I suppose the title question of this piece is something of a moot point, or rather, the threat to shoot my daughter’s boyfriend would be an empty one, as I don’t have any guns with which to shoot my daughter’s boyfriend—or anybody else. I do have a potato gun. Home invaders take note.
That said, this is the first holiday season where my (adult but still teen) daughter has had a “boyfriend” important enough to her that we had to consider their plans when making our family plans. And, happily, she spent time with his family, and he with ours. And I’ll say I like the guy. I feel that my daughter has chosen wisely and connected with someone who compliments her, and vice versa.
After the Christmas round of holiday gatherings had come to an end, and I had returned back to work, I got to thinking about the all-too-frequent jokes and ‘memes’ I see in social media that involve threats to shoot boys who are taking peoples’ daughters out on dates (probably because I’ve seen several in the last few days—the most recent involving one of those Dick Dynasty beardos whose family values apparently include threatening to shoot other peoples’ children just for expressing an interest in dating his daughter).
Dads take note: if you want to shoot the boys who have had impure thoughts about your teenage daughters, you should probably shoot all the heterosexual teen boys who have ever seen your daughters. Or so the predictable jokes go—relying on the idea that all dads used to be teenage boys themselves and so know how vile teenage boys are. And is that how we as men think back on ourselves as teenagers? That we really were so vile that we would have raped any time the chance presented itself?
And isn’t there some way that those “vile” and “impure” thoughts can be channeled into more positive outlets—say, like normalizing sexual thoughts and providing some guidance on how to deal with those, rather than tying sexual thoughts to threats of violence? Or do we really believe that our sons are perpetually on the verge of rape? Do we believe our daughters are so clueless that we cannot trust them with their own bodies? Do we have to threaten violence against teen boys to make sure that our teen girls come home with their “virtue” intact?
And what if our daughters are not interested in maintaining that barrier? Isn’t it better that our daughters are taught to understand what they’re comfortable with, and how to communicate that, and to seek out partners who respect that? And while we’re at it, how about teaching our sons the same? If boys know that it is okay for them to be “uncomfortable” with regard to sex, or to value girls for the same kinds of things they value their male friends for—common interests, for instance—they might feel a lot less pressure to be so gung-ho about looking at our daughters through such a narrow lens—they might be able to see our daughters as people rather than as sexual targets.
And beyond all that, what is it with adult males feeling the need to threaten the boys/young men who have expressed an interest in their daughters? At it’s most base expression, this is a pissing contest over sexual access to the females of the species. It is treating our daughters as property or livestock. It is sending the message to girls not that their fathers want what’s best for them, but that their fathers don’t trust their judgment. It sends clichéd messages that girls are not interested in sex, and that only men can be trusted with (and are never to be trusted with) protecting women’s lady parts. On top of that, it, perhaps unintentionally, sends the message that all men are rapists that need to be stopped by other, more powerful men.
All of this takes on an even more twisted element when we look at how rape victims are treated in this culture. Girls and women who come forward with complaints of sexual assault are viewed first in terms of what they must have done to invite the sexual assault. Where were you? What were you wearing? Were you drunk? Using drugs? Why are you making these accusations? Men and teenage boys are too often excused for rape, especially if they have some status in the community and/or if their victims can be shown to be (or it can be implied that they are) less-than-perfectly-pure in every way.
The whole “get my daughter home on time or I’ll shoot you” (read: you are not to have sex with my daughter or I’ll kill you) idea plays on the idea that boys/men are incapable of controlling themselves sexually when they have time alone with a girl/woman. It plays on the idea that girls/women are not to be trusted with their own sexuality or sexual decisions. Worst of all, perhaps, it plays into adolescent revenge fantasies where girls/women are perpetually the victims or prizes in contests between men–that girls’/women’s chastity counts, but girls/women don’t.
Men in our culture (myself included) are not generally taught how to engage their emotions in productive ways, but to channel everything into problem solving, feelings-dodging, and violence. It is in this context that we tell our daughter’s boyfriends that we’ll shoot them if they “come home late.” It is also in this context where we connect violence and sex on numerous levels.
If we as men think of teenage boys as little more than rape machines with faulty safety mechanisms, or worse yet, think that we were rape machines as teenagers, then we excuse the worst of male behaviors as nothing more than biology—hormones acting out the only way they can express themselves—violently. And that’s simply not true. It is not only as teenagers that people have powerful sexual urges, or multiple forms of confusion and angst over various aspects of sexuality and relationships; and it is never acceptable for those urges to be translated into violence. It is as teenagers that we should really be learning how to navigate relationships in a positive fashion. It is as adults that we should guide teenagers—and that means mentoring our daughter’s boyfriends, not threatening to kill them.
I would much rather welcome my daughter’s boyfriend into the family and make him feel comfortable than to threaten him. But then again, I don’t imagine my daughter coming home with somebody who I would feel threatened by—someone I would feel the need to engage in a pissing contest. This is not to say that I feel my daughter is immune to sexual assault, or even bad decisions in choosing guys to hang out with. It is to say that I do what I can to convey my trust in her, but more importantly, to let her know to trust herself as a whole person.