Mad Men: A Father and His Daughter's Vagina

'243/365: Mad' photo (c) 2009, PlayfulLibrarian - license:

Sunday is must see television in this house.  Right after Once Upon a Time, the unhusband and I sit down and watch the Game of Thrones, and then he makes himself busy while I watch Mad Men.  I have been thinking a lot about a single line from this week’s episode.  I’ll set the stage for those who aren’t familiar with the show.  Sally has been allowed to attend her father Don Draper’s award ceremony.  She enters the room wearing a short silver go-go dress, long white boots and makeup.  This is the first time that we get to see Sally move from a little girl, to a young woman.  Don is not pleased and immediately demands that she lose the makeup and the boots or stay home. Don’s father in-law Dr. Calvet pipes in that Don must get used the idea that his little girl will inevitably, “spread her legs and fly away”. Megan, Don’s wife tries to brush his commentary aside as a linguistic issue, since the Dr. Calvet is  Québécois, and says the correct word is wings.
I don’t for one minute believe that this was a problem of linguistics. Instead, Dr. Calvets input served as accurate commentary about the constant regret, and controlling manner in which fathers commonly speak about their daughters sexuality.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard men joke about locking their daughters in their rooms until they are 40.  Another personal favourite is the former playa playa who sees having a daughter as punishment for his past sexual antics and history of disrespecting women. Daughters are the curse that come back to haunt you.

Daughters are to be hidden away from the public lest some male with sex on his brain spoil her purity.  There isn’t even the remotest contemplation that daddy’s little girl might want to get some herself.  It’s all about protecting what belongs to the father – her virginity.  This is why purity rings and balls have become so popular.  No matter how far we have come whether explicit or implicit, women’s bodies are seen as belonging to their fathers until they marry.

I am very interested in the idea that once a woman/girl starts having sex that this loss of purity means that she somehow no longer belongs to her father.  It constructs women as eternal possession, though the familial relationship remains intact regardless of the sexual activity of the girl/woman.  No such assertion is made towards boys, and they are actively encouraged to not only desire sex, but to seek it at every opportunity.  We very much still live in a world in which we have naturalized the idea that boys/men want sex all the time, and that it is the girl/woman’s responsibility to control his base urges.  When framed this way, women are the eternal victim of male sexual urges and not active participants in sex act.  They are the object and never the subject.

Heterosexism means that fathers don’t consider that their daughters will one day want another woman.  I find it interesting that while wanting to protect their daughters from roving penises set on conquest, the idea that their daughter would be sexually active with another woman is abhorrent to many.  Fathers simply want control and abstinence. The constant fascination by fathers of what their daughters are doing with their vaginas is incestuous and disgusting. 

When we talk about the traditional family as being a site of oppression for me this is one of the clearest markers.  Comments about the stress of letting daughters date, locking them in towers, greeting boys at the door with baseball bats are often portrayed as the mark of a loving father but in fact, they are anything but.   Wanting health and wellness for one’s child, should include hoping for a healthy, safe and happy life of sexual expression, no matter how it manifests.  It should mean empowering your daughter to make not only safe choices, but the right choices for her.

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