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If it takes a man’s daughters to teach him to avoid sexism, that’s not a bad thing | Sonia Sodha

So Many politicians strive to make the personal the political in their quest to explain the connection between their own life story and what they want to do. The hope is that by humanizing themselves, they become more sympathetic; reality is more often presented in clumsy shots than in powerful stories. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is quite rare to happily mock himself for exploiting his status as the “son of a bus driver”.

One of Rishi Sunak’s favorite reference points are his daughters. In July 2022, he said that “as the father of two daughters” he wanted them to feel safe walking at night. Last November, the prime minister told voters he took safety for granted and wanted his daughters to be able to walk to school safely. In April, he wrote that “as a father, women’s rights are important to me”.

And last week he job on social media about the fatal shooting of a nine-year-old girl in Liverpool: “As a father of two girls, I have shared the nation’s shock and grief at the murder of Olivia Pratt-Korbel . That last one is weird. The killing of a child is universally accepted as heinous. No one needs to rely on their experience as a parent to figure this out. So that helps to make it sound like Sunak might see fatherhood as a vote-winning ploy, not a real explanation of why things matter to him.

But Sunak faced criticism long before this latest setback – as did other men who cited being fathers when talking about violence against women, for example in the context from #MeToo. Men shouldn’t need to refer to their relationships with their daughters, it is argued, when talking about women’s safety and gender equality. They should care about these goals inherently, and invoking fatherhood is tantamount to patronizing and devaluing women.

Of course, this can be done in a crude way and used as a cover for a man’s own failures on this front. But I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with men – politicians or otherwise – talking about equality through the prism of their daughters’ lives. Plus, calling them out is likely to be counterproductive, because outside of the world of Twitter bubbles, that’s probably how some men come to have more informed opinions on the subject.

A 2019 analysis of British longitudinal data found that fathers are less likely to support traditional gender norms if they have daughters, but only when they reach school age. These effects did not apply to mothers of daughters. The researchers also found that having school-aged daughters is associated with families being less likely to adopt a traditional model where the breadwinner is male, the father works and the mother stays at home. House.

That doesn’t surprise me. Having daughters is clearly not a magic wand that turns chauvinistic pigs into equality campaigners. But parenting well is an exercise in extreme empathy if there ever was one, and the intensely unconditional nature of parental love could force someone to see the world through someone else’s eyes from a way that other relationships don’t.

One might prefer that all men come to understand the dynamics of patriarchy, but that’s not where we are, and if a man’s path to avoiding sexism is through his daughters, that’s something that should be celebrated rather than ridiculed.

It’s not a one-way street: having sons can also change a mother’s perspective. I remember an event that occurred in 2018, a few months after the Harvey Weinstein revelations. A brave woman raised her hand and said she was worried about her sons and wondered where #MeToo would lead us and the insistence that we must believe women to the exclusion of any other narrative. I have to admit, in my anger at society’s failure to address sexual harassment, I wasn’t ready to hear his point of view.

I’ve since thought about what she said and now I think her being a mother brought her to a similar conclusion, but faster than me. Today, I would accept that consent is not always as black and white as it ideally would be; that there could possibly be situations between young people in which a woman has not consented to a sexual act when a man thinks she has.

I recently had a fascinating conversation with a defense attorney about why the rape conviction rate was so low; she said an under-discussed factor was that, to secure a rape conviction, prosecutors must prove to the jury not only that the complainant did not consent, but that the defendant had no reasonable belief that the complainant was consenting. In other words, the law permits a situation in which a woman has not consented, but a man could reasonably have believed that she had (which is “reasonably” critical), and juries can believe the story of a woman, to sympathize with her, while not convicting an accused for rape.

I’ve since spoken to other friends who have confessed that they worry about their teenage sons clumsily interpreting a situation, perhaps when there’s a lot of alcohol involved, with huge consequences. Many sexual assaults are caused by men who intentionally cause harm. And of course, the answer is not to disbelieve women. But there is a gray area and we need to educate boys and girls about what consent means – a culturally understood and legally defined phenomenon that depends on context and non-verbal and verbal cues – to help prevent sexual assault. . the first place. To pretend that consent is simple is to fail young people of both sexes; To leave a void is to allow it to be filled with damaging messages from pornographic culture.

This is not to question the fact that women and girls experience so much violence from some men as to recognize that there are different and difficult things that men and women have to negotiate. I suspect that part of the aversion to fathers using their daughters as a point of reference in conversations about equality is fueled by the human tendency to divide the world into fixed tribes of good guys and bad guys. How dare a man not have it by then?

But raising a child can help both men and women see the world in a way that builds empathy for members of the opposite sex, and that’s something we should welcome.

Sonia Sodha is a columnist at the Observer

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