‘Defending your daughter’s honour’ isn’t cute – it’s creepy

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As anyone with a disappointing number of Twitter followers can tell you, there’s no formula to going viral. There’s no magic word or phrase or picture that will guarantee you Internet infamy. But if you’re really keen on getting the numbers, there are a few tried and tested ways to get noticed.

There’s the cute animal path, obviously. Then there’s the ubiquitous reaction video – it’s best if it contains an incredulous and adorable toddler OR if it’s related to some kind of horrific and inexplicably viral scatological porn. Then the worthy ‘social experiment’ genre, which I wrote about a few months ago. And in the same vein? The ‘dad defending his daughter’s honour’ meme.

Now, if you’ve never come across one of these, they’re pretty simple. Essentially, they show – via video, image or good old fashioned inspirational Facebook post – a father defending his daughter’s honour. And what I mean when I say ‘defending her honour’ is not ‘saving her from attackers’ or ‘standing up to bullies’. What I mean is ‘being really fucking weird about her having a boyfriend’.

Most of them come in the hackneyed old template of ‘rules for dating my daughter’, and in lots of them – the American ones – two sweetly smiling teenage girls are stood next to a gurning, gun-toting father. “Stay away from my daughter or I’ll shoot you” is a fairly unsubtle subtext, so it’s odd that they’re seen as aspirational by so many people.

Take this image, for example, which not only went viral online but was also widely reported in the mainstream press.

If we’re taking this image literally, what this says is “if you fuck my daughter, I will fuck you”. It’s obviously a joke, and everyone involved is clearly fine with it, but it has got this uneasy, sinister edge to it.

What this image – and the many other viral images like it – says to young women is ‘your body is not your own’. Far from your body being a personal, intimate tool for pleasure and consent and profound joy, what it actually is is an object, a vessel to be passed from father to potential husband.

Women aren’t really allowed to do what they want here – to get a boyfriend or have sex, or have autonomy over their bodies in any way whatsoever. It’s disempowering, too – it insinuates that a woman can’t actually make a rational, informed decision about whether or not to have sex. We’re pure, right? Men cajole us into sex. We don’t want it. And we’d certainly never initiate it.

Of course parents are going to be protective of their daughters, and rightly so – so many women are subject to sexual violence that being worried about it is actually a pretty reasonable response. But throwing around quaint 18th century concepts like “honour” is not how to deal with this.

Talking to your children about consent, and helping them understand their boundaries, and helping them realise that nobody can violate those boundaries – that’s what parents should be doing to protect their teenage daughters. Understanding these issues is so important; if you look at cases like Steubenville (trigger warning: rape), it’s clear that in many cases, neither perpetrator nor victim realised that what had happened was rape at all.

The onus that these online postings place on honour is old fashioned, sexist and paternalistic. To truly protect our daughters, we don’t need to threaten their partners – we need to get out of the 18th century and into the 21st. Frankly, teaching young women (AND MEN) about rape culture is the vital message here – and it’s the only one that deserves to go viral.

Main image © iStock/Linda Kloosterhof