It’s the time of year when my social media starts filling up with pictures of sweet young teenagers all dressed up as they head to their homecoming dances. I love these pictures — and the beautiful memories these kids are making. Unfortunately, somewhere between the photos of ball gowns and tuxedos will be some father complaining about his baby girl growing up and making a joke about how his daughter’s boyfriend better treat her right and have her home on time — or else. The “or else” is often accompanied by a joke about a gun, just in case the threat of violence wasn’t clear.
The “father with a gun” joke has been around for years, but it was never funny. In the world we live in now, where random mass shootings occur at a terrifying rate, not only is the “joke” not funny, it’s inappropriate and potentially criminal. When these photos make their way to social media and adults laugh over them, I can’t help but wonder what message we’re sending our kids.
High-Profile Dads Get In On The ‘Joke’
When former NFL player Jay Feely posed with his daughter and her prom date while holding a handgun, he said it was only intended to be a joke.
— Jay Feely (@jayfeely) April 22, 2018
But how tone deaf do you have to be to honestly believe it’s funny to threaten to murder a young boy just because he’s accompanying your daughter to a school dance? What must you think of your daughter’s ability to make good choices for her own life?
This he-man attitude isn’t limited to former football players. Brian Kemp, a Republican candidate for governor in Georgia, feels so strongly about “protecting” his daughters from the boys they might date that he highlighted his feelings in a political commercial.
Though the spot was intended to be humorous, I don’t see anything funny about a grown man pointing a shotgun at a teenage boy, or anyone else for that matter. The irony is that Kemp is a supporter of the Second Amendment and believes in “responsible” gun ownership. How is pointing a gun at a teenager who is dating your daughter in any way a responsible act?
The Real Threat To Young Girls
As the mom of two young sons, I’m both angered and terrified of the idea of them being threatened some day by the father of a girl they date. The type of father who would threaten my son — even as a “joke” — is not someone I want my sons to be anywhere near. The type of man who thinks violence is a solution, who doesn’t see women, his daughter included, as equals with bodily autonomy and a right to make their own choices, is a bigger danger to his daughter than my son could ever be.
That kind of father sees his daughter as weak and helpless, a piece of property that he needs to guard. And really, what is with this outdated obsession with girls’ chastity? Teenage sexuality is normal, healthy and a part of life — for both girls and boys. Men who are uncomfortable with female sexuality should deal with their hang-ups on their own time and stop turning their discomfort into a violent “joke.”
It is my job to teach my sons about respect and consent and it’s something I’ve been doing since they were babies. They are only 7 and 8 years old now, but they know to ask for a hug before they put their hands on another child and to pay attention to how other people are feeling about a situation.
Consent is a two-way street and teaching my kids to respect others is best demonstrated by showing my respect for their feelings. My boys know it’s OK to say “no” when someone, including me, wants to hug or kiss them and they know no one has a right to do anything to their bodies without their consent. This isn’t rocket science, it’s basic respect for other people and it’s a lesson that starts young and continues throughout the stages of childhood and into young adulthood. I’m doing my job as a parent and it is not the responsibility of some gun-toting father to scare my sons into being respectful.
Let’s also deal with the double standard here: Young women can also be disrespectful when it comes to sexuality. Young women can pressure young men into doing things they’re not ready to do. And young women are fully responsible for their own actions and choices. And yet, if I threatened my son’s female date with a gun it would be seen as the criminal act it is.
Maybe the problem isn’t that teenage boys are running amok at homecoming. Maybe the problem is the grown men who never learned to respect women in the first place and who still think a woman’s body is something they get to control.
My message to fathers of daughters is this: Be a good role model for your daughter, show her how a man should treat women, make sure she understands consent — how to give it and how to ask for it — and knows what to do if she feels unsafe. And then back the heck off. Show your daughter you respect her bodily autonomy and her choices, including who she chooses to date.
As my sons get older, I will continue to instill in them the importance of respect and consent. I will recommend they steer clear of people who seem incapable of making their own decisions or whose parents seem overly controlling or hostile, even in a joking way. I want them to respect others, including the girls they might date, and I want the parents of the people they date to treat my children as individuals deserving of their respect rather than as the butt of some violent joke. I don’t think it’s too much to ask.