What I learned about male privilege the night I talked to my daughter about the election

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I thought I was prepared the other night, when I talked to my first-grade daughter about this year’s presidential election.

I was ready for her questions about Donald Trump—“the mean one,” as she describes him. At just six years old, she’s already discerned what has somehow eluded 40-45 percent of the American electorate: Donald Trump is a bully.

I was ready to talk about Hillary Clinton—how, if elected, she will be the first woman to serve as our president. “Yeah, yeah! Go girls!” my daughter shouted at one point in our conversation.

I was prepared to talk about what a big deal this year’s election is. I was prepared to talk about shattering the glass ceiling—because even at six years old, my daughter has already encountered the twisted, perverse notion that there are some things girls cannot do, simply because they are girls.

But I wasn’t prepared for her reaction when she asked me who I was going to vote for. I wasn’t prepared for the apprehension in her voice. I wasn’t prepared for the relief that swept across her face when I told her that, yes, I was going to vote for a woman to be our next president.

It was as if the world had already planted in her heart the idea that boys will only ever vote for boys.

I wonder where on earth she got that idea.

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I wasn’t ready for it to come up again later that evening, as we were saying goodnight. Still not fully convinced, she asked me, “Daddy, have you ever voted for a girl before?”

Thanks in part to Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan, I at least had a decent answer to my daughter’s question.

But I still wasn’t ready for what she was about to teach me.

Next, my daughter asked what it means to be president or governor—what it means to be “in charge” of an entire country or state. (As far as bedtime stalling questions go, that was a pretty good one.)

So I began to explain, using the best 6-year-old language I could think of. And without even realizing it—without meaning to—I defaulted to masculine language.

He decides what laws will be passed.

He makes sure we have good roads and schools and things like that.

He works with the leaders of other countries, to make sure we get along.

It didn’t go unnoticed. After a few seconds, my daughter corrected me:

“Or SHE, daddy.”

(For those of you who think so-called “generic masculine” language is harmless.)

There it was. My white male privilege, on full display in front of my beloved 6-year-old daughter.

I believe the term is “busted.”

Me, a supposedly enlightened “progressive.”

Me, using language that centered myself and my gender. Language that automatically assumes people in power will look exactly like I do.

My daughter noticed. And it spoke volumes to her.

White male privilege is insidious.

This sort of language—the language I used with my daughter the other night—is an essential part of how we’ve kept marginalized groups—women, blacks, the LGBTQ community—from gaining more than a few token seats at the table, if that.

If I say “he” every time I talk about our elected officials, my daughter will grow up believing leadership is a masculine trait.

If she doesn’t see women leading our churches, running our businesses, serving in the highest offices—in other words, women being “assertive” and “ambitious” and all the other things women are told they aren’t supposed to be—then nothing, NOTHING, will ever change.

To put it another way, one female president isn’t nearly enough. Our job isn’t even close to being done until the day when there is nothing remarkable about women, people of color, or members of the LGBTQ community serving as commander-in-chief. Or running a business. Or standing in a pulpit.

Why have we made so little progress advancing the cause of women and other marginalized groups? Maybe it’s because people like me are clinging to a narrative that keeps us at the center.

When I cast my ballot tomorrow, I will take one small step toward changing that. But it won’t be the last.

Top image: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

How I won’t be getting a shotgun when my daughter starts dating, after all

Yesterday Rachel Held Evans shared a question from a reader wondering how to teach her daughter modesty without giving her a complex — that is, “without it becoming about hem lines, guilt and worthlessness.”

As the parent of a 3 year-old girl, I wish I had the answer. But there’s one thing I’ve decided to stop doing, in the hopes of helping my daughter cultivate a healthy view of herself, which I shared in a comment on Rachel’s blog.

I’ve stopped making jokes about how I’m going to invest in a shotgun collection when my daughter starts dating.

Jokes like these are just a bit of fun, right? A bit of fatherly bravado masking the fact that we’re in over our heads when it comes to raising daughters? A harmless coping mechanism for dads who are secretly terrified their daughters will meet a younger version of themselves someday?

There’s a whole cottage industry selling souvenir shirts with messages like…

Guns don’t kill people…
dads with pretty daughters do

and…

D.A.D.D.
Dads Against Daughters Dating
(Shoot the first one that comes around,
and the word will spread.)

But what message are we sending our daughters when we (jokingly) threaten to shoot their boyfriends? That violence is OK? That they’re just another possession? That there’s something wrong with them if we DON’T have to fend off legions of prospective suitors?

Consider some of the responses on Rachel’s blog

“I grew up hearing that stuff, and I hated it.”

“As a teenager who never had a boyfriend, it always made me uncomfortable when family friends made jokes about the boys lining up and my parents having to fight them off… I definitely internalized the message that since the boys WEREN’T chasing after me, there was something wrong with me.”

Words — even those said in jest — mean something. Words have consequences. They shape our worldview. They impact our children’s view of themselves in ways we don’t even realize.

When my daughter hears me say I’m going to need a shotgun to fend off her future love interests, what I’m teaching her is that her body is something dangerous, something to be locked away, something to be ashamed of. I’m telling her that she’s my property and not her own person.

You may say I’m overreacting. But the fact is, for centuries women have been told they’re someone else’s property — their fathers’, their husbands’. Women have been told their bodies are something to be ashamed of, something dangerous, something to be kept under lock and key — most recently, by an evangelical purity culture which compares girls who’ve lost their virginity to cups of water contaminated by someone else’s spit.

Of course I want to protect my daughter from those who would treat her like an object. Of course I want her to make good choices about who she spends her time with and how close she allows them to get. Of course I want her to know that her worth does not depend on her willingness to flaunt her body like an Abercrombie & Fitch model.

But I also want her to know that her body isn’t something dirty or shameful. I want her to know she isn’t the property of any man — including me.

Make no mistake: the thought of my daughter dating someone someday terrifies me. But I’d rather send her into the world with a healthy view of herself than keep her locked away, while she develops a complex about her body and her sense of worth.

Which is why I won’t be investing in that shotgun collection after all.