27 Women Share What They Wish Their Fathers Had Known About Raising Daughters


In recent months, the phrase “As a father of daughters” has become symptomatic of performative allyship — the argument being that it shouldn’t require having daughters for men to care about gender equality. If you actually talk to women about the things they wish their fathers had known about raising daughters, however, it becomes clear that there’s often even more of a disconnect between word and deed.

That’s what a recent AskReddit thread tackles. Posted on Wednesday by u/MeisterStenz, it very explicitly asks, “Daughters of Reddit, what is something you wish your father knew about girls when you were growing up?” — and with more than 13,000 comments flooding the post in less than 24 hours, it’s clear that many Redditors who are also daughters have a lot to say on the subject. The thread isn’t specifically geared towards feminists, but what’s interesting to me is that what has emerged from the thread is basically a feminist guide to parenting — which, I think, really shows just how intuitive feminism can actually be. Yes, it's often complex; yes, the issues feminism deals with are complex; and yes, achieving equality is not a simply matter. At the end of the day, though, the idea that all people deserve the same rights and opportunities is really not a difficult concept to grasp.

Here are 14 lessons from the thread, as illustrated by comments 27 women — although there are many, many more lessons where these ones came from, too. Head on over to AskReddit for more.

1. Being A Girl Doesn’t Mean That Your Daughter Only Likes “Girly” Things

This is a common theme throughout the thread; a lot of Redditors had similar observations.

It seems like the most basic of things to acknowledge…

…But making assumptions about someone’s likes and dislikes based on their gender is just as problematic when you’re doing it for kids as it is for adults.

2. But, Don’t Shame Your Daughter If She DOES Like Girly Things

One of the things that stood out the most to me in this comment is this section: “I only wish that my father would’ve acknowledged that I’m a girl and it’s okay for me to like dressing up and that it’s okay to ‘throw like a girl.’” I don’t mean to minimize all of the other stuff Redditor u/ SweetGD007’s dad got right; he does sound like a wonderful father. But this point, I think, matters.

It’s true that limiting girls to traditionally “feminine” activities and interests does them a disservice — but the same is true for denying or devaluing traditionally “feminine” activities and interests. Being a girl shouldn’t be considered a limitation, but nor should it be considered an insult or something of which to be ashamed. It’s OK to like makeup and fashion; it’s OK to be a girl.

3. In Fact, Kids Can Like All Kinds Of Things, Regardless Of Gender, Period

They can like both girly things and not-girly things! What's more, they don't even have to be described as one or the other in the first place!

And also, giving your kids the same freedoms regardless of their gender matters. A lot.

Just, y’know… food for thought.

4. Father Doesn’t Always Know Best

Especially as your kids get older and once they’refull-fledge adults themselves.

While it’s true that the idea that “Father knows best” can be problematic in relationships between fathers and kids of all genders, there’s something particularly insidious about it with regards to father-daughter relationships. Because men are so frequently treated as smarter and more competent than women are as a whole — a phenomenon that’s backed up by a whoooole lot of research — applying the “Father knows best” idea to a father-daughter relationship communicates more than the already troublesome message of, “I’m your parent, therefore I know better than you do” (or, worse, “I’m your parent, therefore I know your own experience better than you do”); it also communicates, “I am a man, therefore I know better than you do.”

In reality, though, it’s not disrespectful to disagree with someone — even if that someone happens to be a parent, even if that parent happens to be a father, and even if the person doing the disagreeing is their daughter.

5. And If You’re Wrong, Apologize

Again, this one can be an issue for all father-child relationships, but with father-daughter relationships, it’s especially gendered. It isn’t “unmanly” to admit that you were wrong.

6. Daughters Remember What You Say About Them

You might think of these kinds of comments as off-the-cuff. You might not think it’s something you say regularly. But daughters hear them all the same — probably more often than you think we do — and we internalize them, which can have huge effects on our development as people.

Choose your words carefully.

7. Daughters Also Remember How You Treat Other Women

Mothers, yes, but also women more generally.

This is one of the ways that women learn whether the world values us. If we see our fathers — who are often the most important men in our lives when we’re young — treating women respectfully, we learn that we have value as human beings, that we, too, are worthy of respect. If we see our fathers mistreating women, we learn that women do not have value, that we are lesser, that we are not worthy of respect.

It also shapes how we ourselves perceive and relate to men.

These lessons will follow us throughout our lives — for better or for worse. Again: Choose your words wisely. And choose your actions wisely, too.

8. The “Overprotective Father” Trope Doesn’t Do Anyone Any Favors

As Bustle’s Gina Florio pointed out in 2016, overprotective fathers reinforce rape culture in a variety of ways, from underlining the notion that men are always the ones in charge to preventing young women from learning to speak up for themselves.

But, as this comment makes clear, it can also mess with your ability to detect actual red flags, thereby increasing the risk for being victimized in an abusive relationship. And that’s a huge problem.

9. But Neither Does Forcing A Relationship Where There Isn’t One

This one is perhaps a little less gendered than the overprotective father trope — the same way that parents might rib girls for having boy friends, they might rip boys for having girl friends—but it’s super heteronormative either way and reinforces the idea that men and women can never be just friends.

For the record: Not all boys are potential boyfriends. Girls and boys can be friends without romance ever entering the picture. Not all girls are interested in dating boys in the first place.

10. Making An Effort To Learn About “Women’s Issues” Matters

This one is especially true for cisgender dads. And by “women’s issues,” I’m not just talking about the big picture ones like the wage gap and systemic sexism, but also about everyday stuff: Periods. Puberty. Those kinds of things.

Sure, you may not necessarily deal with them yourself, but having knowledge of them can really help your daughters in a wide variety of ways. One on level, it makes them more likely to feel they can come to you about the issues they’re dealing with as they navigating the mess that can be growing up; on another, it helps destigmatize both these kinds of issues and the act of talking about them; and on yet another, it validates their experiences — something which is particularly important in a world that often seems hell bent on invalidating them based on other people's comfort.

On that note:

11. Menstruating Does Not Invalidate Someone’s Thoughts, Feelings, Or Pain

Again, this one is most relevant for cis dads: There is nothing more frustrating than being told that your perfectly valid emotions don’t matter because you might be menstruating. Or simply because you menstruate in general.

Also, menstrual pain: It is a thing. It is not “all in our heads.” And really severe menstrual pain can be a symptom of a serious health issue. It is essential to listen to young women (women of all ages, really) when they tell you something doesn’t feel right. As a parent, you’re not off the hook just because you might not menstruate yourself.

While we’re on the subject:

12. It’s OK To Have Emotions

It’s OK for daughters (and girls and women) to have emotions…

…And it’s also OK for fathers and (and sons and men) to have them. And it’s OK to show those emotions — to communicate your love and affection, or to be openly sad or upset, or to allow yourself to visibly experience any of the vast array of human emotions. Emotions are not “girly,” and they are not “weaknesses.”

13. Commenting On Your Daughter’s Body Is Not OK

Same goes for her friends’ bodies. It’s obviously not OK in a sexualized fashion, but the same is true more generally.

Even when they’re little kids. Especially when they’re little kids.

The objectification of women may be normalized in our culture, but it doesn’t have to be; nor does fat shaming or fat phobia. And hey, guess what? One of the ways fathers can help combat all of those things is by not commenting on their daughter’s bodies.

14. “Believe Your Daughter About Her Own Lived Experiences”

I can’t possibly put this point any better than u/choixpeau did.

All of these comments, by the way? They are far from the only pearls of wisdom in the original thread. Head here to read to whole thing; it’s worth spending some time with, no matter what your gender is, and whether or not you have or plan to have kids. It’s a reminder that our words and actions can often have far-reaching consequences — even if we don’t think they will.