The Daughter Test

fathers and daughers at a Purity Ball
Government mandated Purity Balls for everyone! Photo via TIME.

For the past couple weeks some pundit dudes have been having a conversation in the pundit dude echo chamber about the “daughter test.” Andrew Sullivan has a good round up of the major entries.

It all started when Steven Levitt of Freakonomics admitted that he’s fine with restrictive government policy if it’s against something he wouldn’t want his daughter doing:

If the answer is that I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind the government passing a law against it. I wouldn’t want my daughter to be a cocaine addict or a prostitute, so in spite of the fact that it would probably be more economically efficient to legalize drugs and prostitution subject to heavy regulation/taxation, I don’t mind those activities being illegal.

There was plenty of silliness in reply, including Kevin Drum’s assertion that people with class privilege have better impulse control than those non-thinking worker types. Which I think tons of recent news has proven very not true.

Leave it it Ross Douthat (who sucks a lot) to really take the daughter test seriously, not just as an explanation for acceptance of policies but a basis for political views:

[T]hinking “what if I my daughter did this/were in this position?” is a way to take an argument from the abstract to the viscerally real, and to bring moral and legal gray areas into a sharper focus. It isn’t a mathematical proof, or a system of inputs that spits out an automatic, universal answer… But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a useful way of thinking about public policy. The fact that I would want to be able to involve the police if my daughter became a streetwalker, but not if she became a Hari Krishna, tells me something important about what kind of legal regime I should support. (There’s a touch of Kantianism in it: One’s (legal) preferences for one’s daughter should become a universal law …).

There’s a word that exists exactly for this: paternalism.

Sadly this line of reasoning is so prevalent Mika Brzezinski managed to not think it was a derail while interviewing Jessica about SlutWalks on Morning Joe (hint: it was).

I suppose it’s a useful explanation for why I disagree so strongly with folks like Douthat on pretty much everything. He thinks he knows better, is better than other people, and that policies should be imposed to protect them from themselves. He’d like to see government as the benevolent father teaching its kids right and wrong (yeah you can see how religious ideology falls into political views so easily here). I’d like to see government provide for the welfare of its people – you know, make sure we don’t go hungry or homeless – not keep us from getting laid.

Of course it’s also plenty of sexism – we’re talking about the “daughter test” not the “son test” – because daughters are to be protected, sons raised to be strong and kill the dinner themselves. Sorry, hard not to fall into some old school “state of nature” hyperbole in such an absurd theory conversation. And of course we focus on shielding lady persons from the specters of sex work and drug use.

Look, I get it. I have super overprotective feelings about my baby sister (who is 22 so even the “baby sister” thing is problematic). But I know that doesn’t mean she needs to be protected by me just cause I feel that way. And more importantly, intense protective feelings about a close relative you care about enough to impact your rationality aren’t exactly the best basis for public policy.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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