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As Fathers of Daughters, Male Politicians Disavow Trump

Should it take a daughter for men to assert that assaulting women is wrong?

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s lewd comments about sexually assaulting women (NY Times 2016) have been widely censured by politicians and pundits across the political spectrum. But many leading male Republicans (including Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Jason Chaffetz) predicate their opposition on their role of fathers to daughters (or, equivalently, grandfathers to granddaughters). Why does it take (grand)fathering a daughter for men to recognize that demeaning and assaulting women is morally reprehensible?

As I discuss in an earlier post (McClintock 2013), the birth of a daughter may cause men to adopt more progressive gender ideology and to increase their support of women's rights. Among the general population, having only daughters increases men’s support for public policies promoting gender equity whereas having only sons decreases men’s support for gender equity (Warner and Steel 1999). A similar, but substantially smaller effect is evident for mothers (Warner and Steel 1999)—presumably women do not need to have daughters to realize the inequities of gender discrimination. Daughters may even impact their fathers’ sexual behavior and attitudes. Compared to fathers of first-born sons, fathers of first-born daughters engage in less risky sexual behavior and are more supportive of women’s sexual autonomy (Weitzman 2015).

Daughters’ influence goes beyond shifting fathers’ private attitudes and behaviors—daughters also impact politicians’ and judges’ voting records. Daughters increase legislators’ tendency to vote liberally, particularly on reproductive rights (Washington 2008). Similarly, compared to having only sons, having daughters increases judges’ proclivity to cast feminist votes on gender issues (Glynn and Sen 2015). Interestingly, this effect is driven largely by Republican judges, suggesting that daughters may have a larger effect on fathers whose initial attitudes were the most conservative.

But again, why does it take fathering a daughter for some men to recognize the importance of gender equity and women’s reproductive autonomy? Most men have meaningful relationships with women prior to becoming fathers—men usually have mothers and often have wives, sisters, girlfriends, and female friends. But the social relationship may matter. As I explore in a previous post, men have different priorities for wives and daughters, valuing attractiveness and sweetness more highly in wives than in daughters and valuing independence and strength more highly in daughters (McClintock 2015). The reasons for this difference in preferred traits is unclear, but it suggests that men’s aspirations for daughters are gender-progressive. Clearly, greater gender equity and advances in women’s rights would help their daughters achieve these progressive dreams. It is also possible that insofar as men (and women) perceive their children to be extensions of themselves, they may have greater empathy for their children than for their wives, mothers, and sisters.

A similar pattern is evident in many popular rape myths (Hamlin 2001)—common and untrue beliefs about sexual assault that tend to minimize the extent of the problem and shift blame to the victim. Many rape myths “other” victims, depicting victims as unknown women, “bad” women, or women who “ask for it.” Trump’s depiction of his molestation of women is also very de-humanizing, treating the women as objects with whom he has no empathy. Having daughters and realizing that rape is not rare (for example, 20 percent of college women are sexually assaulted: National Sexual Violence Resource Center) may increase fathers’ empathy with victims of sexual assault.

Of course, Donald Trump has two daughters and a few granddaughters of his own. Despite these female offspring, his attitudes to women are not especially progressive. His frequent (and creepy) objectification of his daughters Ivanka (Griswold 2015) and Tiffany (Wagner 2016) suggests that he values attractiveness as much in his daughters as in his wives. But social science is not about universal truths. On average, daughters may promote gender-progressive attitudes in fathers, but, as Trump proves, such effects are not universal.

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Blake, Aaron. 2016. “Here’s the fast-growing list of Republicans calling for Donald Trump to drop out.” The Washington Post.…

Griswold, Alex. 2015. “Donald Trump Won’t Stop Joking About Banging His Daughter.” Mediaite.…

Hamlin, John. 2001. “List of Rape Myths.” University of Minnesota-Deluth.

McClintock, Elizabeth Aura. 2013. “How Daughters Change Fathers.” PT Blog.…

NY Times. 2016.…

Wagner, Meg. 2016. “SEE IT: Donald Trump comments on 1-year-old daughter’s breasts in disturbing 1994 interview.” New York Daily News.…

Warner, Rebecca L., and Brent S. Steel. 1999. “Child Rearing as a Mechanism for Social Change: The Relationship of Child Gender toParents' Commitment to Gender Equity.” Gender & Society 13(4):503-517.

Washington, Ebonya L. 2008. “Female Socialization: How Daughters Affect their Legislator Fathers’ Voting on Women’s Issues.” The American Economic Review 98(1):311-332.

Weitzman, Abigail. 2015. “Do Fathers’ Sexual Behaviors Vary with the Sex of Firstborns? Evidence from 37 Countries.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 56(4):495-513.

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