Laurie Toby Edison

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Laws and Daughters

Laurie and Debbie say:

Jos at Feministing has a piece on “the daughter test,” , in which she references a recent ongoing conversation among some influential men in the media, who seem to be concluding that designing the law to protect their daughters is A Good Thing. Steven Levitt, co-author of the Freakonomics books, says:

If the answer is that I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind the government passing a law against it. I wouldn’t want my daughter to be a cocaine addict or a prostitute, so in spite of the fact that it would probably be more economically efficient to legalize drugs and prostitution subject to heavy regulation/taxation, I don’t mind those activities being illegal.

Jos points to a round-up of the conversation on The Dish. Here’s Ross Douthat’s contribution, from The New York Times:

The fact that I would want to be able to involve the police if my daughter became a streetwalker, but not if she became a Hari Krishna, tells me something important about what kind of legal regime I should support.

So what’s going on here.

These men are saying, in so many words, that they care more about what they think is good for their daughters than they do about what they think is good for the country, or the economy, or people in general. Not surprising; these are elite white American men whose job it is to know what’s best for everyone.

They want the laws to protect specifically their daughters, not their sons. Presumably, they don’t want their sons to be drug addicts, they just think sons should be taking risks in a way their daughters should not.

They seem to be laboring under the illusion that laws have a major social effect on individual people’s behavior, whether those individual people are their daughters, other people’s daughters, men, or whoever. We guess they must think that laws against prostitution keep women from becoming prostitutes, and laws against cocaine use keep people from using cocaine. They, of course, are men who could in fact buy their daughters out of jail if their daughters broke these laws–they aren’t envisioning their daughters, the streetwalkers, arrested, jailed, and with police records for life. They’re imagining that the laws, like their fatherly admonitions, are deterrents that will keep their girls off the street, convince them not to snort lines up their noses, and keep needles out of their veins. Interesting world to live in, that one.

If any of these men pay prostitutes, do they wonder whose daughters they are paying? They aren’t thinking about the thousands of women, each one of them someone’s daughter, who are the victims of these laws, whose lives are immeasurably harmed not (only) by the illegal actions, but by the way the law works against them. They aren’t thinking about the men who will be affected by these laws–perhaps they think that men only patronize prostitutes, but never are prostitutes. Perhaps they think that some kind of deterrence that might keep their daughter away from drugs is worth having tens of thousands of men in jail for victimless crimes.

Perhaps they know in their hearts that they haven’t got a single clue how to really protect their daughters, or their sons, how to raise them. Perhaps they’ve never thought about conversations like this one with a son, or comparable ones with their daughters.

When the story first broke about the 11 year old girl being assaulted in Texas [my son] asked me about it. Why? Well he’s 11 and he has a ton of 11 year old female friends. Since we’ve been pretty open about the mechanics of sex he was upset & confused at the idea of a girl like one of his friends being forced to “do it” with anyone, much less with a group of strangers.

After the initial conversation about why rape happens, and a discussion of the harm it can do, I left the door open for him to bring any other questions to me or his father. Over the last few months we’ve talked about kinds of rape as he’s seen them mentioned on the news (date, stranger, corrective, etc.) and why people blame the victims. Lately, the conversation has turned to stuff like Slut Walks & how telling women to live a certain way in order to avoid being raped doesn’t do anything to stop rape.

The men who are proposing “the daughter test” are privileged enough to believe that they can influence how laws can be made and changed, that there’s a direct connection between what they think is good for their daughters, what they think the law should be, and what the law is or will become. The world is full of men who have a patriarchal and patronizing desire to protect their daughters, but who would never frame it in terms of what the law should be, because they know how far they are from the workings of the lawmakers. These men get to at least feel like what they say is heard in the halls of power.

This atmosphere of power dynamics and manipulation is no place to bring up anyone’s children.

2 Responses to “Laws and Daughters”

  1. Lisa Hirsch says:

    I agree with you on virtually every point; however, as far as “They seem to be laboring under the illusion that laws have a major social effect on individual people’s behavior, ” based on what I’ve seen of Freakonomics, I doubt that Steven Levitt believes that.

  2. Short version: Levitt doesn’t seem to care about anything in this matter but whether he feels comfortable.

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