Are faithful dads creepy or what?

Purity T Shirt PICT0056A long, long time ago — so long ago that it predates the creation of my tmatt.net archives — I wrote a column about the birth of the “True Love Waits” movement, an attempt by the Southern Baptist Convention and conservative Christians in a host of other churches to urge teens and young adults to save sex for marriage.

The lede on that column, however, offered a twist.

Right from the beginning, the movement’s leaders found that the biggest obstacle facing church leaders trying to host “True Love Waits” events was not doubt among the youngsters. The problem was that the parents, especially the fathers, were hesitant to stand up in public and take a public vow that they would not have sex outside of marriage. There were, you see, too many divorced people in these evangelical pews, too many people who hesitated to take a public vow that might require them, even in their own hearts and minds, to repent of their actions in the past.

All of this underlined another theme emerging from the divorce age. Young people, especially girls, are much more likely to be sexually active before marriage in homes wracked by divorce and, especially, when their fathers are absent, unfaithful and unloving.

With that in mind, let us turn to a recent New York Times story by Neela Banerjee, entitled “Dancing the Night Away, With a Higher Purpose,” which focuses on the ninth annual father-daughter “Purity Ball” at the Broadmoor Hotel in the symbolic city of Colorado Springs, Colo.

Actually, before we read the story itself, let’s take a look at the praise for the story over at The Revealer website, which, like GetReligion, looks for the good and bad in mainstream religion-news coverage.

Does the following sentence strike you as a little creepy? “In their floor-length gowns, up-dos and tiaras, the 70 or so young women swept past two harpists and into a gilt-and-brocade dining room at the lavish Broadmoor Hotel, on the arms of their much older male companions.” If so, that’s either because you’re not familiar with the new ritual of father-daughter “purity balls,” or maybe because you are. The NYT’s Neela Banerjee turns in a modest masterpiece of lifestyle reporting that manages to bring new insight to the much-covered — so to speak — subject of the chastity movement. “The graying men in the shadow of their glittering daughters were the true focus of the night,” observes Banerjee — it’s the fathers by whom, and maybe for whom, this ball is produced. “Loss tinged many at the ball,” she writes, noting the distinctly adult melancholy of the proceedings. And then this strange last line, worthy of Fitzgerald: “But one father took his two young daughters for a walk around the hotel’s dark, glassy lake.”

You can read very similar reactions over at Salon.com and at “On Faith”, the religion opinion site run by Newsweek and the Washington Post. The first sentence by “On Faith” columnist Claire Hoffman says it all:

My oatmeal churned in my stomach this morning as I read the NY Times story about the Purity Ball in Colorado Springs, where evangelical Christian fathers take their young daughters (or daughters-in-law to be) out for an evening of dancing and pledge-making to be godly and protect the girl’s virginity.

It’s the headline for that piece that really raises the crucial question: “Odd Purity Ball.”

Now, the question is whether the New York Times, Salon.com, Newsweek and the Washington Post could imagine a normal, or a not-odd “Purity Ball.” What would such an event look like that did not produce creepy feelings and upset stomachs in these newsrooms of power?

Here’s the key section of the original Times piece:

… (After) dessert, the 63 men stood and read aloud a covenant “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.” The gesture signaled that the fathers would guard their daughters from what evangelicals consider a profoundly corrosive “hook-up culture.” The evening, which alternated between homemade Christian rituals and giddy dancing, was a joyous public affirmation of the girls’ sexual abstinence until they wed.

Yet the graying men in the shadow of their glittering daughters were the true focus of the night. To ensure their daughters’ purity, they were asked to set an example and to hew to evangelical ideals in a society they say tempts them as much as it does their daughters.

“It’s also good for me,” said Terry Lee, 54, who attended the ball for a second year, this time with his youngest daughter, Rachel, 16. “It inspires me to be spiritual and moral in turn. If I’m holding them to such high standards, you can be sure I won’t be cheating on their mother.”

r50One question: Why say that the banquet is about “evangelical ideals,” as opposed to some basic doctrines common to other churches and other faiths? Is this a matter of cultural style?

Here, however, is the fact paragraph at the heart of the debate that must be covered:

Recent studies have suggested that close relationships between fathers and daughters can reduce the risk of early sexual activity among girls and teenage pregnancy. But studies have also shown that most teenagers who say they will remain abstinent, like those at the ball, end up having sex before marriage, and they are far less likely to use condoms than their peers.

The argument is not over the facts in that paragraph. The argument is over two things, the statistics behind the word “most” in the statement about the impact of these events on premarital sex, and the impact of various forms of sex education in general.

Let me stress that this is not the topic we will be discussing in the “comments pages,” unless you are the rare comment-button clicker who can address the news coverage of those topics without ripping the beliefs of other people.

No, I am more interested in knowing precisely why GetReligion readers think that the images and ideas in this story create such angst. Why, precisely, is this event so “creepy”? While the Times story is solid and well-reported, it does take us once again into that world of neo-National Geographic coverage of the strange and alien tribe called megachurch evangelical Christians. Why end the story with that “dark, glassy lake”?

At this point, in terms of news coverage, is the mere advocacy of traditional religious teachings against sex outside of marriage a ticket to media mockery? Let me stress that I do not believe that the original Times piece has to be interpreted in that way. But the reactions to it are fascinating, to say the least. As a journalist, they kind of creep me out.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://auspiciousdragon.com/wp/ holmegm

    I can only assume that these opiners are incapable of seeing a dance as anything other than a sexual or romantic event (which would, of course, be creepy in this case — if it were true, which it isn’t).

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    Attitudes toward sexuality are at play here, but so are our societal assumptions about “paternalism,” and this is about as paternalistic as it gets. Here’s another quote from Hoffman’s On Faith column:

    By making their virginity, and the holiness that emanates from it, so daddy-derived they are rendered co-dependent both in their faith and in their sexuality.

    And a little later, the same writer quoting from the Colorado Springs Gazette:

    The Father-Daughter Purity Ball has been criticized as a patriarchal ploy to subjugate young women, as an event that treats girls as their fathers’ property until they become their husbands’ property, or as something vaguely creepy because it’s a father-daughter date.

    So I think it’s the combination of traditional sexual standards with something “patriarchal” that leads to the reactions to this article.

  • Michael

    I thought it was a great story, but I “get” the visceral reaction of “creepy,” although I don’t think Banerjee’s story intended it that way at all and I actually found the comments of the dads pretty illuminating. I just wondered they had didn’t have similar events for dads and their sons.

    This is another example of a story where if you switched the faiths of the participants, what would the reaction be. If instead of the girls being white, they were brown-skinned girls in hijabs, what would the reaction be? If the fathers looking on were Muslim men talking about protecting their daughters’ virginity, what would the visceral reaction be? If one of the fathers was Muslim and talking about the future wife of his son and protecting her purity, what would the visceral reaction be?

    It’s really all about context when it comes to what’s “creepy” and what isn’t.

  • Neela Banerjee

    Hi,

    Lots of people on various blogs seem to obsess over that last line of the story. People have read into the story what they want to, which is fine, but as the author, let me clarify the last line: it was meant to show a father doing part of what he was broadly being asked to do at the ball, and that is, spend time with his daughters. It was a late hour, true, for a walk, but the uniqueness of the gesture struck me.

    Neela Banerjee

  • Neela Banerjee

    Oh, the sons: I couldnt get into the story that dads and sons do things together, too, to also shore up abstinence. But Randy Wilson said they are largely things like hiking or camping, away from the public eye. The ball, by its public nature, gets covered.

    Rgds
    Neela

  • Dan

    The article refers to “what evangelicals consider a profoundly corrosive ‘hook-up culture’” — in contrast, presumably, to the viewpoint of the New York Times, which often seems to delight in the “hook-up culture.” It is this sort of casual moral blindness that makes me want to shout “wake up!” when I see it, as I often do, in the New York Times and similar publications.

  • http://auspiciousdragon.com/wp/ holmegm

    If instead of the girls being white, they were brown-skinned girls in hijabs, what would the reaction be? If the fathers looking on were Muslim men talking about protecting their daughters’ virginity, what would the visceral reaction be? If one of the fathers was Muslim and talking about the future wife of his son and protecting her purity, what would the visceral reaction be?

    It’s really all about context when it comes to what’s “creepy” and what isn’t.

    True; if they were Muslim we’d have to account for the full context of “honor killings”, genital mutilation, the pervasive separation by gender in public, and the hijab. There isn’t anything remotely like any of that in the U.S. evangelical scene, so yes, the visceral reaction would be justifiably different.

    It is interesting how context changes over time, and it just highlights how changes in public sexual morality have wider-reaching effects than they are intended or expected to. Since teenagers are now expected to be out of control hormone machines, and “dates” are now expected to be quite likely sexual in conclusion, the once innocuous daddy-daughter dance is now placed in an entirely new context of suspicion.

  • Michael

    There isn’t anything remotely like any of that in the U.S. evangelical scene, so yes, the visceral reaction would be justifiably different.

    Well, “honor killings” and female genital mutilation rarely occur in the context of U.S. Muslims, so we are basing our visceral reaction on expectations and, arguably, stereotypes. The line between “modesty” and the hijab is thin, if you ask many U.S. Muslim women.

  • skinny

    I side with Mr. Hickerson’s thoughts that the animosity toward this event stems from an animosity toward what is perceived as a push back toward a paternalistic culture. Could that backlash stem from the fact that less and less media members have fathers involved in their lives? Could the constant revulsion toward fatherly involvement be connected to the high divorce rates in our country. If as a writer you grew up in this country without a father and have now made it in the world (no pun intended), you are going to be more likely to advocate less fatherly contact, either out of perceived self-reliance or internal anger toward all men stemming from your missing father. Could this be a case of the media being unable to be unbiased because if their own human experiences?
    Obviously if more fathers were involved, this would not be a story.

  • http://blog.muchmorethanwords.com gfe

    I thought the story was quite good for letting the participants speak for themselves.

    If readers find the article a bit creepy (and I’m among them, even though I share the moral ideal of the evangelicals in the story), it may be because what’s going on here is, I’m not sure what the word I want here is, foreign. Maybe it’s because in our culture, father aren’t overtly concerned about the details of their daughters’ intimate relationships. In our culture, that seems to be the mother’s job. (I’m not saying that’s the way it should be, but that’s the way it is.)

    And I guess I find the story a bit creepy because of the apparent obsession with the sexual act. To me it makes a lot more sense to teach one’s children honesty, integrity, responsibility, chastity (in the broad sense of the word), forgiveness and all those things — all those things that make one a fully functioning adult, and sex is just one part of that. True purity involves a lot more than virginity. This just seems a bit unbalanced.

    I’m not saying the ideal is bad. I just don’t feel comfortable with the approach.

    Michael asked:

    This is another example of a story where if you switched the faiths of the participants, what would the reaction be. If instead of the girls being white, they were brown-skinned girls in hijabs, what would the reaction be? If the fathers looking on were Muslim men talking about protecting their daughters’ virginity, what would the visceral reaction be? If one of the fathers was Muslim and talking about the future wife of his son and protecting her purity, what would the visceral reaction be?

    That’s definitely an interesting question. I think the reaction would be different if this were about something that was taking place in a different country, or among people who are part of an immigrant subculture. But then it wouldn’t be as interesting of a story either.

    Tmatt asked:

    Why end the story with that “dark, glassy lake”?

    The ending didn’t strike me as odd at all when I first read the story. I apparently understood it the way it was meant by the author, just a way of showing that the father was happy to have a continuing relationship with his daughters, and vice versa. It thought it was an appropriate bit of color to end the story with.

  • loli

    I went to a Catholic School where there was an annual Father-Daughter dance (the big part of the night was the dance contest where fathers and daughters would show off their best swing dance moves and some of these father/daughter combos had clearly been practicing for weeks.)

    In any case, because I had been to father-daughter events, I didn’t think I would be creeped out by the event described in the article until they talked about the public proclamation of protecting the daughter’s chastity. Maybe it was because I imagine these girls as teenagers who are clearly responsible for their own bodies and actions at that point (at least I was at that age) and having anyone, male or female, swear publicly to protect my chastity seems really… well… creepy. I can see a father swearing before God to protect his children from abuse, to be a good supportive parent, to teach his children about God and to teach his children the ways of God, but the focus on the sexuality bit is really weird.

    Anyway, I’d like to know if they have mother-son events (my school did) to encourage chastity on that end. Hey, it takes two to tango.

  • Chris Bolinger

    I am more interested in knowing precisely why GetReligion readers think that the images and ideas in this story create such angst.

    Because the MSM is a reflection of our culture, and our culture increasingly is moving away from the norms and ideals celebrated at the dance. I seem to recall a dude named Paul contrasting the wisdom of people and the “foolishness” of God. People show their wisdom in their reactions and their comments.

    At this point, in terms of news coverage, is the mere advocacy of traditional religious teachings against sex outside of marriage a ticket to media mockery? Let me stress that I do not believe that the original Times piece has to be interpreted in that way. But the reactions to it are fascinating, to say the least. As a journalist, they kind of creep me out.

    They make me shake my head in sadness. I’ll take any coverage, even mocking, of events that uphold traditional religious teachings. It gives me an opportunity to celebrate and pray for the people who sponsor and run those events and the lives that they touch.

  • Brian Walden

    Gfe wrote:

    To me it makes a lot more sense to teach one’s children honesty, integrity, responsibility, chastity (in the broad sense of the word), forgiveness and all those things — all those things that make one a fully functioning adult, and sex is just one part of that. True purity involves a lot more than virginity. This just seems a bit unbalanced.

    What is the broadest sense of the word chastity? How can one be honest, full of integrity, responsible and yet unchaste? Why would a person assume that purity doesn’t involve more than virginity?

    I think your comments are an example of the very different world views present between evangelicals and secular American culture which others have already pointed out. I’m Catholic and those words probably have different connotations for me, if not completely different meanings, than they do in either previously mentioned group. How does a journalist write a story on a subject like this where there is no shared understanding of both the situation being described and the words used to describe it?

  • http://bethaniqua.blogspot.com Bethany

    I was confused by the final line of the story too, but now that Ms. Banjeree explains it I like it.

    I must say that like these commentators, I’ve had the creepy visceral reaction to coverage of purity balls too. I don’t like the way it takes away agency from young women to make decisions about their own bodies.

    I’ve also been creeped out by the emphasis on virginity. Why can’t fathers also talk about they ways the will encourage their daughters to grow into relational maturity, vocational confidence, etc?

    I think fathers making an effort to have a close relationship with their children (their daughters here) is great, and I was actually less creeped out after reading some of Banjeree’s quotes.

  • Brian Walden

    Bethany wrote:

    I don’t like the way it takes away agency from young women to make decisions about their own bodies.

    How does a father (or Mother) pledging to protect their daughter’s (or son’s) chastity take away their ability to make decisions about their own body? Does a parent’s job end when their child becomes X years old? How is this different from a parent pledging to guard their child’s financial wellbeing by guiding them in managing their credit, saving for retirement, and investing even years after they’ve left home?

    Why can’t fathers also talk about they ways the will encourage their daughters to grow into relational maturity, vocational confidence, etc?

    Is sexual activity outside of marriage a sign of relational maturity or immaturity? What does vocational confidence mean?

    I ask these questions and the ones in my post #13 rhetorically. They just further show how we can look at the same thing, but what we see is very different.

  • http://auspiciousdragon.com/wp/ holmegm

    I must say that like these commentators, I’ve had the creepy visceral reaction to coverage of purity balls too. I don’t like the way it takes away agency from young women to make decisions about their own bodies.

    Well, I think that’s another example of the cultural shift over time. It wasn’t that long ago that personal autonomy wasn’t the highest, most absolute value, and people actually believed that there were norms and good rules that came from outside of oneself. And that it was a parent’s job – particularly the father’s – to pass those rules on.

    I’ve also been creeped out by the emphasis on virginity. Why can’t fathers also talk about they ways the will encourage their daughters to grow into relational maturity, vocational confidence, etc?

    Why do you assume that they aren’t? Anyway, virginity is where the cultural assault is, so that’s what these events respond to. The battle is where the battle is. And from the point of view of evangelicals, if you can’t even draw the line there, then you’ve already lost. You’re daughter by definition hasn’t “grown into relational maturity” is she loses her virginity before marriage, from the evangelical cultural point of view.

  • Dave

    Like a couple of other readers, I find the father-daughter ball creepy because it’s a return to patriarchy.

    That being said, I fully support tmatt about use of the word “most” as the pivot of an argument. In this internet age, a print story can devote a line to a website harboring a study of the matter when reporting such a “fact.”

  • FW Ken

    I don’t think the coverage creeped me out, but the event itself. In my upbringing, dances (and walks around lakes) had a romantic connotation, hence a father/daughter dance would elicit a negative response. This is a gut response, not rational at all.

  • http://t-hype.blogspot.com t-hype

    I think the creepiness is just in the ‘foreigness.’ Kind of like the Duggar family with 18 kids who’s extremely happy about it…

    In evangelical circles “purity” has become synonymous with “virginity” which really is a shame. Purity is a trait that is cultivated throughout one’s life time. It continues through marriage which is obviously not the case for virginity.

    If a father sets a standard of purity for himself, why shouldn’t he ask his daughters (and sons) to do the same?
    There’s probably not a journalistic way to describe that concept in a way that postmodern minds can understand.

  • http://metapundit.net/sections/blog metapundit

    I’m joining with the “it really is a bit creepy” crowd. I understand that media coverage of evangelicals frequently has that National Geographic tone of voice but…

    As someone who would probably be considered an evangelical (and actually much more conservative than most evangelicals) I’m still a little weirded by much of the father-daughter chastity movement. Not just the ball, but the regular date night, the “wedding ring moment”(see the coverage at Glamour @http://www.glamour.com/news/articles/2007/01/purityballs07feb for other details of similar events), “romantic” gifts like flowers and all the other events and practices that go along with the movement.

    The purity pledges for the fathers to sign stood in the middle of the dinner tables. Unlike other purity balls, the daughters here do not make a pledge

    Maybe this is some of my uncomfortableness. I think the trappings of this movement are as much about patriarchalism as they are about chastity. The focus is not on daughters taking adult responsibility before God for their moral choices – the focus is on the Fathers preserving the chastity of their daughters by placing them under their authority and spiritual protection.

    Reversing the genders of the participants makes an interesting thought experiment: how would people respond to a mother/son ball where them others took a pledge to “before God cover my son as his authority and protection in the area of purity” and the mothers put a ring on the sons fingers… The people I personally know who are involved in the chastity movement would object to such an event as inappropriate – not because sons are not supposed to be chaste but for a host of reasons revolving around their views on paternal authority.

    I’d argue that it’s that flavor of the event coming through that causes the subliminal ick…

  • http://metapundit.net/sections/blog metapundit

    heh. s/them others/the mothers/

  • http://bethaniqua.blogspot.com Bethany

    Well, I think that’s another example of the cultural shift over time. It wasn’t that long ago that personal autonomy wasn’t the highest, most absolute value, and people actually believed that there were norms and good rules that came from outside of oneself. And that it was a parent’s job – particularly the father’s – to pass those rules on.

    ok. But I value autonomy, and my parents emphasis in teaching me morality and norms and good rules had a lot more to do with things besides keeping my virginity. I was just explaining what about the coverage/event made me feel ooky. It’s ok if you don’t feel that way (well, I disagree with you, but that’s for another thread somewhere else), but tmatt asked, so I answered. That’s where the feeling comes from.

    If you think that “purity” in these contexts means something other than virginity, or in addition, then I’ve misunderstood all the articles I’ve read about it. I’d feel less ooky if there was actually something for the women to DO instead of sit and be promised too. I’d feel better if the promise from fathers said more about how he’d affirm her and help her learn to make good choices. I think there ARE good and bad choices, and in most cases (especially with young people) abstinence is a good choice. I just don’t know why it’s emphasized at the expense of other aspects of a healthy relationship, like forgiveness and communication.

    Unrelatedly, I forgot to mention that having that context from back in the day made me a lot less antagonistic about purity balls too. Thanks, tmatt.

  • Julia

    “Purity” grabbed my attention right away. Maybe I’m the only one here who thinks of purity as cleanness as opposed to dirtiness – in a real as well as a cultic or ritual sense. Do we want to give girls the impression that sex is dirty or bad? But I’m in my 60s and lots of words have changed their meaning over time.

    Chastity would seem to be a better word, but labelling the event with a term related in most people’s minds to sexual activity, or the lack thereof, is what is most creepy to me – whether the word is purity or chastity or virginity.

    Also had a bad gut reaction to Dad’s pledging to supervise the bodily functions of his daughter. The studies I’ve read say Dad’s interest and pride in the daughter validates her and strengthens her to value herself, but I’m not sure that means intimate involvment like these public pledges.

    Like loli I went to a lot of Father-daughter functions, but none of them happened to be father-daughter dances. However, I learned to dance partly from my now-deceased father (I burst into tears when I first heard “Dance with My Father”); but I would have run away from home before going to an event such as the one described.

  • Brian Walden

    ok. But I value autonomy, and my parents emphasis in teaching me morality and norms and good rules had a lot more to do with things besides keeping my virginity.

    I know you weren’t responding to me, Bethany, but why do you assume that a parents who emphasize abstinence don’t also emphasize morality (which chastity is a part of) and norms and good rules.

    I just don’t know why [abstinence is] emphasized at the expense of other aspects of a healthy relationship, like forgiveness and communication.

    Who says that abstinence is emphasized at the expense of forgiveness and communication? I don’t mean to single you out, but your assumptions reflect the thinking of the population at large. Yes abstinence gets a lot of attention because its under assault in our society, but that doesn’t mean it’s at the expense of other anything else. In fact, one of the arguments for abstinence before marriage (regardless of whether it’s true or not) is that it allows a couple to better develop the communication and bonding techniques that create the foundation of a lasting relationship.

  • Jerry

    What do young women do if they don’t have a father who can take them to such an event whether because of divorce, death or any other reason?

    The argument is over two things, the statistics behind the word “most” in the statement about the impact of these events on premarital sex, and the impact of various forms of sex education in general.

    One of my favorite math books is “How to Lie with Statistics”. Assuming the statistics are accurate, then I’d like to see someone look at question of why the premarital sex statistics are that way. Including the point about condoms is strange for that article since it was about women’s behavior and not men’s. Perhaps the women are not insisting men wear condoms or maybe the men they get involved with are different? But why make that point at all?

  • http://bethaniqua.blogspot.com Bethany

    Brian: I’m happy to engage in respectful debate/clarification with you or anyone else.

    why do you assume that a parents who emphasize abstinence don’t also emphasize morality (which chastity is a part of) and norms and good rules.

    sorry I was unclear. I just mean to say that you don’t get a big party with pledges and dresses for THOSE things. The article said people flew across the country and put a lot of money into this event. And THIS event is about chastity, and not those other parts of morality. I’m reading this event in the context of a about women that says we aren’t valuable for anything except our sexuality. This emphasis on chastity does more to reinforce that idea than undermine it. Even if it’s not explicitly there, I see it that way. Maybe that’s my bias, but I don’t think so.

    Who says that abstinence is emphasized at the expense of forgiveness and communication?

    I realize that this event isn’t the only thing that happens between these girls and their parents (fathers) but it is still a big deal. At least when I was in high school I was taught abstinence in ways that were really degrading to women – that sex is dirty, that women who had sex outside of marriage would be unwanted and un-marry-able. I think this is damaging to an idea of women as whole people with a number of virtues, even if those other virtues are taught.

  • http://notabibliothecae.blogspot.com Chris M.

    Concerning Banerjee’s use of the word “most”: she could be referring to research from Columbia University. It became public a few years ago, and at least a few mainstream outlets (including CBS News) picked up on it. Obviously, it would have helped if she had just provided a direct reference.

    Assuming the statistics are accurate, then I’d like to see someone look at question of why the premarital sex statistics are that way.

    I’m pretty sure that there’s been commentary that attempts to address this particular question. The study result raised a bit of a stir, if I remember correctly. Apologies for being vague and working from (admittedly sketchy) memory–I would try to find some additional exapmples if I weren’t at work right now. Creative Google searches might be fruitful.

  • Brian Walden

    Thank you Bethany for such a candid response. When I was growing up my family was basically agnostic about sex. It was don’t ask, don’t tell, let the school teach you how to put a condom on a banana and we’ll all pretend that no one in the world ever has sex. After I discovered John Paul II’s theology of the body I wished my parents had made a bigger deal of explaining human sexuality and why abstinence is important. That was probably a big factor in the way I interpreted the motivations of the fathers and daughters in the article.

    But the concept of sex being dirty, or a person being somehow less worthy of dignity after losing their virginity, or even that boys and girls have different rules didn’t cross my mind. I imagine that if I were born in a different generation or a different area of the country, I would have been brought up with those ideas.

    So getting back to the media, is there anything a journalist can do to better convey the motivations of the people involved in the story? Or will us readers always fill in the missing details with our own pre-existing ideas about their motives?

  • Laura

    Brian, let me just say, I agree with you completely. Anyway, Like most readers here, I found the idea all right. I’d like it if a man vowed to protect my purity, but I think I’d like it more from a man I was dating. As a Catholic, it’s what I want to see from someone I’m involved with because I would want to do the same for him. Men are just as worthy of our protection and defense of their purity and ability to be chaste around us as women are. The thing about the wedding-ring moment and the flowers and such really does seem a bit creepy. I mean, I get candy and a nice card from my father on Valentine’s day, but that’s it. Also, I’m glad to see that there is an emfacis on working with sons and their fathers and mothers, though I’d like to see men stand up and teach their sons about chastity and about being a man. Remember boys, how you feel about your baby sister going out on a date with a guy, well, that girl you’re taking out, she’s someone’s sister or daughter too.

  • Harris

    What made the event so creepy was its relative scale — it was sort of small. People were flying in for the event, and still there were only 63 fathers (150 total). Scale and setting suggest an elite status (a favorite NYT subject), further reiterated by the founder’s connection as a national director with the Family Research Council.

    Also rather creepy, was the idea that news of this ball was spread by word of mouth. That also suggests a whole lot of social networking.

    What we have is a story whose subtext is power and money. In that, it is little different from those about developments on the upper West Side.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    A very high percentage of good comments in this one.

    Also, special thanks to Neela Banerjee’s kind note offering some clarification and, as I did, noting that the story and the final line were subject to interpretation.

    Obviously, the whole issue of patriarchy is a big part of this and that is a valid subject for coverage and debate.

    Michael’s comment is also dead-on accurate. The question is whether one finds moral equivalence between vows/Purity Balls and honor killings/arranged marriages, etc. I know that Michael does not. However, one view of this issue is to see all of these religious beliefs and behaviors as part of one sliding scale.

    I dare-say, however, that faced with a fine story about a Muslim community doing a similar event, in a more American, moderate style, the folks at “On Faith” and elsewhere would not have been quite as creeped out.

    It is clear that the issue is linked to the public advocacy of ancient doctrines that sex outside of marriage is sin and, thus, bad in the short and long terms. Of course these families believe in the defense of other virtues. This event simply focuses special attention on one side of a modern crisis that has been identified by writers on left (See “Reviving Ophelia”) and right — that daughters are uniquely hurt when their fathers are absent, unfaithful and unloving.

    Are parallel efforts taking place with young men? Of course. Will those creep out many of the same journalists and readers? Of course.

    The question is whether any of this leads to biased, unfair, inaccurate coverage.

  • danr

    Most of the sparse quotes were from the Wilson family who’d originated this ball. I might’ve liked to have seen more quotes from the attendees, especially from the daughters. To me it seems sexist and paternalistic to assume that these girls lack the age, maturity, and autonomy to speak for themselves.

    Perhaps they wanted to come, as much (or more) than their fathers? Perhaps they appreciated their father’s attendance as an expression of *healthy* care and protectiveness over their daughters? Moreover, perhaps more than a few fathers were prodded by the mothers to attend? We just don’t know.

  • http://bethaniqua.blogspot.com Bethany

    Brian: I don’t think I’ve ever engaged someone so successfully on this topic. Thanks for explaining where you’re coming from.

    Regarding your media question, I thought Banjeree’s article was pretty well done on this front, and mostly because she allowed these fathers to explain their motivation. I’ll always be creeped out by the patriarchy, but this article helped me to see these fathers as sincere people trying to do the right thing.

  • Chris Todd

    Can I ask why it is that anything patriarchial is automatically considered a bad thing while matriarchial attention and actions are assumed to be only nurturing? Am I the only person who sees a lot of evidence that the primary sin of most fathers is not being involved enough in their children’s lives while the besetting sin of mothers is being too involved? I work in a female-dominated profession (nursing) and hear a lot of women expressing their exasperation at their mother’s continuing interference and attempted domination of their lives? So why is “patriarchial” a perjorative term and “matriarchial” not?

  • http://t-hype.blogspot.com t-hype

    Probably because the word “patriarchal” was marinated in radical feminism until it had a distinctive stench attached to it…

  • Brian Walden

    Danr said:

    Most of the sparse quotes were from the Wilson family who’d originated this ball. I might’ve liked to have seen more quotes from the attendees, especially from the daughters. To me it seems sexist and paternalistic to assume that these girls lack the age, maturity, and autonomy to speak for themselves.

    What from the article makes you think that these girls weren’t making decisions for themselves? I didn’t see it describe anyone who looked like they weren’t having a good time or were forced to be there. When I was in high shcool and college I thought I was mature enough to make sexual decisons for myself, but looking back on it I wasn’t. I lacked the tools to make good decisions.

    If this dance was just a statement of fathers to say, “You’re my little girl and I won’t let you grow up,” then I’d agree that’s creepy and probably not helpful for the daughters. But if this is part of a movement for men to embrace their roles as husbands and fathers (which far too few of us do) and empower their children with a proper understanding of their sexuality so that they can make mature decisions, then while the event may be a little over the top it’s not particularly creepy in my opinion.

    We can’t really tell from the article, nor should we probably expect to since the it really only intended to cover that single event. A follow up article that takes a broader look at the movement might be helpful, but I don’t know if there’d be enough interest in that to make it worth the column space.

  • danr

    “What from the article makes you think that these girls weren’t making decisions for themselves?”

    Nothing at all, Brian – you read the opposite meaning from what I intended in my comments. It’s precisely because I believe they were making decisions for themselves that I would have like to read quotes regarding the basis of those decisions. It’s the article’s silence that I take issue with.

    Otherwise, I agree with pretty much everything you wrote.

  • Brian Walden

    Oh I see, you meant, “To me it seems sexist and paternalistic [of readers] to assume that these girls lack the age, maturity, and autonomy to speak for themselves” and not that the fathers were being sexist by not allowing their daughters to speak for themselves. Sorry for misunderstanding you.

  • Dave

    tmatt wrote:

    I dare-say, however, that faced with a fine story about a Muslim community doing a similar event, in a more American, moderate style, the folks at “On Faith” and elsewhere would not have been quite as creeped out.

    You’d be wrong about this “elsewhere” creep-out reaction.

    Chris Todd wrote:

    Can I ask why it is that anything patriarchial is automatically considered a bad thing while matriarchial attention and actions are assumed to be only nurturing?

    Most of history and legend is about patriarchal societies making and glorifying war, capturing women, enslaving peoples, etc. We don’t have a similar record of matriarchal societies. This led some people to believe that things would be better if women were in charge. Such people have to explain the reigns of Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, etc. (When they try to do so, they say the nature of the leadership role forces women to behave like men. But the same excuse is available for men; the nature of the role forces them to behave like leaders.)

  • Tonya

    Why is it so hard for our society to condone a father spending time with his daughter? If more dads (and Moms) would actually take the time to be with their children we would have a whole different society. I grew up in a home where my dad and I had a monthly father-daughter date. Whether it was for ice cream of simply a trip to town to window shop. The whole point of the exercise is to spend time with your child and let them know you love and care about them and their ideas and decisions and to spend time discussing things that are often not easy to discuss in a family with younger siblings around. Why is this even a topic of discusion in our society? Are we that perverted that we would see this as wrong?

  • Dave

    Tonya:

    We readers haven’t been asked whether we “condone” fathers spending time with their daughters. We were asked whether we felt the same creepiness factor about a specific ceremony involving fathers and daughters that others report. Don’t read too much into it.

  • Kirk

    I am creeped out. It’s not that I object to the paternalism, but I find it unseemly for a father to directly address his daughter’s sexuality. Call me old fashioned, or even Old Testament.

    The matter brings to mind the exchange between Rachel and her father Laban from Genesis 31:34-5: “Now Rachel had taken the household idols, put them in the camel’s saddle, and sat on them. And Laban searched all about the tent but did not find them. And she said to her father, ‘Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is with me.’ And he searched but did not find the household idols.” I imagine Laban turning a bright shade of red when his daughter mentioned her monthly period.

    Society expects our fathers to be paternalistic; only we expect them to address the matter with the daughters’ suitors, and not with the daughter expressly. For instance, when the boy arrives to pick up the daughter for a first date, the father could be cleaning his guns at the kitchen table. Remember the late John Ritter’s sitcom, Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter? It was all about the modern paternalistic approach.

  • http://none Grizzly Bear Mom

    Faithful dads aren’t creepy. Mine sent such a good example of Christianity in morality, care for the poor, loving my mom and us kids, etc that I insisted on that level of behavior in other men. I’m still single (by choice) at 47. (In contrast, my cousins and nieces who lacked a dad got knocked up by creeps.) But vowing to be the authority and covering over their daughters’ (but not their son’s) VIRGINITY seems anacronistic. Are they going to lock them in the house? Are their daughters’ stupid? Why are they so obsessed with their daughters’ purity? Additionally the standard for Christianity is only chastity, not viriginity, for all non marrieds. Few would meet the virginity standard in 2008.

  • Dave

    Grizzly Bear Mom asks:

    But vowing to be the authority and covering over their daughters’ (but not their son’s) VIRGINITY seems anacronistic. [...]Why are they so obsessed with their daughters’ purity?

    This is what some of us mean by “patriarchal.” In a patriarchy the virginity of a daughter is a valued possession, to be handed over to the right man intact. A son is expected to become a man through, among other things, sowing some wild oats.

    These are not the values proclaimed by the organizers of the father-daughter dance in question. But the old patriarchal values shine through the emperor’s new clothes. Thus, creepy.

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  • dave

    How many dads of teens are out there?
    I am one, and I see no problem with a father promising to be there for his daughter.
    The world (as my 4 teens have shown me) is a much different place than when I was a teen. Teens can now use their camera phone to send naked pics to one another. They also have internet, tv, magazines, radio, etc.
    Being a former teen, sex was a big topic back then, and we didn’t have all this easy access to the various forms of it, and the promiscuity that exists today.
    Just a few years I would have thought it was archaic, but now that I am there, and seeing that my little angels are sometimes not so sweet, I understand where these dads are coming from. And I suppose that it’s not just the DADS either. In fact I know a couple of evangelical families whose matriarch is pressing the patriarch to be more involved and protect the daughters purity. Besides how many 16 yr olds girls listen to their mom anyways :-)