What Daughters Need to Know About Dad Psychology
It’s not you he hates, it’s all the things about himself that he’s been trained to hide away.
The women who take my Gender Studies course at Temple University often ask me to explain their fathers’ hypocrisy. After spending a semester surveying feminist theory, queer theory, and masculinity studies, they struggle to understand how it is possible for their dads to love them so much, support them whole-heartedly, but still parent in ways that reveal blatant sexism and misogyny. I offer those students — and all other daughters of dads — the following explanation:
Your father adores you. I know he often treats you in ways that feel demeaning, but that’s only because he has been taught to despise femininity. He can’t help but project unconscious scorn onto you. He’s spent so much of his life conforming to social expectations that he now struggles to love you in a way that validates your worth and recognizes your independence. He continues to hurt you because, like most men, his commitment to masculinity prevents him from addressing his own mental health challenges.
The first thing you need to understand is that the rules of male comradery require men to hate femininity. Each time a boy is called a little girl, it knocks him down a rung on the ladder of male social status. It’s common for middle school boys to mock the high-pitched pre-pubescent voices of their late-blooming classmates. Similarly, those with lingering baby fat are often teased for their “man-boobs.” From early life experiences like these, boys learn to associate girlhood with subjugation. Don’t throw like one. Don’t walk like one. Don’t dress like one. To whimper is womanish. To cry is feminine.
When I was little, my older brothers teased me relentlessly. They were much bigger, and they could beat me at everything. We lived in Center City Philadelphia and played street hockey in an asphalt-paved parking lot. They would “let me” be the goalie. I’d strap big orange foam pads to my legs and a baseball catcher’s chest-protector to my torso. I’d pull a Friday the 13th goalie mask over my face, and my brothers would slam PVC balls as hard as they could in my direction. When I failed to block their shots, they called me sissy, wimp, and wuss. I’d cry…