A while ago, I shared my thoughts about the cultural acceptance of fathers controlling their daughters, but really, controlling their vaginas. As offensive as that paternalistic behavior is, it appears that in some families, the sexist clamp around a girl’s sexuality is controlled by an older brother or two.
Take for example this description I found on Facebook written by a mother:
My daughter is going to have such a thick skin as she grows up having older brothers. If they think she isn’t dressed appropriately enough they tell her to go change. If she has put on too much of my makeup, they tell her it looks terrible and to go wash it off. They pick & choose which of her friends would make a good husband. God bless the first boy who asks her on a date. (Edited for clarity.)
For starters, it seems as though this woman is bragging about the (future) resilience of her daughter and the thoughtfulness of her sons. And sure, reasonable people can see threads of resilience and thoughtfulness in that description, but there is a lot more there.
There is the assumption that it is acceptable for males to tell females how to dress.
There is the assumption that it is acceptable for males to tell females that they look terrible.
There is the assumption that it is acceptable for males to tell females who they can befriend.
(Side note: my conclusion that these assumptions are “acceptable” comes from the mother not chiding the boys on their behavior.)
There is also, inherent in the mother’s description, this little girl changing her clothing, washing her face, and limiting her friendships due to her brothers’ interventions.
This little girl, thanks to all of the redirection/correction/criticism she received at home from her brothers, will end up with “a thick skin,” which will serve her well but might cause an obstacle or two with “the first boy who asks her on a date.”
(I won’t even get into the assumptions about how this girl is/will be heterosexual despite the mother’s foregone conclusion of that “fact.”)
What is really happening is a life-long set-up for this little girl to comply, comport, and model herself not in the image that she creates, but within the parameters of what these intimate male family members have decided–on her behalf–is acceptable. This little girl will be stuck with the constant need to seek the approval of boys/men thanks to a homegrown culture of “you’re not meeting my standards,” which just so happen to be male standards. (And heterosexual ones to boot.)
Why must we do this to her?
Why do we sit passively (or even share widely on Facebook) as our sons assert their male privilege over our daughters?
It’s not right.
No matter how resilient and thoughtful it seems on the surface, it is an ugly preservation of the status quo, one where the boy/men tell the girls/women how to navigate through the world.
Our girls deserve better, as do our boys.