Over the weekend, Jay Feely, a former-professional-football-player-turned-commentator, caused a furor on Twitter by posting a photo with the caption, “Wishing my beautiful daughter and her date a great time at the Prom #BadBoys.” At first glance the image in question looks pretty typical. Feely, the protective father stands between his gussied-up blonde daughter and her date, a protective arm around her shoulders, while the besuited boyfriend beside him looks slightly nervous. Pretty typical, that is, until you notice Feely is holding a handgun.
It’s funny right? An innocent joke about protective dads. Well yes—and also mostly no.
My own dad—a very kind and gentle guy—used to make jokes like this all the time. I remember him racing my younger sister to the front door when one of her teenage dates dared to honk in the driveway instead of coming to the front door to pick her up. Dad would jump in the passenger side and give the lad a stern lecture about how he could expect to see “the backside of tomorrow” if he ever dared to honk again. Meanwhile my sister rolled her eyes with embarrassment just like Jay Feely’s daughter in the Twitter photo. It’s the kind of thing old-fashioned dads do to show how much they love their “little girls,” and I get that it comes from a warm, good-humoured place.
But I also think dads who love and respect their daughters need to stop making jokes like this.
Not very long ago, women were not allowed to vote or own property. It was less than a hundred years ago (1929) that women were actually considered “persons” under Canadian law.
So, if we weren’t actually “persons” what were we?
Simply put, we were property. Not unlike livestock or slaves. We were the possessions of our fathers and customarily traded (often in exchange for a dowry) to our husbands, who then owned us outright in turn. There was, until very recently, no such thing as “consent” for a woman. Your father, and later your husband, decided what would become of your body and your mind—even if that included abuse.
If a young woman was found out to have had sex before marriage, she was, until relatively recently in history, considered damaged goods. Until the day when your father walked you down the aisle and literally gave you away as a bride—you belonged to him entirely. And if you were to lose your virginity, you’d be spoiled goods—a daughter’s sexuality is closely tied to their social worth.
We think of these rituals as quaint tradition, but in fact, not so long ago they were very real, legal concepts that rendered women utterly powerless. It’s also important to remember that, in much of the world today, such social and economic structures persist as a matter of course.
You might think I’m being humourless here. But I don’t think you’d find many descendants of slavery who find visual jokes about masters and human chattel hilarious—especially ones with distinctly violent undertones.
Obviously, a sense of “ownership” is a natural (if tricky) part of parental love. And I have no doubt most dads who make jokes about their own possessiveness harbour no real feelings of ill-will toward their daughter’s boyfriends— apart from a normal wish to shelter their daughters from the pain of a broken heart.
But when fathers make jokes about owning their daughters or threatening their dates, they are also making light of a system that left women oppressed and dispossessed for centuries and persists around the world today. Needless to say, sons are rarely subjected to the same sort of humour.
Jay Feely has since apologized, saying he meant no harm and that the gun wasn’t actually loaded. He’s said he takes gun safety “very seriously” and that the photo was intended as “a joke.”
I get it, Dad. But it’s just not funny.