Psychologist needed: Ownership culture run amok


There is nothing like the perversity of prudish sexual obsession to shake off the doldrums after a couple of unproductive weeks. When you make the mistake of laughing so hard that your daughter asks you what’s up, and, well, she’s five years old, it’s not like you really want to explain the joke at this point. So you end up saying something mitigating. I came up with, “Silly people. Silly people.”

Let us hop back a few years to Le’a Kent’s examination of homophobia and politics, called “‘Abnormal, Wrong, Unnatural and Perverse:’ Taking the Measure (9) of the Closet“, written in the wake of the Oregon Citizens’ Alliance failed 1992 effort to institutionalize Christian bigotry in that state. Ms. Kent quoted Judith Butler:

Elsewhere in her discussion of Helms’s legislation, Butler delineates the same slide from homosexuality to pedophilia to sadomasochism that informs Measure 9:

Courtney McAlpin, 14, of Minneapolis, listens as her father, Steve, reads a pledge in which he vows to protect her sexual and moral purity.  (Photo by Kevin Moloney for The New York Times)“The exploitation of children” comes [immediately after sadomasochism in the text of Helms’s legislation], at which point I begin to wonder: what reasons are there for grouping these three categories together? Do they lead to each other, as if the breaking of one taboo necessitates a virtual riot of perversion? Or is there, implicit in the sequencing and syntax of this legal text, a figure of the homosexual, apparently male, who practices sadomasochism and preys on young boys, or who practices sadomasochism with young boys, a homosexuality which is perhaps defined as sadomasochism and the exploitation of children? Perhaps this is an effort to define restrictively the sexual exploiter of children as the sadomasochistic male homosexual in order, quite conveniently, to locate the source of child sexual abuse outside the home, safeguarding the family as the unregulated sexual property of the father?

That last phrase, “unregulated sexual property of the father”, is chilling. Haunting. Downright scary. To the one, it seems a perverse assertion while, to the other, it is at worst an alternative view of common sexual traditions. Stephanie Coontz wrote, in Marriage, A History:

Reviewing the role of marriage in different societies in the past … I came to reject two widespread … theories about how marriage came into existence … the idea that marriage was invented so men could protect women and the opposite idea that it was invented so men could exploit women. Instead, marriage spoke to the needs of the larger group. It converted strangers into relatives and extended cooperative relations beyond immediate family or small band by creating far-flung networks of in-laws.

Indeed, our daughters, traditionally, have been some sort of property. They have been assets for sale or trade, often to the highest bidder. The transition in Western society toward romantic marriage is such that we now look upon arranged marriages as violative, barbaric, and repugnant. But, still, it seems we seek to hold our children as some sort of property and, as Butler suggests, one of these methods might be to dominate them sexually.

Scott Lindberg, and his daughter, Carly, 11, said a prayer at a Colorado purity ball.  (Photo by Kevin Moloney for The New York Times)Now, sexual dominance of one’s children does not inherently mean … well, okay, if I need to explain that, the problem is your dirty mind.

So once you stop with the ritual shuddering and pantomime of a bad taste in your mouth, consider the homosexual. Out of the closet, out of the house: the homosexual’s defiance of sexual stereotype often so enraged parents that many young gays were—and are, still—thrown out of their homes and disowned. “No son of mine …!”

The unregulated sexual property: It seems incomparably creepy to me to imagine ever saying to my daughter, “You will only have sex with people whom I approve of!”

Shudder.

I feel dirty even having typed the sentence. Damn.

And then what can we say when this facet of the “ownership culture” is featured in the New York Times? What can we say in response to the religious folk whose sexual frustration is so sublimated into prudishness that they would celebrate the sexual dominance of their daughters?

Neela Bannerjee wrote:

The girls, ages early grade school to college, had come with their fathers, stepfathers and future fathers-in-law last Friday night to the ninth annual Father-Daughter Purity Ball. The first two hours of the gala passed like any somewhat awkward night out with parents, the men doing nearly all the talking and the girls struggling to cut their chicken.

But after dessert, the 63 men stood and read aloud a covenant “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.”

The gesture signaled that the fathers would guard their daughters from what evangelicals consider a profoundly corrosive “hook-up culture.” The evening, which alternated between homemade Christian rituals and giddy dancing, was a joyous public affirmation of the girls’ sexual abstinence until they wed ….

…. “It’s also good for me,” said Terry Lee, 54, who attended the ball for a second year, this time with his youngest daughter, Rachel, 16. “It inspires me to be spiritual and moral in turn. If I’m holding them to such high standards, you can be sure I won’t be cheating on their mother.” ….

…. The purity pledges for the fathers to sign stood in the middle of the dinner tables. Unlike other purity balls, the daughters here do not make a pledge, said Amanda Robb, a New York-based writer researching a book about the abstinence movement who was at the Broadmoor event.

“Fathers, our daughters are waiting for us,” Mr. Wilson, 49, told the men. “They are desperately waiting for us in a culture that lures them into the murky waters of exploitation. They need to be rescued by you, their dad.”

Terry Lee and his daughter Rachel placed flowers under a cross at a Father-Daughter Purity Ball.  (Photo by Kevin Moloney for The New York Times)Now, perhaps it’s a touching proposition to some, but there is something insidious to me about the idea that I should look at my daughter and say, “It is my duty before God to involve myself integrally in your sex life.”

Gyaaah! I mean, really … just typing a sentence like that. If I put it in a novel, would you believe the character? What would you think?

True story: Once upon a time one of my friends found out that his girlfriend was pregnant with his child. He got over his initial shock and warmed quickly to the idea. Yeah, really. He didn’t accuse her of cheating, demand she have an abortion, or flee to Tijuana. Certainly he wasn’t expecting it, but he adapted well. Okay, sort of. Because when he learned that he had, specifically, a daughter on the way, well, it was a bit unsettling. No, he didn’t panic. But he did begin to assert his ownership, going on about who she would be allowed to date, what he would do to her boyfriends if he caught them in flagrante delicto, even what kind of underwear she would be allowed to wear. And when you sit, watching and listening as his eyes glaze over and he looks into some far-off, fantasized future, droning on about his child’s future sexuality, it’s just a bit disturbing. At some point, you want to say, “Come on, man, your daughter is officially T-minus how many months and you’re spending how much energy trying to fashion her sex life?”

It’s just creepy.

And what’s with the swords?

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4 thoughts on “Psychologist needed: Ownership culture run amok

  1. Pingback: Perverse | This Is

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