Masculine Dads Raise Confident Daughters

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My father never let me get away with self-pity. Never allowed me to win an argument with tears.

By Abigail Shrier, The Wall Street Journal, July 20, 2018


The summer I graduated from college, I joined my father one Saturday night at his favorite hangout, Borders Books.  Much to my brother’s and my embarrassment, our father treated it like a library.  He would seat himself at a table with a muffin in one hand, a stack of books fanned out in front of him, and no intention of leaving within the hour.  An amateur singer was torturing a guitar somewhere in the building; tinny strains filtered down to the cafe where we sat.

“You hear that?” I teased.  “If you had given me just a little more encouragement with the guitar, that could be me right now.”

He looked up from his book.  “That’s right,” he said, his voice gathering in a growl.  “I didn’t support it!  That’s why my kid’s on her way to graduate school, and that guy’s singing in a Borders!”

My father never hid that he had high expectations of me, for which my tuneless, lackluster attempts with guitar proved pitifully inadequate.  He admired smarts less than grit, found surface beauty less enchanting than charm.  The woman he admired most was our mother, not for her intelligence or accomplishments, though she had plenty of both, but because of a strength that took his breath away and on which he often relied.

His example has been on my mind these days with all this talk about “toxic masculinity” and the proper ways to raise boys so that they don’t become sexual predators.  A recent New York Times article about how to raise good boys in the “#MeToo Era” cites psychologist Peter Glick, who advises parents to challenge the prevailing norms of masculinity with our sons, refraining from using terms like “man up” and — crucially — ending all teaching of chivalry: “We need to stop socializing boys to see women as needing protection.”

So many seem to believe that if we can remake boys as feminists — by which they seem to mean boys who check their male privilege, are unafraid to cry, and are politically progressive —we will have largely solved the problem of sexual harassment.  A glance at the public figures felled in the #MeToo purges — not to mention Bill Clinton — should cure us of the idea that progressive politics incline men to better treatment of women.

Masculinity, like femininity, is neither inherently good nor bad.  Enormous damage can be inflicted by the sorts of malice we associate with girls: spreading rumors, convincing someone’s friends to turn against her, refusing to acknowledge someone purportedly beneath notice.  Femininity and masculinity are manners of comportment and modi operandi; they are not codes of conduct.  Men have used masculinity for acts of heroism and decency.  That they have also applied it to despicable behavior says nothing of masculinity itself.

My father’s own unapologetic masculinity made us feel secure.  It made itself known in the shuffle of his loafers against our linoleum floor, the rumble of his voice, the two-fingered whistle whose sharpness both impressed and alarmed.  And yes, he has held plenty of doors.  The notion that this signified anything other than courtesy could never persuade me, since its origin, for me, was with him.

There is something regrettable in the way our exclusive focus on boys and men lets young women off the hook.  As if women bear no responsibility for their own behavior.  As if they are too weak, too emotional, too foolish ever to take care of themselves.

And that is the greatest disappointment of the #MeToo movement, that it has so spectacularly refused to insist that a woman not allow any man to treat her badly.  Failed to insist that young women have an individual responsibility to demand better.  That they should all agree no job is worth more than their dignity.

This is a piece of the #MeToo problem rarely discussed: how to raise our daughters so that they possess a hard nugget of faith in their worth, something they are unwilling to dislodge, whatever the price.

My own #MeToo moment came when a professor I hoped would help me launch an academic career asked me to meet him at a hotel.  After eight hours of panic, I turned him down.  Not because my mother had taught me never to accept such invitations, though she had.  Not because feminism instructed that I should use only my intellect to promote my advancement.  But because I knew that had I accepted, it would kill my father.  To say yes would have irredeemably let him down.

This is a piece of the #MeToo problem rarely discussed: how to raise our daughters so that they possess a hard nugget of faith in their worth, something they are unwilling to dislodge, whatever the price.

There is a scene in the 2017 movie “Molly’s Game,” in which poker impresario Molly Bloom, played by Jessica Chastain, is sitting in the office of her defense attorney, played by Idris Elba.  The lawyer has a daughter of his own, Stella, a lovely and talented high-school student whom he burdens with extra homework and lofty expectations.  The lawyer turns to Molly and asks: “Do you think I’m being too hard on her?”

Molly replies: “I met a girl when I first moved to L.A.  She was 22.  Someone arranged through a third party to spend the weekend with her in London.  Do you know what she got.”  . . . A bag.  A Chanel bag she wanted.”  That was all the girl had traded herself for.  “Whatever you’re doing with Stella,” Molly advises, “double it.”

In demanding a lot from his daughter, in other words, the lawyer was teaching her that she was worth a lot too.  In life, this would be her best defense.

My father never let me get away with self-pity.  Never allowed me to win an argument with tears.  He regarded unbridled emotion in place of reason as vaguely pathetic; if I had any chance of prevailing in a discussion, the first thing I needed to do was calm down.

And when young men didn’t like me or were poised to treat me badly, it was my father’s regard that I found myself consulting and relying upon.  When a man tries to mistreat a woman — I’m not talking about violence, but the instinct to convey to her that she isn’t worth very much — he is unlikely to get very far with a woman whose father has made her feel that she’s worth a whole lot.

We spend so much time obsessing over inequalities in society.  But there is arguably no inequality more unjust or difficult to overcome than that of parentage.  We don’t get the parents we deserve, and those of us blessed with good ones wouldn’t trade them for any other unearned privilege.  If you want to protect girls, find them good parents, or become them.  Dads, whatever you’re doing for your daughters — double it.



wsjAbigail Shrier. “Masculine Dads Raise Confident Daughters.” The Wall Street Journal (July 20, 2018).

Reprinted with permission of the author and The Wall Street Journal © 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.  All rights reserved.

The Author

shrierAbigail Shrier is a writer and graduate of Yale Law School living in Los Angeles. She writes on culture, law, politics, parenting and technology.

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