Black Girl Sexuality: An African American Dad Vows Never To Police His Daughter’s Body

By SHAWN TAYLOR

You would assume that the playground would be one of the few places where you could just be a father. No stress, just play, laughter, and a sense of community with other parents. But this is rarely the case. Maybe I missed the memo, but most playgrounds seemed to have been designated as either mommy or nanny spaces. Any way you look at it, men are barely tolerated, or even welcomed a majority of the time. The playground is a women’s space.

Going to the playground, especially during the day when men should be at work, is like being in one of those old cowboy flicks. You enter, everyone stops; you get sized up and immediately judged, and then everyone seemingly goes back to doing what she’s doing. (Yes, “she’s.”) But make no mistake, you are being watched. And don’t do anything that does not conform to the park consensus ideas of child rearing, because you will receive a ton of unsolicited advice and feedback. I’ll give you an example.

My daughter is a little rough. She plays hard, laughs loudly, and will take as many risks as she is allowed. There is a ton of personality in her 43 inches. So when she somersaulted off the play structure, a “concerned” mother ran over to me and said, “Oh my god! Are you sure that’s safe for your son to do?”

In my best not-to-scare-White-folks voice, I gently corrected her and informed her that it was my daughter that just did that spectacular flip. “Daughter?” She said. “How can anyone tell? Her ears aren’t pierced, and her hair is all over the place. She has on a superhero T-shirt… how is anyone supposed to know? She doesn’t look like a girl.” I told her that her son looked like a future Columbine kid and walked away.

Her assumption that I didn’t know how to keep my daughter safe did not make me nearly as angry as her “she doesn’t look like a girl” comment. What compels folks—especially in relation to gender—to categorize and force people to conform to how they view the world? My wife and I made a firm decision to not burden our daughter with gender trappings. If she asked for it, we’d pierce her ears, but only if she asked. At the park, she would wear things that wedidn’t mind her destroying. We agreed not to shove her into dresses and shoes she couldn’t play in. You know, we decided to let her be a kid.

And then there’s this: A mom came up to me, tapped my shoulder conspiratorially, and said, “Oooooh, she’s so cute. You better lock her away when she’s old enough to date. You will be in trouble.” Aside from sounding mildly pedophilic, it disturbs me to no end when little boys are called “heartbreakers,” but parents are told their little girls need to be “locked away” like Rapunzel or otherwise removed and protected…

Read the rest of Shawn Taylor’s [Father/Hood] post about the politics of daughters and their bodies on Ebony.com.

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1. Just Say “NO” To the Stereotyping of African American Parents and Other Moms and Dads Of Color
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3
A Recipe For Solid Relationships Between Black Girls and Boys

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5 Comments

  1. Wow! I love this and I’m sending it to my husband. I’ve struggled sometimes to define what made my normally very quiet and unassuming father a feminist (he wouldn’t call himself that, which is fine, but he and my mom undeniably taught me to be one). But you know what? I think it’s because he just always thought I was smart enough to make my own decisions. Sure, my parents talked to me a lot about boundaries and consequences and choices, but they were always clear they were mine to own. I’m sure that was not always an easy choice.

  2. Finally! A man willing to address the double standard of boy/girl rearing. My daughter is that wild-haired, non-pierced, Iron-Man tee-wearing, free spirit doing somersaults off the jungle gym. Bless it!

  3. When Baguette was a newborn, a sales clerk referred to her as my son. I said, “Daughter,” and she apologized, and I said, “It’s really hard to tell at this age.” Because I didn’t care if people got her gender wrong. It’s really hard to tell at that age.

    She then said, “Well, it’s hard to know when she’s wearing blue.” I shrugged, but what I wish I had said was, “I’m wearing blue. Can you tell if I’m a woman?”

    Like you, I’ll pierce Baguette’s ears if she asks. My critierion is that she be old enough (and responsible enough) to take care of the hygiene herself.

    Sometimes she wears dresses, and sometimes she wears shirts, and sometimes those shirts come from the boys’ section of the store. But she nearly always wears leggings, because that’s what she likes.

    She will be herself no matter what she wears. If that turns out to be pink ruffles and lace, fine. But we want her to pick that because she wants it, not because she didn’t know she had any other choice.

    Is that your daughter in the picture? She looks like she’s having the time of her life!

  4. I kept hoping that the quote, “Her ears aren’t pierced, and her hair is all over the place. She has on a superhero T-shirt… ” was the author imagining what the woman was thinking. That she actually said it? Those actual words? Out loud? TO him? The very definition of hubris. Who walks up to a stranger and says “your kid’s hair is all over the place.” For real, though? There is gender politics here, but race politics as well.

  5. @Tamara — That was a verbatim quote. I was stunned beyond belief.

    @Tragic — That photo is not of my daughter, but there is definitely kindred energy.

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