It was a dangerous part of town we were driving through a couple of days ago, on our way from the university on the north side of the city to the friend’s home in the country to the south. And I thought, because I have the kind of father’s mind that leaps to invent reasons to worry, of the rough places our eldest daughter had lived and worked, in this country and in Africa. I said a quick prayer for her and felt slightly better.
Recently, the governor of Ohio, John Kasich, responded to a young woman’s worries about being sexually assaulted on campus by saying all the right things and adding that having two 16-year-old daughters, he didn’t even like to think about it. Every father will know what he meant. (I am not, I should make clear, a Kasich supporter.)
She responded, “It’s sad, but it’s something that I have to worry about.” Kasich answered: “Well, I would give you, I’d also give you one bit of advice, don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol. OK? Don’t do that.”
The political and ideological opportunists leapt in, reading from the standard liberal script that men blame women for being raped, from which some moved to the necessity for unrestricted abortion and funding Planned Parenthood. Their button had been pushed.
Some men do blame women. We shouldn’t underestimate the amount of thoughtless chauvinism and real misogyny in the world. It is an expression of original sin, which began with the alienation of the sexes and has only gotten worse. As a father, I see this. Many men wish my daughters, because they are young women who can be depersonalized and made objects, ill. I want them protected from these men. Kasich wasn’t blaming women. He was speaking as a father.
It’s a Fallen World
It’s a fallen world, and in a fallen world you can’t always do what you want. A young woman at a party with young testosterone-laden men who have no belief in chastity, whose sexual instincts have been formed by pornography, who may be used to “success” in sexual pursuits, who are drinking heavily, that young woman is in some degree of danger. The later correct assignment of moral responsibility for a crime committed against her does not protect her from being raped then.
That’s the reality. One shouldn’t have to say that, but in a world in which sexual matters have been so ideologized, you have to point out what actually happens in the world. My daughters are not just “women,” they are two particular young women I love with all my heart, persons with God-given human dignity, who should be treated well and kept from harm — and who must, in this world, do something to keep themselves from harm.
I have warned them about such situations and about the tendency we all have to believe we can control the situations into which we place ourselves when we often can’t. I did such things in my youth and thank God now that my stupidity didn’t cost me or others. I want my daughters to be safer than I was, because they’re also more vulnerable than I was. I’m not saying, not in a million years, that if some brutish male attacks them at such parties that they are guilty. I’m not saying that the attack is their fault.
I’m only saying that every adult must weigh the dangers and costs of anything she does, for her own sake and the sake of those who care about her. That’s simple maturity. The grown-up takes note of the world around her and adjusts her life accordingly. She knows that the world is so arranged that she can’t do anything she wants to do. Of course it’s not fair, but you can’t change the unfairness by ignoring the reality.
Camille Paglia explains this well. “Women will always be in sexual danger,” she says in a newspaper article republished in her book Sex, Art and American Culture. She describes the night one of her male students spent in the great pyramids, a night she clearly would have loved to have had herself.
Then she said, “I will never experience that. I am a woman. I am not stupid enough to believe I could ever be safe there. There is a world of solitary adventure I will never have. Women have always known these somber truths.”
Fathers Know These Truths
Fathers know these somber truths too. They have to compete with the ideologues in getting their daughters to recognize these truths. The liberal ideological script makes articulating common sense needlessly hard. It flatters them and promises them the moon.
But so does the conservative version. This says that whatever liberals and feminists say is wrong and therefore the misogyny they warn about doesn’t really exist, that it’s all part of the liberals’ ginned-up “war against women.” This also ignores certain somber truths about male brutishness. It winds up in the same place as the liberal script: encouraging young women to deny the reality of the world in which they live and thereby endangering themselves.
My daughters: Ignore these people. Just don’t go to parties where there’s a lot of alcohol, ok?
[Editor’s Note: Take the Daily Poll — Growing Up Female in a Fallen World]
David Mills, former executive editor of First Things, is a senior editor of The Stream, editorial director for Ethika Politika and columnist for several Catholic publications. His latest book is Discovering Mary. Follow him on Twitter @DavidMillsWrtng.