The thing about having a daughter is the tendency to get over-protective — the father, more than the mother. Cocky males who act as though they’re God’s gift to women say it’s because they don’t want sins of the father visiting on their children — you know, based on the illusion that they broke the hearts of all those girls who pined after them in their youth. For others, especially those who indulge in casual extramarital affairs or who keep mistresses, the fear may be real, albeit in a collective social guilt kind of way — they know how exploitative and manipulative men can be and they are afraid that by some karmic twist, their daughters will become some other men’s victims.
It’s a cultural thing. We live in a culture where, no matter how hard feminists scream, females are still largely regarded as frail and needy of protection — from predatory males, from physical strain, from emotional pain and from just about anything. If you haven’t given it a second thought, ask why boys are taught to do the gentlemanly thing by offering their bus or train seats to females. It might appear to be a simple gesture of courtesy but there is that underlying presumption that women tire more easily than men and standing in a crowded train or bus is likely to take a toll on their physical well-being. If you think this kind of chivalry has died with feminism and calls for equality, then ask yourself why a sobbing girl still merits a comforting shoulder and a hankie, gestures that are never offered to males. It is still there and very much ingrained in our subconsciousness.
The truth is, this desire to protect females, even when borne out of genuine concern, is a cage. It limits opportunities for personal growth, professional success and self-fulfillment. It prevents women from discovering their worth and their strengths, maximizing their potential and becoming a real voice in society.
If we look at overseas workers statistics, women leaving for work abroad is a relatively recent phenomenon. Men have been doing it for ages. Before there were contract workers, men left their barrios or hometowns for the city or went abroad to “seek greener pastures.” Women didn’t do that a generation ago. They stayed home and lived with their parents until they got married. More significantly, until around thirty years ago, married women and mothers did not work abroad and leave their husbands and children behind. It took the threat of starvation for Filipinos to reconsider many of their outmoded notions about women and womanhood.
Despite the evolution of the concept of womanhood, many parents with daughters still worry. My husband and I are no exceptions. In a few short years, the girls will be off to college and since we live in the suburb, we’ve discussed so many times, and from various angles, how the college arrangement will be. Will the girls commute? Will both or one of us drive them to school in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon? Will they live in a dorm? Will we give them a car and let them drive?
I know that it sounds so inane, and I honestly think that all those discussions would have been less lengthy if we had boys rather than girls, but a parent cannot read, watch and listen to the news day in and day out about unwanted pregnancies, girls leaving their newborn babies in cardboard boxes and garbage cans, young girls disappearing, getting raped or ending up lifeless in some dark alley and not feel affected. And it’s not as though the peace and order situation, locally and on a global scale, is getting any better. If, a few generations ago, children were forbidden to play outside after dark for fear of becoming some aswang‘s meal, today, it’s the danger of catching the attention of crazed drug addicts and sex perverts.
Still and all, I don’t want my daughters cloistered. The key, for me, is empowerment. As blasé as it may sound, I honestly believe that preparation is better than control. Meaning? Meaning, teach them the fundamental values, give them reasonable freedom to explore while young, so that by the time they have flown the coop, they have a good idea what the difference is between a thrilling adventure and foolhardy risks.
It’s one of those clichés that actually mean something — roots to grow and wings to fly. Provide a stable and nourishing home, allow them room to make mistakes and learn from them, allow them to make choices and believe in themselves. And I’m not talking about niceties. I’m not talking about being “good” and “kind” or anything that approximates the raising of wimps. If you’ve seen John Woo’s “Face Off”, there was a scene where the teenage daughter was being molested in the car by her date. The impostor-father scared the boy away then taught the daughter how to take care of herself. He did not tell her not to go out on dates. He did not say anything that would make her suspicious of every boy. He did not even tell her not to see the same boy again. Instead, he handed her a pocket knife and told her that the next time a boy tried to molest her, to plunge the knife in and twist — hard.
Of course, that’s rather extreme. I wouldn’t personally teach violence but you get the picture. You don’t teach your daughters to be scared of life, you teach them how to take care of themselves so that life does not overwhelm them. With such a foundation, by the time they are ready to explore the world on their own, we need not worry whether they’re going to commute to and from school, live far away in some dorm or even if they choose to “seek greener pastures” in places we’ve never heard of. We will feel confident that they can take care of themselves. We will feel no guilt nor anxieties about letting them go.