Sons and Daughters
It does no good to pretend they are the same
By Ken Davison
As a father of seven girls (and one boy), three of whom are now teenagers, I am as close to an expert on the feminine nature as a man can be. It is not popular today to say this, but there is one thing I know about girls: they want boys to think they are pretty, and most (at least eventually) want one particular boy to think they are pretty.
Yes, Scarlett O’Hara liked lots of male attention — at first. But then one man’s opinion became her focus. Likewise, when there’s an “eight-girl whirl” in my house dressing and prepping for prettiness, some seem intent on a particular opinion, perhaps mine alone (“Am I pretty, Daddy?”), or perhaps, some of my daughters are becoming more interested in, ahem, someone else’s particular opinion.
Which is why I offer the below perspective on how boys need to be helped to really see pretty:
Boys relate to things. My only son was just minutes out of the womb when he was literally reaching out with his little hands, touching and pushing on the sides of the clear bassinet into which he’d been placed. He ignored me looking at him. None of my girls did anything of the sort. It has been noted that girl babies will look into the eyes of the person holding them and will hold that gaze, while boys quickly look away at the things around them. Boys are predisposed to relate to stuff, not to people. They need to learn how to relate to people differently then they relate to things (just ask your wife, men).
Boys break things down. Boys relate to the world by taking it apart. They want to see how it all fits together, they want to look at each part, they want to see what’s inside. This “piecemeal” approach to reality carries over into how males deal with people. Servant of God Fulton Sheen commented that males can actually love different parts of a woman, while women love the totality of a person — even when they express their appreciation of characteristics, it is not the same way men.
Boys are visual — not because they want to be, but simply because they are. Shaunti Feldhahn conducted research with over 1,000 men (which became a book titled, For Women Only: What You Need to Know about the Inner Lives of Men), and she discovered that 98% (you read that right) reported that when a women dressed to show off her body comes into their line of sight, they “can’t not be attracted.” A conscious effort needs to be made not to dwell on looking at her. Just a momentary, passing glance registers to a male “the breakdown of the parts,” and this peripheral glimpse will literally, involuntarily, turn his head, unless he consciously, intentionally, turns the other way.
How does this all add up? Boys find it easier to relate to the world as objects, they break things down into their components to do so, and a male is not predisposed like a female to focus on faces.
Now, dads, you see what you need to do for your daughter to help her achieve her goal of being pretty in the eyes of boys, in general, and one boy, in particular: tell her to dress herself in such a manner that she directs boys to her very pretty face, not to parts of her body.
This is quite a sensitive topic, and you will get no help from the culture, which promotes a prevailing fashion of (a) minimal clothing, to provide direct inspection of more and more body parts; (b) tight clothing, to provide just a veneer over parts that aren’t directly revealed; and (c) designs and words to direct attention to specific parts, as well as using “peek-a-boo” underclothes to ensure a boy wonders what’s underneath.
Don’t let your daughter leave the house dressed in such a way that she is undermining her true intentions, simply because she doesn’t understand the male mind. Yes, she can get attention from boys, which she will likely mistake for the attention she wants. She doesn’t want boys to catalog her components as objects.
Here are three hints for dads looking to protect their daughters:
Say, “Don’t wear anything that the Blessed Virgin Mary wouldn’t wear.” Steve Wood said something like this to his daughters once — and although he forgot it, his girls did not. And they thought about it. A good variation: “Don’t wear anything you wouldn’t want to meet Jesus wearing.”
Ask your daughter’s Guardian Angel to speak to her on your behalf. Angels know how to communicate with females better than we men do. Notice how the Archangel Gabriel had a long conversation with the Blessed Virgin, carefully explaining the big picture for her. However, when angels appeared to St. Joseph, they got right to the point and told him what he needed to do and when. My son and I (alone in our house!) can appreciate such simple and direct communication!
Ask your wife for help. Make sure you are in synch on what’s acceptable — and that she understands what the unwitting male reaction to the clothing choices will be. Something “cute” to a female can be something quite different to a male.
Relax, dad, but don’t be afraid to protect your daughter from boys when necessary. She may object, but she’ll love you for it.
Ken Davison is the founder of Holy Heroes, a Catholic family apostolate that offers resources and inspiration. He and his wife live in North Carolina with their eight children.