Lately I have been hearing men express outrage over sexual violence toward women with phrases like, “because I have daughters…” I have been hearing all the violent reprisals for perpetrators, as well as teaching daughters self defense. Recently a man I work with bragged about how his daughters would take any guy out at the knees before allowing themselves to be harmed. And guys, before I go on, I want to say to all of you that I get it – I am the father of two daughters. I share your fear of being unable to protect our daughters from the violence of other men. I understand the need for our daughters to know self defense. But I want us fathers to go deeper and do better.
Having daughters didn’t exempt me from my complicity in a culture of masculinity that views women as objects, as less than, and as the property of men. In fact, having daughters motivated me to elevate my “real man” status. The most common advice I got as a father was, “better get a shotgun.” Because a real man protects his women. I needed to double down on projecting my willingness to perpetrate violence and simultaneously reinforce that my daughters were my property. They belonged to me, and anyone crossing the line would feel my wrath.
I continued to show up to reinforce my brothers in our twisted construction of manhood. Of course men rape, but if you rape my daughters I will end you. Of course women are asking for it, but if you come for my daughters I will hospitalize you. Of course women are here for our pleasure, but if you think my daughters are here for that, then I will be here for you.
My daughters gave me perfect cover for reinforcing my existence in the Man Box. I was able to dive in head first justifying it with fatherly love. I could laugh at rape jokes because the guys knew my daughters were off limits. I could ignore sexual harassment, because at least my daughters were safe. I could defend my brothers accused of sexual violence, because they weren’t doing it to my daughters.
My oldest daughter was about fourteen when I learned that seven in ten victims of sexual violence know their perpetrator, meaning that (statistically) I am a bigger risk to her than some stranger lurking in the bushes. I looked around at the men in our lives. I thought about the trust I have had for men who professed as much disgust as myself at sexual violence (because those were just jokes! Get a sense of humor!). How could these men be in agreement that sexual violence is bad, while one in five of them perpetrate? Something didn’t add up.
This means that four out of five aren’t stopping the one perpetrator. But even more insidious – it means that five out of five men are creating a culture where one feels empowered to be violent toward women and girls. Every illusion I held that somehow, I would be able to protect my daughters from sexual violence was replaced by a host of sickening realizations.
All this time striving to maintain my Man Card, I had been reinforcing the culture of violence that is impacting women and girls at epidemic proportions. Far from protecting my daughters with my crazy dad love, I was actively participating in creating a dangerous environment. Each time I laughed with the guys at a rape joke; each time I remained silent as another man sexually harassed a woman; each time I defended a brother from accusations of sexual violence; each time I did these things, I was increasing the danger to my daughters. It wasn’t about protecting them. It was about me proving I am a “real man.”
That is the trap of the Man Box. Even as I love my daughters and want to shield them from harm, the rules of manhood keep me supporting the violence. I can’t speak up against the rape jokes, because the other guys will think I’m weak and my daughters will be in danger. I can’t speak up when I see a man sexually harassing a woman, because maybe my daughters will become his next victim. I can’t confront my brother on his sexual violence, because then I am a traitor to men and my daughters will be in danger.
This is an illusion. Showing up for my daughters means I need to show up for everyone impacted by the violence of manhood. It means I must remove myself from the Man Box and voluntarily revoke my Man Card. My own status as a man does nothing to protect my daughters from sexual violence.
I believe that most parents, of all genders, want to protect their children, of all genders. I will certainly still show up to defend my kids. But this parental drive to protect my children is not enough to create safety for my daughters. At A CALL TO MEN, we often say that women shouldn’t need men’s protection – men simply need not be violent and safety takes care of itself. There are concrete ways we can do this.
- Speak up in the face of rape culture – not laugh along as if sexual violence were something funny.
- Allow ourselves and other men to be weak – not simply violent in word and deed.
- Learn to express our full range of human emotion – not just anger toward anyone who threatens our manhood.
Because it isn’t just our daughters that are being impacted. This violence is also hurting men and boys that don’t measure up to “real man” status. It is the same violence that is killing trans men and women, gender non-conforming and non-binary people. Our addiction to the violence of the Man Box is the very root of all gender violence being perpetrated today. None of us are safe from it as long as we continue to believe that the best protection for a young girl is a father willing to perpetrate violence on her behalf. The best protection we men can provide is to end the violence of manhood.
By Scott Davis, A CALL TO MEN Trainer