Something happens when a dude has a daughter: Women, once mystifying, vexing creatures with shoe racks, eyelash curlers, and vagina holes become fully formed three-dimensional human beings. The mere and sudden fact of fatherhood pushes men into a new realm of cognizance: They have to care about what happens to women — but only some, and only if they’re of a certain race, class, or status — and maybe even take misconduct against them a little personally. A daughter gives them skin in the patriarchal, sexist game they once could look past. I know this because every time a man is accused of something bad, or when someone he knows is accused of something bad, the same quote surfaces: “As a father of daughters, I …”
Over the past week, dozens of new, identical horror stories about Harvey Weinstein have come to light. The women — Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette, plus dozens of other victims — tell the same story, outlining the same culture of fear, silence, and shame: She arrives for a meeting. He greets her in a bathrobe, asking for a massage, and then possibly sex. If she complies, he’ll make her a star, or at least not turn her into a pariah.
In response to this shared story, denizens of Hollywood say they “didn’t know,” or “weren’t sure,” or had “no idea it was this bad.” If they’re women, the statement ends there (or goes on to include their own horrible Weinstein-related experience).
If they’re men, they bring in The Daughters.
This is the best that many men have to offer by way of a denouncement: They’re repulsed, as “fathers of daughters.” Ben Affleck said we “need to do better at protecting our friends, sisters, co-workers and daughters.” (Okay, sounds good.) New York governor Andrew Cuomo said he’ll keep money Weinstein helped raise for his campaign, because the real problem is bigger than Weinstein’s influence. Then he reminded us who he’s working hard for: “I have three daughters,” Cuomo told reporters. “I want to make sure at the end of the day, this world is a safer, better world for my three daughters.” Matt Damon denied that he tried to kill a story that could have shed light on Weinstein’s pattern of harassment years ago. “I am not the story here,” Damon told Deadline, and then, right before our eyes, he and Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. tried to out-father-of-daughters each other:
DEADLINE: You’ve since been criticized in Tweets from Jessica Chastain and others and been dragged into this maelstrom.
DAMON: Look, even before I was famous, I didn’t abide this kind of behavior. But now, as the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night. This is the great fear for all of us. You have a daughter, you know…
DAMON: We know this stuff goes on in the world. I did five or six movies with Harvey. I never saw this. I think a lot of actors have come out and said, everybody’s saying we all knew. That’s not true. This type of predation happens behind closed doors, and out of public view.
Even Vanessa Carlton, while not a man, mimicked man logic when she pressured Paltrow to come forward, asking her to “do it for your daughter.” The daughter thing works both ways, too. When accusations about Nate Parker arose last year, Deadline mentioned Parker’s daughters as a set piece for his new innocent life: “Parker invited a Deadline reporter to his home Thursday — remnants of the five daughters who live with him all around — to look him in the eye and discuss the case.” In case that didn’t give you a clear enough visual, Parker repeated it himself: “I’ve done a lot of living,” he told the trade, “and raised a lot of children. I’ve got five daughters and a lovely wife. My mom lives here with me; I brought her here. I’ve got four younger sisters.” It sounds like that one bad John Mayer song on a loop.
Having a daughter shouldn’t be a requirement for internalizing the problems of working within a sexist industry. Your wives gave birth to a baby girl, not a moral compass. (For what it’s worth, George Clooney, a new dad, managed to talk to the Daily Beast for a whole interview without mentioning his infant twins, one of whom is a girl.) Peppering statements about how shocked and appalled you are with a mention of your daughter just makes you look clueless. Because here’s the thing: Only a sociopath needs a daughter — or a sister, a girlfriend, a wife, or even just a lady standing in front of him at Starbucks — to make him queasy enough at the thought of a sexual predator in his industry to do something about it. You don’t need a daughter to feel guilty about working with a man who preys on young women, or about not acting to stop him. You just need a conscience.