Dad Slut-Shames Daughter, Daughter Not Impressed

I'm so tired of this overbearing “protective” dad BS where some dude makes a big production out of the clothes his daughter wears and claims it's about her self-worth and dignity or whatever.

Sep 13, 2013 at 3:30pm | Leave a comment

What is up with fathers thinking that they own their daughters' bodies? Oh, right, thousands of years of patriarchy. That would explain it.

Myley Mackintosh felt like wearing daisy dukes to dinner. Her mom told her to change her “slutty” (yes, really) shorts before going out and she refused. So, supercool and amazing dad Scott Mackintosh decided to shame his daughter by turning an old pair of jeans into cutoffs and wearing them out, saying he was willing to “look like a fool” to send a message. Apparently he thinks that this is an effective tactic for forcing his daughter to comply with the family dress code.

Because yes, his family has a dress code. Which is apparently focused on making his daughters feel ashamed for having bodies, judging from the rules. His daughter, wise and internet-savvy teen that she is, posted a photo of her dad on Tumblr, where it of course went viral and tons of people commented on it. His response, in writing out his version of the story, was to say this: “I hope that young women everywhere understand their great worth.”

I'm sorry, what?

I'm so tired of this overbearing “protective” dad BS where some dude makes a big production out of the clothes his daughter wears and claims it's about her self-worth and dignity or whatever. What message are you sending by attempting to control what your daughter wears, and making a big production out of how some clothes are slutty and some clothes are acceptable?

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They're just shorts, dude. 

Photo credit: Liz.

You're sending a message that your daughter should feel humiliated and embarrassed about having a body, that there are parts of herself she should be ashamed of, that she needs to cover up and hide. These are not things that boost a sense of worth: they are things that make young women and girls feel worthless, tiny, small. These are things that tell girls like Myley that there's something wrong with them that needs to be corrected.

He suggests that his daughter needs to be careful about how she dresses because it will change the way others interact with her, blaming her for a complex, oppressive, and aggressive world. Why not turn the tables and support his daughter, empowering her, making sure that she knows her choices matter, but that wearing what she wants and feels comfortable in isn't grounds for street harassment, sexual assault, or any other of the myriad horrors visited upon young women in society?

Scott seemed to believe that his daughter would be pathetically grateful for this, just like all the other young adults who've been shamed by their parents in public and on social media. Like somehow Myley would magically become the daughter he wants -- a meek, modest, quiet little mouse -- after the attention. Surprised by the outcome, he's still defensive, arguing that at least his daughter knows he cares about her.

I suspect she already knew that, actually -- I don't doubt that for all his attempts at controlling his daughter's self-expression, Scott really does love her. The conservative values he's imposing on her might harm her, but that doesn't mean he doesn't love her. He certainly doesn't seem to understand the ramifications of shaming his daughter; he commented that people might “roll [their] eyes” at him in a way that sounds dismissive of people genuinely worried about what kind of message this might send to his daughter.

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Teens are people. 

Photo credit: Jenn Durfey.

The issue here just isn't as simple as he wants it to be.

This is about larger cultural problems: the insistence that dads own their daughters' bodies, the belief that young women wearing “revealing” clothing are “slutty” and somehow “asking for it,” the insistence that it's possible to prove your love by reinforcing sexist stereotypes. The belief that young women somehow owe it to society to be ashamed of their bodies.

“Modest is hottest,” Scott says of his draconian dress code and attempt at forcing Myley to comply. What he doesn't seem to get is that maybe Myley's not setting out to be hot. Maybe she's just wearing shorts because she can, or she wants to, because the weather is hot and she wants to cool down. Maybe she's dressing for herself, not other people. Maybe this is part of her personal style. We have no way of knowing.

Dudes often seem to assume that everyone around them is dressing for their personal enjoyment. Hence, Myley's decision to wear shorts must be about catching the male eye. But what if it's about things going on internally for her, things that have nothing to do with the outside world? Should she be blamed for the fact that the male gaze exploits of objectifies young women like her? Should she be required to cover up because dudes can't keep it together?

What are you telling your children when you blame them for the actions of others? Young women and girls are so often held responsible for what other people do that they tend to internalize the message that they're in charge of other people's actions, feelings, and activities. Anyone who grew up socialized as a woman, as I did, has a very hard time shaking the idea of personal responsibility for things that are totally outside our control; I cringe when people get angry around me because I'm convinced it's my fault, when I get whistled at in the street I blame myself instead of the creep doing the whistling, and so on.

Growing up in an environment where you're told your clothes are to blame for people objectifying you sends a clear and unmistakeable message. It's just a pair of shorts. What other people think and do about them is their problem, not Myley's. And her father, with all his years of life experience, should be able to understand that; and should be able to have a responsible conversation with his daughter about the very real-world risks for women and girls without making it sound like Myley should be responsible for those risks.

Whether he thinks his daughter's fashion is “slutty” or “foolish” or any number of other things, his daughter is her own human being. And I very much understand the desire to protect children, especially as they're growing older and more independent, but humiliating them doesn't protect them, and neither does telling them they're to blame for any abuses they might experience in the outside world. We should be raising empowered daughters, not terrified women.

Myley sounds like a pretty amazing teen; her response to someone who sent her dirty pictures on snapchat is “I think penises are icky. So stop,” and she reblogs feminist iconography and images of resistance to exactly the kinds of messages her dad is sending. So I suspect she's going to turn out OK. And I hope the teens seeing her image are seeing the empowered side of Myley too, the side that knows that what her father did was bullshit and isn't afraid to say so.