Written by Lily Harrison
Graphic by Paris Robson
CW: sexual assault
We all know that men seem to just have *the audacity*: a quality apparently inherent to the fabric of the straight-white-male biology. A thread of a personality that never ceases to leave everyone else in an expressionless awe (though never unsurprised). Whether it be that within Australia’s ASX200 companies, there are more CEOs named Andrew than women altogether, or Tony Abbott taking it upon himself to be minister for both Women’s and Indigenous affairs because he has met like one person from either demographic and therefore is the best person to make decisions for these communities (yep, he’s just that good), men never fail to inform us of their unsolicited opinions on matters that don’t especially pertain to them.
But what does shock me to my core is the choice line of pacifying reassurance that is currently echoing around the country. Hell, we’re hearing it in boardrooms and media releases and political spaces around the world. It’s okay everyone: this man, who by all accounts completely disregards the safety of and respect deserved by women, has a wife. He may even have daughters. Women everywhere can sleep easy knowing their rights are protected by the possibility that men in positions of power might have a daughter and care about her wellbeing. Even better if he possesses an imagination and can project beyond his own minutia to acknowledge that other people also probably have daughters, because then if something awful happens to a woman, he might be reminded that she is in fact someone’s daughter and maybe (just maybe) deserves a moment of his time.
I’m sure you know what I’m referring to. But just in case you did happen to miss the personal breakthrough making memes and news reels across the nation, Morrison’s response to the allegations brought forward by Brittany Higgins, hard truths that brought Australian women together in vast waves of black anger, grief and trauma: “Jenny and I spoke last night, and she said to me, ‘You have to think about this as a father first. What would you want to happen if it were our girls?’ – Jenny has a way of clarifying things, always has.” And I have to ask you, when did empathy become obsolete? When did we decide that the Prime Minister has to think as a father first and not as a leader of our country, an advocate for our people, a human?
In July 2020, U.S. Senator Yoho called Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez a “fucking bitch”outside Senate and in typical fashion apologised without actually taking any responsibility for his actions or words. He even went so far as to excuse his blatant disrespect for women by way of having “been married for 45 years with two daughters”.Please don’t anyone get upset — he’s just passionate, and besides, he fathered two women so how could he ever, ever be accused of mistreating one?
In October 2020, 13 Australian women travelling through Doha’s Hamad International Airport had their genitals examined by Qatari authorities without proper consent or explanation. And did Morrison see this as a violation of basic and universal human rights? No. He saw the issue as a father: “it was appalling… as a father of daughters, I could only shudder at the thought that anyone would… be subjected to that.”
And after allegations came out against Harvey Weinstein, men were literally tripping over each other to tell the press that they are fathers. Of daughters, no less. “As a father of four daughters”Matt Damon struggles to sleep at night thinking about it, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo? Well, he’s “a father of three daughters”,so we all know he definitely had some empathetic thoughts.
And it’s not that acknowledging these issues isn’t a start; these men are in powerful positions, they should care. We want them to care. I just can’t help but think that maybe they should care not because of how many daughters they have, but because they’re human and they have real empathy for all the women who are suffering.
I hate to break it to you, but late-night chats with Jenny and imagination are no substitute for an appalling empathy deficit and apparent lack of humanity. The idea that men should aspire to be good men, to do better simply because they are fathers, is not gonna cut it. Did you know that there is actually no research to confirm that having daughters makes men less sexist? As AOC said in her legendary response to Yoho’s… well I’m not even going to pretend it was an apology, “having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.”
Parenthood is no guarantee of empathy. Nor should it be central to anyone’s capacity to feel compassion. The “as a father of daughters” response is a symptom of sexism, a reflection of our tendency as a culture to frame women in the context of their relationships with men. It’s time that men take responsibility for the epidemic of violence against women, and start caring not because the next woman could be their daughter, or their sister, or their wife, and start caring but because women are people. Heaven forbid our next Prime Minister not be a father of daughters. Then how would he ever relate to the needs of women?