NY Times columnist is very excited other people get paternalistic when they have daughters, too

Fathers hug their daughters from behind at a Purity Ball

Government mandated Purity Balls for everyone! Photo via TIME.

In an op-ed in this Sunday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat gets the boring columnist’s version of giddy about data that suggests having daughters might make people more conservative:

[There ought to be a word for] the pleasure that I took recently from the headline: “Study: Having daughters makes parents more likely to be Republican.”

Why pleasure? Well, because previous research on this question had suggested the reverse, with parents of daughters leaning left and parents of sons rightward. And those earlier findings dovetailed neatly with liberal talking points about politics and gender: Republicans make war on women, Democrats protect them, so it’s only natural that raising girls would make parents see the wisdom of liberalism …

But the new study undercuts those talking points. Things are more complicated than you thought, liberals! You can love your daughters, want the best for them, and find yourself drawn to … conservative ideas! Especially if you’re highly educated, which is where the effect was strongest! Better dust off a different set of talking points — maybe something about the family as the source of all oppression and how deeply internalized patriarchal norms make parents subconsciously inclined to tyrannize their female offspring and then we can argue about that!

Douthat then goes on to explain that more conservative politics will lead to more marriageable men.

Personally I support women’s rights cause I think we’re people and should have rights. I don’t think lefties want folks to have daughters so they’ll base their liberal politics on wanting to protect them, cause that’s called paternalism, which leads to patriarchal politics. Douthat makes a joke about how this study can now make room for that deeper conversation. Except that was always the conversation for thinking people, if not NY Times op-ed columnists. In fact, I critiqued “The Daughter Theory,” or “The Daughter Test” as it was called at the time when a group of pundit dudes had a circle-jerk discussed it before and Douthat made the same “argument” that having daughters teaches you to be conservative. In June of 2011. So I’m just going to recycle my point, too, except I’m not even gonna pretend to write something new cause why bother, YOLO:

Leave it to 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…

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

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 [Update: she's older now, and unlike Douthat, she's also wiser]). 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.

Patriarchy is seriously stale.


Jos Truitt Jos Truitt even recycled the Purity Ball photo illustrating this article from her 2011 post about “The Daughter Test“.

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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