“Sit down, love” – a father’s dilemma

I am still not sure how I feel about my introducing politics to my twelve-year-old daughter. I don’t like the idea of indoctrination, and despite being open about my views, I try to balance them with what the opposing ideas are, so she doesn’t just take what I say as gospel.

It’s tricky. If I think “I’m right”, shouldn’t I teach her what “is right”? Yet, my father did not. A Labour man his whole life, and I barely knew it till he died. They did not shelter us from it. My parents allowed us to know the ideas and make our own choices. I want to try to do that for my daughter.

One thing I will not offer an “alternative view” for is the need for civilised discourse, the need to agree to disagree and make friendships across party-lines. She came home from school a little envious of her environmentally woke friends, who had chosen the subject for their end of primary school talks. We talked a while about the issues she thought important. Gender was chief amongst them. 

I made the mistake of only really knowing about strong legal women, and it ended up tilting to Ruth Bader Ginsburg (we’d seen On the Basis of Sex – a Hollywood biopic about the second Supreme Court Justice –  a month prior) and – to include the crossing-divides theme – Sandra Day O’Connor, of whom we knew nothing.

In the end it was a little convoluted and rushed – how to explain Constitutional Law and the Separation of Powers, gender equality and civilised debate in modern politics in 5-7 minutes was perhaps an editorial screw up on my part. But she understood it. Better, she came up with most of it herself. Did her own research and typed her own speech. It was very important to include SDC’s love of beef jerky because it showed she grew up on a ranch and was strong. Also RBG’s love of opera. Obviously. 

Like any parent, I got a sting of disappointment for her when it didn’t get selected for their assembly; but I thought she’d gained a lot from it and was proud of herself. And more sure of herself, as a young woman.

I’m not virtue-signalling. I have no idea what I’m doing here, trying to learn about feminism at the same time my pre-teen daughter needs to. That talk was pretty much a baptism by fire. I scold myself frequently for using sexist tropes like “needing to man up” or “stop acting like a girl”, in front of her. But she’s at such an important age. She needs to know these things.

So I just burst into her room – as she selected a bed time Manga comic to read, since I’d been given a story time pass to watch the news – to show her Jo Swinson’s powerful intervention. I’m not sure how much she understood. She knows a good bit more about Brexit than most twelve-year-olds. Maybe than many a good bit older, too… But we suddenly heard something. It was a heckle, but… it couldn’t be right. 

“Sit down, love!”

We rewound and listened again. 

“You should screen record it and put it on YouTube,” she told me.

I explained they’d no doubt deny it, say it was “Sit down, now!” And I’m technologically useless and I knew from the strength of the way she’d said it she would do it for me; and it was bed time…

I tried to forget it. Then I saw a tweet with the clip. And just felt despair. Should I tell my daughter? I was showing her the speech not just because it was a woman in a position of power at the centre of such important events. I showed her it because we spent the afternoon talking about her future. Her extracurricular activities, because she’s just started high school, one not far from Jo Swinson’s (which, as chance would have it, my sister and I both attended, though me after Jo’s time!). It wasn’t just a, “look, Auntie went to school with that political party leader on TV!” 

It was a thought: politics is for women, too. Was I wrong? 

Maybe it was a stroke of luck. Maybe I should tell her, “You were right. He actually said that.” 

And then maybe I should advise her not to give that world too much thought in her future considerations. 

What a thing to say: to a twelve-year-old young woman in 2019. 

I guess I’ll decide later.

* Johnny McDermott is a Glasgow University Law graduate who is studying for his Masters with a focus on moral and political philosophy.

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  • Johnny McDermott 5th Sep '19 - 10:06am

    Breakfast conversation update

    I decided…
    That it wasn’t my right to decide. Not to sugar coat politics nor turn her against it.

    She is a political aware young woman. I told her she was right; that we had heard right. It’s up to her what to do with that. 

    I also asked how it made her feel? I reminded her she didn’t need to give any “right answer”, either one she thought I’d approve of or one she thought was expected of her as a young woman.

    I offered some Cliff note (political party positions/ philosophies) options to help sum up positions those debating this issue would likely take to see if it helped: angry and motivated to secure the changes women before her did and keep making them until this is rooted out; maybe depressed, frustrated and nihilistic, there being no point fighting if it’s still going on like this; or “he’s an idiot that should be shamed then ignored”, not registering on her or the progress women like her will continue to make.

    She went mostly for the third – though said her initial thought wasn’t outrage or sadness but just “what?” *Had* she heard that? Then had she heard *THAT*? She wasn’t shocked or outraged. But stunned is about right, she decided, once we participated in some pedantic definitions.

    And that’s why I wrote it. That’s what upset me. It was the first time in my daughter’s life I’d seen her stunned that she is not equal to young men her age. That she might never be.

    But she also said option one was important too. 

    “Yeah, keep fighting the idiots, but not angry.”

    “He should be left behind? If he won’t change, we don’t fight him but we move on without him?”

    “Yeah… like a dinosaur.”

    That made me laugh, and mute a little of that despair. The start of a long dilemma, for now, resolved… she’s gonna be just fine!

  • Sue Sutherland 5th Sep '19 - 1:42pm

    I think it’s important that you believe your daughter is equal to a boy/man. That comment in Parliament was a political ploy trying to demean the Leader of our party using sexist language, it was not even an expression of the state of our society at the moment. So don’t panic that your daughter isn’t equal. She will meet discrimination of all kinds in her life, not just because she is a young woman. Help her to have a strong confidence in herself and it sounds as if she will be able to take on the world.

  • Martin Land 5th Sep '19 - 3:11pm

    Health retired, I taught Politics to slightly older, A level students. Before starting I would advise them to take the Political Compass test and then take it again at the end. Always interesting for them and to me.

  • Gordon Lishman 6th Sep '19 - 1:08pm

    Relax a bit. Don’t over-think it. Be normal. Take things as they come. She’ll find her own way, particularly with encouragement and support. (my daughters are either side of 40 and fine).

  • Johnny McDermott 7th Sep '19 - 12:11am

    Sue – thank you for your thoughts. I agree, it isn’t necessarily indicative of an endemic problem. My worry is my daughter – advanced in political nonsense as she is for her age, certainly compared to myself at the same age – can’t necessarily distinguish the difference between a distractive ploy and a genuine sentiment of our country. I believe she finds it surprising and shocking when she hears of her Granny being in a separate union “just for girls” in the 1970’s, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg being told she couldn’t be employed because her good looks would make “the wives” unhappy in the 1950’s. These aren’t ancient times to her. She needs to know it isn’t going to be this way. That she has the right to equality. I think you’re right and I’m worrying too much – she’s educating herself in this stuff. I’ll never know what went through her mind, truly. But she seemed more ambivalent than outraged this morning. I think she knows – against misogynist “dinosaurs” – she and the likes of Jo are going to win.

  • Johnny McDermott 7th Sep '19 - 12:16am

    Martin Land – it would be interesting doing something similar at younger ages. See how the kids feel about striking to save the world we adults have ruined if it meant giving up their iphones and Netflix… perhaps the result would surprise a cynic like myself. But I don’t think so. Thus, the art of compromise and as Jo wrote, the art of disagreeing well, seems as if it should be top of our children’s political curriculum. They undoubtedly need a strong – as neutral as possible – one. Kids younger than mine know the dividing lines of Brexit or Indy Ref. How to teach politics apolitically?
    Rambling – a thought to make any swings in those compasses a little less radical for 17-21 year old students uneducated in the art of compromise and the middle ground – or politics more generally!

  • Johnny McDermott 7th Sep '19 - 12:28am

    Ruth – I was going to say I don’t know about that but suddenly the “grandee” springs to mind. I by no means meant to suggest Jo didn’t react as she should have – stonewalling that tripe. I’d like to read excerpts of that book with my kid. We do “non-school” reading. Sophie Ridge’s Women that shaped politics is next, but started light with Dilbert and the Way of the Weasel. Later I read the sexist chapter on awful office women and tore it out… hoping she wasn’t keen on more Weasel tips.

    It goes beyond the work place too. She’s just started high school. I remember well the sentiment me and the boys had to girls… “Conquest”. How do I prepare her? Do I warn her of the little horny horrors like me and kill all teenage romance in her life? I seriously considered training her in basic Krav Maga. [I plan to write on taking responsibility for my attitude to girls, how times have changed even in 20 years, and post Me Too… but it’s some dark stuff. It requires a level of honesty that many will not be willing to countenance. But I think it is the only way to teach young men how to respect young women, and allow both to live the kind of lives we’d want them to, well educated. That’s for another day… I hope a very, very, very far off day, for my role as caution-citing father, rather than chauvinist “wannabe-conquering” daft teenage boy. ]

    I don’t accept that I just tell her “this harassment will happen; you’ll have to learn how to deal with it”. I’m not being utopian. Maybe I am. But coping strategies doesn’t seem sufficient. Necessary, but… they should not *need* to “cope”.

  • Johnny McDermott 7th Sep '19 - 12:31am

    PS. Ruth: I think I misread an accusation I was having a dig at Jo. Was the main point she should have the power to deal with these men more efficiently?
    Still want to know thoughts on how we prepare them. But – promise it’s jumped up blog list – will write the embarrassing “this is how we prepare young *men* not to be little pests” blog. I think that’s a better approach. Or equally important. Prepare the boys/ men.

  • Johnny McDermott 7th Sep '19 - 12:39am

    Simon Banks – thank you. I admit double reading it, these aren’t simple themes. But it is truly insightful and much appreciated advice.
    At the end of the day it will be for her to decide how involved – and in what capacity – she becomes. We always said we wouldn’t force beliefs – religious or political or whatever – just present options. But that “I think it’s right… I can’t not say that” is hard. But she will find her own way. Even if it causes some American Dad style debates. We’ve recently had frequent environmental “family wars” – and although I best not admit too much Planet Rebellion skepticism – she’s winning the debate!

  • Johnny McDermott 7th Sep '19 - 1:08am

    Gordon Lishman –
    – relax: no. No I don’t feel I want to, nor should I have to relax. I don’t think (see above responses) our daughters should have to put up with this; not anymore.
    – “Don’t overthink it”? I can’t respond to that logically. You’ve responded to an opinion piece about misogyny and the effect it has on our daughters, yet – illogically – advise I not over think it. An opinion piece. A forum of opinion encouraging debate. But it’s more than that, it’s a dig, and I’ll return to it.
    – my response immediately above this one concurs – she will find her own way; agreed – and I’m glad your adult daughters have found theirs, too
    – But I want to focus on: “Be Normal”. Combined with the “don’t overthink it” dig… Well, dig or not. It’s pretty patronising stuff. Lacks any substance, if nothing else. Or – if genuine advice – any practicable, useful tips.

    I don’t know what age you are, Gordon. My daughter is twelve and I’m 31. Both in the blog but I’m not expecting forensic examination of each word by each reader. My point is, I am learning on the go like any other parent, but at a time I remember damn well what young men want from pretty young women. When I haven’t have long enough to become “a man” [if that is EVER coming… I mean, seriously? I still feel 15].

    Your daughters are either side of 40. So, they were born in the 80s. Maybe you had them at a “normal” age (what was that then, 23-33?) and all of this has been “normal” and not something you’ve needed to “overthink”. But then, maybe you’re just like me; I don’t know you. Maybe you had your girls when you were 19 to the day… so could actually have offered some helpful – no, some less condescending – on how to approach these kinds of issues.

    I’ll reply seriously and with (if you check time I started compared to now) commitment to every serious response to the blogs LDV privileges me with a platform to have such discussions, raise such controversies and ask for genuine advice. But in future, if you’re just going to give me some of that David Cameron “Calm down, Dear” tripe… don’t expect this kind of rational response. Or any. It would not be worth the time. I’ve been advised that Time’s Up. We better get our young men and women ready for the new times.

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