Have you seen this shirt? It has been all over the place. I shared it. I cheered. I like to think of myself as a feminist father. And I agree with the shirt, mostly.
Here's the problem with shirts and bumper stickers and sound bites. They boil everything down into a simple digestible message that, while catchy and convenient, is also easily misconstrued. I could see myself buying this shirt and wearing it proudly, only to have it come back and bite me in the ass when my 14-year-old daughter wants to create all the rules when it comes to dating. That's not going to fly.
My being a feminist father does not mean she gets to make the rules. I can just hear it now: "But dad! You have that shirt! My body, my rules. I get to ride on Snake's motorcycle without a helmet if I want to! And my curfew is now eleventy-thirty! And since that number doesn't exist, that means I never have to come home. Also, thanks for teaching me how to be a smart-ass. See you never, daddy!" VRRRROOOOOOM. And then she drives off on the back of that asshole, Snake's hover bike and I never see her again. THANKS A LOT, SHIRT!
Yes, I am exaggerating a bit. The shirt is simplifying a bit. Let's find the middle ground. Here are my rules for my daughter.
Note: These rules apply to my son, too. I am just going to refer to my daughter so I don't have to annoyingly write "her/him, they, my kids" this entire post.
1. You get to pick who you date.
Yes, even Snake. I don't even care if Snake is a boy or a girl. You get to pick. I may not like them, and I may express my concern, but I don't have veto power when it comes to who you like or love. I hope... I really hope that my opinion will still matter to you when you start dating, but I think that has more to do with my finding a way to remain relevant than your deciding that my opinion is still worth anything. I hope I love all the people you date. I hope you pick people who see strength in you and love you for it. I hope your self-esteem is a gate through which only the worthy may pass, but you and only you get the final determination of who is worthy.
2. I get to pick when you date them and for how long.
By "how long" I don't mean weeks/months/years. By "when and how long" I mean days of the week and hours of the day. You live in my house, and I am responsible for your schedule. Most of the time, your schedule will be negotiable, and you will maintain the lion's share of the control over it. But if you are slipping at school, if you are not keeping up on your share of the household responsibilities, if for some godforsaken reason you decide to become a Bears fan, your schedule belongs to me and Snake will have to stand outside your window with a boom box.
3. You get to use me as an excuse.
In high school I had a girl tell me she was breaking up with me because she didn't want to disappoint her father. I was being too forward and she said no (not sex, but kissing, hugging, etc.). I was respectful, but bitter. I hated her dad for a long time for "oppressing" her. Years later I found out that they just had a deal that she could use him as an out any time she needed him. They were that close. I hope we can be that close.
You can kiss whomever you want. I don't care. But if you are in a situation that you don't feel comfortable in, and you want to blame your "oppressive asshole dad" for needing to leave or break up or whatever, go right ahead. I have been called an asshole for much worse reasons. I know that emotional honesty is a better way to go, but handsy teenagers aren't always the best with emotional honesty.
4. You have to listen to me when we talk about sex, or at least pretend to listen.
You have to sit down. You have to respond. You can be embarrassed. You can blush and bury your face in your hands when I say things like fallopian tubes and labia and... OK, I won't say labia. I don't know why I would need to say labia. The point is, we're going to talk about sex before you start dating, when you start dating, and after you start dating. It isn't going to be a taboo subject in our house. It isn't going to be something that we are ashamed of, but it IS going to be something I ask you to respect. Sex is a big deal. It is a bond between you and another human being. It has the power to begin the ULTIMATE bond between you and another human being. It is our responsibility as parents to teach you about sex, its benefits AND its risks. It's your responsibility to decide what you do with that information. Which brings me to the last rule, and back to the T-shirt.
5. Your body. Your rules.
When it comes to who touches you, when it comes to sex, you get to decide. Your mom and I can't exert control in this area, even if we wanted to. Our influence and reach ends at number 4. I hope that we do a good enough job between now and whenever you decide to take that step that it will be a decision you feel comfortable with, with a person you feel comfortable with, but most of all I just want it to be YOUR decision. Don't let anyone take that away from you. Not me, not your mom, and definitely not Snake.
I don't know if these rules make me a feminist father. I'm sure I contradict myself somewhere within, or I will when the realities of raising a teenager become more apparent. Like Whitman said: "Do I contradict myself? Very well then . . . . I contradict myself; I am large . . . . I contain multitudes."
I just want my daughter to know that while I do not view myself as the protector of her chastity, I do view myself as the protector of her. And her brother. It's my job. Not because I am a male, but because I am a parent.
Note: I reserve the right to amend or add to these rules as needed when I have to deal with an actual, live teenager. It's nice to dream, though.