Travis Sky Ingersoll, PH.D., MSW, M.ED.
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|Posted on February 19, 2019 at 2:58 PM|
The following is one of the new author "Rants" that will be included in the 2nd edition of Sexuality Concepts for Social Workers - due in the fall of 2019.
Fathers and Their Daughters
I remember being an undergraduate Psychology major when the question “Why do fathers begin to distance themselves from their daughters when they begin to exhibit secondary sex characteristics (e.g., breast growth)?” was discussed in my developmental psychology class. I was one of three self-identified males in the class. What the professor and my female peers seemed to be suggesting was that their daughter’s budding breasts and developing sexuality engendered a distancing response from fathers based on the repression of their incestual desires. I remember thinking – “What? Are you serious? That can’t be what’s going on!” Now that I’m a father of an adorable little girl, I’ve revisited that conversation many times and have thought about it more critically and introspectively.
One conclusion I came to is regarding the way I intend to be a good father for my daughter; I will not withdraw my physical affection when she begins to go through puberty, nor will I do so at any point in her life. I will however, completely respect her independence, her need to differentiate from her mother and I, and encourage her sense of self-agency and empowerment by requiring her enthusiastic consent before giving her a big hug or cuddling on the couch watching movies together. She may, at some point, tell me I don’t need to ask for consent for such displays of affection, but that will be up to her.
Another aspect of her healthy development that I want to do everything I can to support, is regarding her sexual and spiritual growth. As a sexuality scholar and educator, I’m sure I’m going to be embarrassing to her at times, especially during her teen years, but I can’t let that discourage me from being persistent in giving her consistently positive messages about sexuality in general, and towards her personal sexual and/or spiritual development specifically. I want my daughter to have an amazing sex life, one that is full of joy, pleasure, connection, and personal growth. I want all of her sexual experiences to be positive and enthusiastically consensual. I also want to make sure she knows how to be as safe as possible (i.e., contraceptive choices; STI awareness; knowing how to communicate with partners about sex, etc.), and to assure her that she will be loved and respected by me no matter what she does, who she loves, or how her sexual path develops.
However, there is a grim reality to contend with. The reality I’m speaking of is the fact that she will be growing up in a culture that encourages men to be persistent when seeking sexual experiences with women; that every “no” is just a step closer to a “yes.” We have a culture that raises males to disregard their own emotions, unless it’s anger and/or callousness, and to view all other emotions as feminine, therefore weak and something to be ashamed of. In fact, when males express other emotions besides those often associated with the term “Toxic Masculinity,” they open themselves up to ridicule (by males and females) for being too “feminine,” less of a “man,” or even to be accused of being “gay,” which isn’t anything to be ashamed of or to be used as a weapon of insult in the first place, but also calls attention to our culture’s collective mental illness connected to gender ideologies and delusional heterosexist hierarchies.
My daughter will unfortunately grow up in a rape culture, one that accepts that sexual assault is an everyday occurrence. With some even believing that rape is a male prerogative. We see this acceptance of rape in the way police are often apathetic and/or victim blaming when handling rape cases. We see it in the well-founded fears of stigmatization suffered by rape victims and their families. And most recently we see it in our society’s implicit acceptance of rape culture through the election of a President who openly admitted sexual assault on an audio recording prior to winning office, and also with a Supreme Court Justice fast-tracked into a permanent and powerful position while concurrently being investigated as a possible rapist. And during these very high profile events, the media showed us groups of women who were standing up for the admitted and accused sexual predators, by stating things like “boys will be boys,” and “that’s just a part of growing up.” What! Really? Rape is just a part of doing what boys are expected to do, and what girls are expected to experience? How sad and embarrassing that is to the human race in general, and to the people of our country specifically.
To return to the question I began this rant with… why do fathers tend to distance themselves from their daughters when their daughters begin to develop sexually? Perhaps it has nothing to do with repressed incestual longings. What if, instead, it has to do with the gut-wrenching reality that all fathers with daughters have to confront, which is the sickening fact that due to our culture’s soul-less commitment to patriarchy, sexism, heterosexism, and the like, all of our daughters are likely to be regularly sexually harassed and have to confront a high probability of being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. And if they are sexually assaulted, our daughters may then have to confront victim blaming and stigmatization by a society that instills the message that women are of less value than men.
So perhaps it’s not their daughter’s developing bodies and sexuality that fathers are distancing themselves from, but instead is the painful prospect of being powerless to protect their daughters from a sexist and rape-prone society. Maybe it’s this unfortunate reality that causes some fathers to distance themselves from their daughters; not due to repressed sexual desires, but as a way to try to protect themselves from the possibility of experiencing deep emotional and spiritual pain resulting from their daughters being hurt in such ways? All I know for sure is that this is the source of fear I personally have for my little girl’s future. And trying to be the best father I can be is why I’ll never distance myself from her in any way.