Does He Treat You Right?

Does He Treat You Right? June 8, 2014

In my previous post, I wrote about cultural messaging regarding how fathers should respond to their daughters dating both displays an utter lack of trust of young women and a normalization of violence toward other males. Two readers, however, pointed out that this messaging also portrays males as inherently sexual predators and thugs.

Reader Nathaniel put it like this:

I’ve been lucky enough to have grown in a community that never had anyone say something like this to me. Still pisses me off because it assumes I am a sexual predator just because I have a penis. Fuck those people.

Reader Abby Normal added this:

As a mom of two boys who may be dating girls in the future, this stuff squicks me out, too. My boys are sweet, intelligient, *individuals*, and I am doing my best to raise them to be kind and respectful of everyone, male and female alike. I don’t relish the notion of some gun-crazy twerp assuming that my boy’s a thug.

In other words, not only does this type of thinking display a distrust of young women in being capable of making their own relationship choices, it also displays a profound distrust of young men, and a tendency to treat young men as threats rather than individuals. (Ironically, this is also what feminists are sometimes accused of.)

I actually have some fairly strong memories of how it felt to be on the receiving end of this messaging vis a vis young men. As a teen, I was told that the boys around me only ever thought about one thing and were only ever after one thing. The problem was, I had no idea what this “one thing” was, my sex education was so bad. The result was that I viewed guys my age with trepidation and fear. I remember wondering what this thing was, this “one thing” that made the guys around me so dangerous and explosive that my father would speak of them the way he did.

Patriarchal males defend their efforts to control their daughters’ sexuality and relationship choices by painting young men as dangerous and untrustworthy. This is the case whether it be “bible-based” patriarchy or simply the inescapable patriarchy of our culture. In a culture where males vie with other males to protect their property (in whatever form), this makes sense. Other males are a threat. But we no longer live in that culture. Other males are only a threat when men view their daughters as their property.

But wait, you say! What about abusive relationships? What about domestic relationships? Yes, these things happen. And you know what else happens? The reverse. Why not teach children of both gender healthy relationship skills, prep them on warning signs that a relationship has gone south, and equip them with tools to leave or stand up for themselves? I don’t just want to protect my daughter Sally—I want to protect my son Bobby too.

Growing up, there was a lot of talk about how any guy worthy of me would have to prove himself by making it past my father. In other words, my father was portrayed as some sort of scary test a young man interested in a relationship with me would have to pass. Looking back, I now realize that the biggest test Sean had to pass was not my father but rather respecting the physical boundaries I set. The real test was that Sean cared enough about me to put his own desires second to my needs.

I remember telling a sympathetic aunt about my father’s rules and the ways he attempted to control my relationship with Sean, even though I was twenty years old, living away from home, and attending college. My aunt was taken aback. She told me that her own father had asked her only two questions when she became serious with my uncle—Do you love him? Does he treat you right?

Does he treat you right. 

Frankly, that completely took me aback. My parents never said anything like that. I mean, I suppose the implication was that any guy who would not treat me right would not make it past my father. This is, of course, false, but my parents so trusted that it was true that they never felt the need to teach me to ask myself this simple question. The focus was on whether a suitor had the correct theology, or the right political persuasions, or the proper view of the family.

I plan to teach both Sally and Bobby to ask themselves this as they begin forming relationships of their own, someday. And alongside that, I will teach them to ask themselves whether they treat their significant other right. There is a long spectrum that stretches from healthy relationships to abusive ones, and can be easy to slip into negative patterns on all sides. Romance is real life, not a fairy tale.

And you know what? Teaching young people to assess the healthy of their own relationships based on how each treats the other makes oh so much more sense than making the gun-toting father the gatekeeper of his daughter’s vagina.


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