Men Shouldn't Have To Have Daughters To Treat Women Well

In 2017, when the New York Times and The New Yorker revealed the shocking news that dozens of women had accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual abuse, actor Matt Damon sought to distance himself from the disgraced movie producer.

“As the father of four daughters,” he said, “this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night.”

No-one in the industry was surprised -- allegations of Weinstein’s predatory behaviour were Hollywood’s worst kept secret -- but more fathers of daughters stepped up to condemn the alleged abuse.  “We need to do better at protecting our friends, sisters, co-workers and daughters,” Damon’s pal, Ben Affleck, tweeted in a statement.

"As the father of daughters…" plays into the common view that the only men who care about sexism are the ones who are the parents of girls.

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Scott Morrison, in a video released on International Women’s Day in 2019, said that “as a father of daughters,” he wanted to make Australia a safe country where his girls would be free from harassment and violence. “I want them to be absolutely confident that they can chase their dreams, whatever they are, and receive the same rewards for their hard work and their beliefs and their passions as their male counterparts.”

But how about all the girls who aren’t Abbey and Lily Morrison? And if the PM was the father of sons, would he be invested in the welfare of women to the same degree?

Men calling out sexist behaviour because they wouldn’t want their daughters treated in the same way is a common refrain, and one that’s borne out by science. A recent study found that fathers of school-aged daughters ARE less sexist.

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On one level, it makes sense: when a man becomes the father of a girl, it provides him with insight into the challenges that women face in the world.

It might be the first time he’s really put himself in the shoes of a young woman -- the closest thing he’ll have to lived experience of the systemic gender discrimination women face every day (although if he’s in a heterosexual relationship he could always chat to his co-parent about her experience).

The truth is that men should want to treat women well because women are humans who deserve respect -- whether they have a daughter is irrelevant. (Image: Getty)

The ‘father of daughters’ rationale is one that I’ve used in my own world. When men I know attend bucks parties where naked women are booked as entertainment (there’s a whole other rant there), I feel outraged and disappointed, sure, but also confused. How can the fathers there who have daughters objectify and degrade women with a clear conscious? It’s not a huge step to imagine that, one day, it might be their daughters being leered at by a group of men. I just don’t get it.

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When a photo of football player Tayla Harris performing a spectacular kick was attacked by trolls on Seven’s Facebook page, the AFLW star called the trolls’ behaviour 'sexual abuse'.

“I can see…they’ve got daughters or women in their photos,” she said. “That is the stuff I'm worried about.”

The phenomenal photo of Tayla Harris. (Photo: AFL)

It’s a good point -- and one that shows just how dire things are. We shouldn’t have to implore men to stop abusing women by invoking their daughters. Why should having a daughter determine how well a man treats women?

READ MORE: AFLW Hero Tayla Harris Says The Trolling Was Like 'Sexual Abuse'

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We should be equally disappointed with all men who engage in sexist behaviour, not just the fathers of girls. An epiphany in the birthing suite when the midwife holds aloft a baby girl shouldn’t be the antidote to misogynist behaviour.

It should be clear to everyone that sexual assault, violence against women, online abuse and gender discrimination are not ok.

The flipside of the ‘father of daughters’ line is that it’s almost expected that men who don’t have daughters will engage in or endorse dodgy sexist behaviour. It’s like men have to have skin in the game in order to care about gender equality. It’s a paternalistic approach that doesn’t reflect true equality.

The truth is that men should want to treat women well because women are humans who deserve respect. Daughters -- or mothers, sisters or female friends -- shouldn’t come into the equation.