In their efforts to explain how their own life story relates to what they want to do, so many politicians attempt to make the personal political. The expectation is that by humanizing themselves, they will become more likable, but the reality is that they tend to use platitudes rather than compelling stories. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is something of an anomaly in that he frequently makes light of his origins as the “son of a bus driver”
His daughters are one of Rishi Sunak’s favorite points of reference. Back in July 2022, he said that “as a father of two girls” he wanted them to feel safe walking at night. In November of 2016, the prime minister told electors he had taken safety for granted and desired for his daughters to be able to walk safely to school. As a father, he wrote in April, “as a father, women’s rights are important to me”.
And last week, he posted on social media about the gunshot death of a nine-year-old girl in Liverpool: “As a father of two daughters, I shared the nation’s shock and grief at Olivia Pratt-Korbel’s murder.” That last one is peculiar. Everyone agrees that the assassination of a child is repugnant. No parenthood experience is necessary to comprehend this. Thus, it contributes to the impression that Sunak may be using fatherhood as a vote-winning tactic rather than a genuine explanation for why things are important to him.
But Sunak has been criticized long before this latest gaffe, as have other males who have referenced their paternity when discussing violence against women, for instance in the context of #MeToo. Men should not have to reference their relationships with their daughters when discussing women’s safety and sex equality, the argument goes. They ought to be naturally concerned with these goals, and to evoke fatherhood is to patronize and devalue women.
Certainly, it can be done clumsily and used to conceal a man’s own shortcomings on this front. However, I do not believe there is anything inherently wrong with males, whether they be politicians or not, discussing equality through the lens of their daughters’ lives. In addition, calling them out on it is likely to be counterproductive because, outside of the Twitter cocoon, it is likely how some males acquire more enlightened views on the subject.
Fathers of school-aged daughters are less likely to support traditional gender norms, according to a 2019 analysis of longitudinal data from the United Kingdom. The opposite was true for mothers of daughters. The researchers also discovered that families with school-aged daughters are less likely to adopt the traditional male provider model, where the father works and the mother remains at home.
This does not shock me. Having daughters does not magically transform chauvinistic swine into equality activists. The intensely unconditional nature of parental love could force a person to see the world through the eyes of another in a way that is not possible in other relationships.
If a man’s route to rejecting misogyny is through his daughters, rather than being ridiculed, this should be celebrated.
This is not a one-way street; having sons can also alter a mother’s outlook. I recall an event that occurred in 2018, a few months after the Harvey Weinstein scandal emerged. One courageous woman raised her hand and expressed concern for the future of her sons in light of #MeToo and the demand that we believe only women’s accounts. I must admit that, in my fury over society’s failure to combat sexual harassment, I was unprepared to hear her argument.
Since then, I’ve reflected on what she said, and I now believe that the fact that she was a mother accelerated her arrival at the same conclusion as mine. Today, I’d concede that consent isn’t always as black-and-white as it should be, and that there could be situations between young people in which a woman has not consented to a sexual act but a man believes she has.
Exploring the Nuances of Consent and Empathy in the Context of Gender Dynamics
Recently, I had a fascinating conversation with a defence attorney about why the rape conviction rate was so low; she said that one under-discussed factor was that, in order to secure a rape conviction, prosecutors must prove not only that a complainant did not consent, but also that the defendant had no reasonable belief that the complainant was consenting. In other words, the law permits a scenario in which a woman did not consent but a man could have reasonably believed that she did (the word “reasonably” is crucial), and juries can believe a woman’s account, sympathize with her, and yet not convict a defendant of rape.
Since then, I’ve spoken with other female acquaintances who have admitted that they worry about their adolescent sons misreading a situation, perhaps involving a lot of alcohol, with dire consequences. The majority of sexual assaults are committed on purpose by males. Obviously, the solution is not to disbelieve women. To prevent sexual assault from occurring in the first place, we must educate boys and girls on what consent – a culturally and legally defined phenomenon that involves context and non-verbal as well as verbal indicators – entails. To pretend that consent is straightforward is to fail young people of both sexes; to leave a vacuum is to enable harmful messages from porn culture to occupy it.
It does not diminish the fact that women and girls suffer so much violence at the hands of some men to acknowledge that men and women must negotiate distinct and challenging issues. I suspect that a portion of the opposition to fathers using their daughters as a reference point in discussions about equality stems from the human propensity to divide the world into fixed tribes of good and evil. How dare he not understand until then?
But parenting a child can help men and women view the world in a manner that fosters empathetic feelings for members of the opposite sex, and we should embrace that.
Source: The Guardian