Monday, June 20, 2011

Another Way Prejudice Hurts

Just because Father’s Day is behind us doesn’t mean I have to leave father-focused content behind for a while. Hugo Schwyzer says “Dads, Hug Your Daughters.”

One of the many reasons prejudice against consanguiamory is destructive is that it prompts witch hunts against close relatives who may not sexually involved with each other, but show physical affection (kisses, hugs, pats, hand-holding). This includes false accusations against parents. A mother or father should be able to be affectionate with their own minor child without being bullied or threatened. All parents should be affectionate with their children. I’m sure most people can agree with that, even if they don’t agree with me that once a child has reached the age of consent, barring some mitigating disability, the adult child should be free to consent to sex, including sex with their own parent.

“I was always daddy’s little girl. We did everything together. He was my hero. My father was always there with a hug for me; when I was little, he let me climb all over him like he was a jungle gym.

And then my body changed. I developed early; I had boobs by 11. And all of a sudden, my Dad stopped hugging me or touching me. He went overnight from being my best friend to being remote and critical.”

I read that in a student’s journal earlier this semester (quoted with permission). I’ve read and heard similar things countless times over the course of nearly 20 years teaching gender studies and doing youth ministry. Ask any family therapist who works with teen girls, and they’ll report the same thing I’ve heard: story after story of fathers withdrawing physical affection as soon as their daughters hit puberty.

That is sad. Some fathers are uncomfortable for their own reasons. But others solely because there is a stigma fed by prejudice.

Dads offer their own reasons. Scott, who has two daughters aged 15 and 12, tells me he has this overwhelming fear he might get an erection if he held one of his girls for too long. “I have no sexual desire for my daughters,” he says, “but I’m so scared it might be inadvertent, just a physical response. And if one of my girls noticed, wouldn’t that be more damaging than just not hugging in the first place?”

No, it wouldn’t. Some men, not just teen boys, get erections very easily. This is a biological fact and nobody should be freaked out about it.

Other fathers worry less about what their own reaction might be and more what others might think. “Maybe it’s paranoid,” remarks Todd, the father of a 14 year-old girl, “but I feel like every man who touches a girl is seen as a predator. Even dads. So I wonder what people might think if they see me being too affectionate with my daughter.”

Is the fear unwarranted? While many predators roam free, we also know (because the accusers have later recanted credibly) that some fathers have been unjustly accused and even convicted and incarcerated.

But here’s the thing about being a dad. Doing what makes you excruciatingly uncomfortable is part of what you signed on for when you became a parent. You get up in the middle of the night to change diapers and give bottles, even though your body can barely stand the sleep deprivation. You pull a trembling toddler off your leg on the first day of preschool, leaving her to the care of her teachers, and you sit and cry with guilt in the car. (Most dads I know cry harder and longer than their kids on these occasions.) And when that little girl starts to develop a woman’s body (too soon, you protest silently, it’s too soon!) you need to keep right on hugging her.

It is a good essay.

A girl should get all of the fatherly affection she needs. She should not be deprived, just as she should not be imposed upon.
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