April 2013 Update | A federal judge this week ordered the Obama administration to end its opposition to over-the-counter Plan B. In response, White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s position.
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February 2012 | President Obama’s daughters are just thirteen and ten, but the guy just can’t stop talking about the possibility they’ll be romantically inclined someday, and about how much that fact freaks him out.
Just yesterday, when he was visiting the Master Lock factory in Wisconsin, Obama joked that the company’s industrial “super locks” might “come in handy” for him as “the father of two girls who are soon to be in high school.” For now, he added, he’s “counting on the fact that when they go to school there are men with guns with them.”
And this isn’t the only time he’s made that kind of joke.
Two years ago, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, he told the Jonas Brothers that his daughters were “huge fans.” He then warned the singing group not to “get any ideas” because he controls an arsenal of predator drones.
Last year, speaking at a Tennessee high school’s commencement, he noted that the school’s principal’s daughter had chosen to go to a different school because she “was worried that the boys would be afraid to talk to her if her mom was lurking in the hallways.” Because of this, he said, he’d decided to announce that his “next job will be principal at Sasha and Malia’s high school — and then I’ll be president of their college.”
A few months later a reporter, noting that he’d given the girls a puppy when he first won the presidency, asked what he’d get them if he won re-election. He replied that he’d “be getting them a continuation of Secret Service so that when boys want to start dating them, they are going to be surrounded by men with guns.”
These jokes are freaking creepy. Set aside the fact that Obama’s predator drones are estimated to have killed more than a hundred innocent children. Set aside the fact that Obama was joking about three men aged seventeen, twenty, and twenty-two ”getting ideas” about girls who were then eight and eleven years old. Set aside the inappropriateness of a father meddling in the romantic decisions of his college age kids. (And set aside as well the casual, ugly assertion that his daughters will be interested in, and only interested in, “boys.”)
The biggest problem with all these jokes is that at their core they’re not really jokes.
When the Obama administration overruled the FDA’s scientists and policymakers on expanding morning-after pill access for teenagers last December, he said he endorsed the decision “as the father of two daughters,” and claimed that “most parents” would agree with him. Though he claimed that the decision was based on the possibility of “a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old” being able to “buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect … alongside bubble gum or batteries,” the fact is that drugstores are filled with over-the-counter medications far more dangerous than Plan B, any one of which any ten-year-old can buy without restriction.
What makes the morning-after pill different is that it allows teenage girls to take control of their own sexual decisions and those decisions’ consequences. The mentality that says that “most parents” would want to deprive their daughters of that agency is the mentality that assumes that most parents fantasize about being the gatekeeper of who their daughters talk to in high school and college. It’s a mentality that jokes about using violence and the threat of violence to keep your daughters from becoming sexually active.
These jokes aren’t benign. With them, the president is normalizing a patriarchal, sexist, adversarial take on parenthood — and on fathering daughters specifically. (It’s not an accident that Michelle Obama doesn’t make these jokes, or that she instead jokes approvingly about her daughters’ crushes on the Secret Service agents who protect them.)
If Obama’s children were sons, he wouldn’t be talking about using industrial super locks on them when they got to high school. He wouldn’t be musing about his plans to keep his kids from talking to girls when they got to college. He wouldn’t be threatening Selena Gomez with predator drones. He just wouldn’t.
Being the father of daughters is complicated. It can be difficult. But a father’s job is to help his daughter to develop a strong, healthy sense of her own desires and her own boundaries, and the confidence to express them. A father’s job is to teach his daughter that she can and should be brave, and fearless, and take risks. A father’s job is to let his daughter know that he’s got her back. A father’s job is to let her know that what she’s going through is normal, and appropriate, and isn’t going to be a barrier to him continuing to be there for her. His job is to make it clear that his desire to protect her and keep her safe doesn’t mean that she needs to sneak around behind his back, to make it clear that she doesn’t need to stay a child forever, that she can and should and must go out and explore the world for herself.
I suspect Obama is a pretty good dad. But his blind spot on this stuff is doing real harm to other people’s daughters, and quite possibly his own.
He should cut it the hell out.