspring. We need to do better at protecting our friends, sisters, co-workers and daughters, Mr. Affleck said on Twitter, while Mr. Damon explained that as the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night.

Women, too, have at times invoked mens daughters and other female relatives in trying to appeal to some men. When asked about Mr. Yohos behavior, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: Whats so funny is, youd say to them, Do you not have a daughter? Do you not have a mother? Do you not have a sister? Do you not have a wife? What makes you think that you can be so and this is the word I use for them condescending, in addition to being disrespectful?

The caveat, of course, is the qualification. Qualifying your outrage against misogyny as due to your role as a father or husband implies that, absent those roles, you would be either unaware of or unconcerned, said Dr. Dittmar.

Or as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez put it: Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man. Why should daughters still have to be a prerequisite to respect?

Jessica Bennett is a Times editor at large covering gender and culture. She is the author of Feminist Fight Club and This Is 18.

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A.O.C. and the Daughter Defense - The New York Times

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