Ferrett Steinmetz and Daughter
At a recent panel following a screening of the new Amanda Seyfried film Lovelace, Gloria Steinem spoke out against excessive parental control over young women’s intimate lives: “I have always, always said that children must be allowed to disobey.” For weeks, I turned this comment over in my head. How does what we learn from our parents during our young adult years effect our ideas on gender and sexuality? Our romantic behavior? Our sense of worth?
This week, a debate on this very topic took the internet by storm. Recently, a man named Chuck Swindoll gave a broadcast entitled “10 Rules for Dating My Daughter.” In this warning against his daughter’s potential suiters, Swindoll takes the idea of the protective father a little too far, implying a creepy level of personal ownership over her: “I want. . . an indication of when you expect to have my daughter safely back in my house [italics mine].” In the first rule, he goes so far as to jokingly compare her to a package: “If you pull into my driveway and honk, you’d better be delivering a package, ’cause you’re sure not picking anything up.” The message of the list is clear: stay away from my daughter. It refuses to take into account his daughter’s own romantic desires. In his mind, sexual and romantic activity is something he must protect her from, not something she herself might someday desire.
This week, a blogger named Ferrett Steinmetz found Swindoll’s “rules” and addressed the latter’s claim over his daughter’s body in a startling and courageous letter that is designed to let his own adult daughter know that she and she alone has ownership over her romantic and intimate life. Steinmetz writes, “You’re not me. Nor are you an extension of my will.” The letter has garnered mixed reactions: some find it empowering and sex-positive while others are uncomfortable with the idea of a father allowing (encouraging, even) his daughter to embrace her sexuality. Many commentators have found the letter “creepy.” Of course it’s awkward, and Steinmetz acknowledges that, but in my opinion, the letter is an ode to unconditional parental love and acceptance.
The blatant avoidance of female sexuality in today’s culture is shocking, and Swindoll’s “rules” are a symptom of that. Not allowing for female sexual desire and making potential lovers out to be predators is dangerous: women should not be raised to feel that consensual, nurturing sex is a violence. If women are led to believe that sex is something to be robbed from them, not an act of mutual pleasure with the potential to be an expression of love, female sexual desire can lead to feelings of confusion and guilt. Sex isn’t necessarily a humiliating act for a woman, and as Steinmetz boldly writes, “It doesn’t degrade lessen you to give someone else pleasure. It doesn’t degrade you to have some of your own.”
As soon as we allow sex to be nothing more than a dirty, degrading thing for womankind, we enter a realm where women feel ashamed and guilty for their bodies, their sexuality. Ferrett Steinmetz’s letter is sex-positive in that it allows for his daughter to explore her intimate life without fear of his disapproval or rejection. On the contrary, she will always be his “darling,” and he suggests that consensual sexual activity with a loving partner can be as nurturing and safe as “play.” And if she gets her heart broken, Steinmetz’s daughter will always have a safe, Edenic place to return to: “Ideally, I am my daughter’s safe space, a garden to return to when the world has proved a little too cruel, there is someone who loves her wholeheartedly.” She is not an Eve to be protected from the outside world and expelled if she tastes of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Rather, she is a woman entitled to her own exploration, a woman who will never be expelled from her parents’ love.
Despite its mixed reviews, I find Steinmetz’s letter brave and moving. I am encouraged by the fact that more parents today feel comfortable enough to tell their daughters about physically and emotionally safe sexual activity, as mine did. I am grateful that less women today are made to feel guilty or confused about wanting intimate love, that more women are, as Steinem might put it, “allowed to disobey” without fear of shame. For generations, fathers have embraced their sons’ sexual “prowess,” so why aren’t daughters entitled to the same level of support without it being considered “creepy?” No person but the woman herself should ever be allowed to dictate what a woman does with her own body, be it a father, a mother, a lover, or anyone else, and every woman is entitled to her own choices. What do you think of Steinmetz’s letter? Does it make you feel empowered or does it give you the willies? Share below :).
Thanks to The Good Men Project, Tracy Clark-Flory, and The Salon
Photo via The Good Men Project