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Daddy Issues: My Two Dads And The Policing of Young Women’s Sexuality

Nicole stands between her two dads. All are smiling.I used to love My Two Dads. To recap, or in case you (shocked face) never saw it: the show was about two  single, straight Manhattan bachelors who were given joint custody of 12-year old Nicole after her mom/their joint ex-girlfriend died. Living with just one mom, I was fascinated by a show that centered around a girl's relationship with her two fathers. Except I re-watched some of it recently, and it's not about that at all.

I don't have exact stats, but it seems like the vast majority of shows and movies about single and stay-at-home dads feature a father-daughter dynamic. This could lead to some interesting explorations of what it means to parent a child with a different gender to your own in our patriarchal society. But most often, it's a way to reinforce society's discomfort with young women's sexuality.

Lots of scenes throughout My Two Dads' three year run invite us to laugh at but ultimately empathize with Michael and Joey (uptight dad and artist dad, respectively) as they fight to protect Nicole's "innocence". When she goes on her first date with Corey (a baby-faced Giovanni Ribisi) to a movie, Joey advises her: "The armrest is where the battle is won or lost." Michael agrees, chiming in with: "He tries anything, I know where he lives." Nicole later has her first kiss with the show's heartthrob, Zach, but isn't confident in her technique, so her more experienced friend Shelby ends up pushing Nicole and her old pal Corey together... and they fall onto her bed just as Joey and Michael walk in. The situation is completely PG, but Nicole's dads overreact as if she were hosting an underage orgy. And they're not the only ones.

To give just a few examples: Suburgatory starts with a father moving his 15-year old daughter to upstate New York from the city after he finds an (unopened) packet of condoms in her room. Luke on Gilmore Girls freaks out when April is invited to her first boy-girl party, horrified at the thought of her kissing someone. In 10 Things I Hate About You, the OB/Gyn single dad is so scared of his 16-year old daughter having sex that he makes her wear a baby belly around the house before she goes on her first date. Most ridiculously, when Three Men And A Little Lady's Mary, five, asks what a penis is, Tom Selleck announces: "She's susceptible to the outside world now. Boys, sex…"

This dynamic even plays out when the father figure is a paid babysitter. In the Charles in Charge pilot (admittedly the only episode I could stand to watch) our eponymous hero tries to woo his new ladyfriend while also supervising two boys and (his biggest focus) making sure his teenage charge Lila doesn't have sex with the guy she's doing homework with.

These shows and movies succeed (to whatever extent they do) due to their audience buying into these men's concerns. Often — in pop culture, as in life — these are attributed to the threat of pregnancy or vague protestations about girls "growing up too fast", but they really reflect a discomfort with the idea of girls (and what's more, women) having sexual agency. There's no discussion in the My Two Dads first date episode of the fact that Nicole might want Corey to kiss her or hold her hand — or that she might even want to initiate this contact herself.

Clementine Ford wrote a brilliant piece about the outrage that erupted following a 2009 Oprah episode in which sex therapist Laura Berman advised mothers to buy vibrators for their teenage girls. While not all of the feedback was negative, there were apparently some apoplectic responses which suggested that encouraging young women to be the masters of their domain would lead to an unquenchable obsession with sex.

Writes Ford: "It's impossible for some people to believe that girls can actually engage with their sexuality, can seek out sexual experiences willingly and responsibly and without risk of permanent psychological damage. ...At every turn girls are told that their sexuality comes from without rather than within, and they must choose wisely which brave knight gets to scale their ivory towers lest the opening of their Pandora's boxes wreak havoc upon the world."

I have to give My Two Dads props for at least attempting to address the roots of Michael and Joey's discomfort with Nicole's burgeoning womanhood. As part of the first kiss episode, the men attend a women's studies course with the dual goal of picking up chicks and getting some insight into their daughter. Encouraged to talk about their feelings (you know how women are!) Michael blurts out that he's uncomfortable with Nicole dating because he was a "pig" to girls when he was younger. It's great that he recognizes his past behavior, rather than his current reality, is driving his reactions. But it still brings a conversation about young women's experiences back to how they affect men, treating Nicole as a concept rather than a person with thoughts, feelings, and (as much as her dads don't want to admit it) desires of her own.

Previously: Man And Baby, "New Men," And The British Backlash Against Male Sensitivity; Three Men, A Baby, And A Surprisingly Progressive Plot.

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Comments

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SOCIETY'S/DADDY'S DISCOMFORT WITH YOUNG WOMEN'S SEXUALITY

Oh well said, Diane Shipley.

We have this problem here in Britain where any mention of teaching young girls about sex in school brings forth mass hysteria as the population quivers over an anticipated surge in the birth rate and mental images of mass orgies after class. If it weren't serious it would be hilarious given that we have the highest teenage birth-rate in Europe and the greatest incidence of STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) particularly chlamydia, amongst young people.

Research shows that in the Netherlands where young people, armed with knowledge and having had the opportunity to discuss sex and relationships in sensible forums, behave in exactly the opposite manner to that envisioned by the alarmists in Britain.

As for Daddy's discomfort, well here where the MTV generation has grown up sexualised from a very young age, they are still subjected to the same myopic attitude that Nas presents in his song 'Daughters' http://bit.ly/JvhbPU When his daughter acquires a box of condoms and instagrams it he wrings his hands and mops his brow saying, 'at this point I realise I ain't the strictest parent' even though his daughter is seventeen at the time. Shouldn't he have been confident by now that he had done his part as a parent?

When he says 'we think that no-one is good enough for our daughters' in his case it is because he's conscious his daughter has seen at close quarters what a man can be , 'she's seen me switchin women, pops was on some pimp shit' but surely if you can talk with your child openly you don't have to be afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. Because she won't be.

Ooh, great comment, thank

Ooh, great comment, thank you!

I also grew up in Britain, and one of the girls in my year got pregnant before we'd even got around to the sex ed module of biology, which really showed that we could have handled learning that stuff sooner...

What's so interesting in this "what a man can be" stuff is that the men espousing it often seem to think the answer is to shield their daughters from boys, rather than, like, treat all women with respect. (Although at least MTD makes some effort to acknowledge that.)

Love this post. In terms of

Love this post. In terms of trying to save humanity from a 'unquenchable obsession with sex' isn't that, since the beginning of time, called being a teenager? (full disclosure, I clicked through mainly because I once wanted to be Nicole).

Ha, it is, but usually (in

Ha, it is, but usually (in life and pop culture) sex is presented as a male obsession; something girls have to fend off. To be female and a teenager and admit to wanting to have sex (or more controversially, to masturbating) is far more transgressive.

I wanted to be Nicole, too! But I hadn't really thought about the fact that her mother died when she was 12 and she had to live with two complete strangers...

Whitewashing the Issue

While I agree that there are many issues surrounding raising girls by men, all of your examples (at least to my knowledge) are White families. What about Fresh Prince. I know that Ashley has two parents, but often times Will is the only one who knows about Ashley's sexuality and has to grapple with it and her (and usually goes between overtly objectifying women one second and trying to desexualize Ashley the next). Or a cartoon like The Proud Family (also two parents) but where the father is clearly upset and having difficulty dealing with his growing daughter's sexuality. I know there are not a ton of examples of non-white families on television because the media is incredibly whitewashed, but I think it is still important to analyze at least one.

I take your point about these

I take your point about these only being white families, but I am only focusing on single parent families (and live action series) here. Because I'm planning to write a post next week about Sister, Sister and the lack of diversity on TV, I didn't really think about the diversity of this particular post, but you're right, I could have included at least one non-white example. I am aware of the issue, though, and will try (harder) to talk about diverse portrayals where I can. One good thing about later shows and movies featuring single/stay-at-home dads is that they're thankfully not as whitewashed as Three Men And A Baby, My Two Dads, et. al.

I really think that it is a

I really think that it is a weird article!! i mean the topic