Recently there was a news story featuring a picture of a father with arms around his daughter’s homecoming date, with a caption saying “whatever you do to my daughter, I will do to you.” The picture was a lighthearted joke, but the familiar trope of an overprotective father should be laid to rest.
Assuming that girls need protection from their dates does a disservice to both genders. It perpetuates the idea that boys are driven only by their hormones and cannot control themselves, while girls are gullible and incapable of common sense. These assumptions are untrue and cannot be broadly applied to an entire gender. There are plenty of boys and men who are respectful and principled, just as there are women and girls who can stand their ground in relationships. Stereotyping boys as aggressive and girls as passive is unfair and paints a warped image of romantic relationships. A relationship is a two-way street in which each party has equal potential to mistreat the other. People make their own decisions about how to treat their partner in a relationship, but gender stereotypes can have a damaging effect on how people view what is appropriate.
At BC, the assumption that girls need to be protected is not very prevalent. Most BC students see girls as having agency to make reasonable and independent choices. However, there is still a perception that guys are the pursuers in relationships and that girls should to be aware of boys’ “real intentions” at all times. A boyfriend should be on guard whenever another guy talks to his girlfriend at a party, because he is probably hitting on her and she will either be unaware of it or not know how to escape the situation. Automatically assuming that guys have less than platonic intentions whenever they interact with a girl can generate anxiety for both guys and girls. While boys might worry about their words and actions being misconstrued, girls will constantly be on their guard.
Obviously there is a lot of history that proves that girls do need to be more careful than men, simply because of the patriarchal society we live in. Gender stereotypes shape the way men and women view themselves and their relationships, even in the subtlest of ways. It’s not easy to shake the historical tradition of male dominance and female subordination, but it can be done. Tweaking the way people parent to make sure that overprotectiveness applies to both genders is a start.
Instead of perpetuating the idea that guys are aggressive and uncontrollable while girls need to be saved, we should emphasize responsibility and respect in both genders. Guys and girls interact with each other on equal terms and should be free from stereotypes about the “power dynamics” of their relationships.