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What I Want to Tell My Daughters About Autonomy and Sex in the Midst of a War on Women

I believe it is important for me to voice truths about a woman’s right to be in control of her actions, but I wish there was more I could do as a male ally and, perhaps more importantly, as a father.

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On weekends, I would bike around Santa Barbara with my son, letting his mother sleep because she was out till 2 a.m. selling roses to partiers at the bars along State Street. Of course, I admit that balancing a year-old baby on my handlebars, sans helmet, was not the smartest move a father could make. But the number of times I was told that I couldn’t parent were infuriating. I was told that I hadn’t dressed my son properly, or that I knew nothing about his well being, or that I would hurt him or drop him, which I sometimes did, but not because I was a man.

I remember having to change my child on one teacher’s desk after class, her body recoiling, her face full of disdain; it was one of the proudest moments of my life. I didn’t then see the irony of being so unwelcome with a child in that space.I took him to classes with me during my first year of studying American Literature at UC-Santa Barbara, not to prove a point about young parents, but because I had no other child care and many of my teachers made no exceptions for spotty attendance.

Instead, I apologized, afraid I was being disrespectful. I thought of my mother ten years earlier, telling me, a 12-year-old, to stay in the car and watch my brothers while she ran in to take her final exam and complete the program she was enrolled in at the community college.

I realized then the strength she must have needed to continue her studies and persist despite the intense judgment society throws at parents, particularly single moms on welfare, which she was at that time.

She was a fighter too, I realize, and this war never seems to end.

Now, in an attempt to provide positive examples of responsibility and body image to my younger kids, I’ve looked around to see what’s out there for them. Other than a few notable exceptions (young feminists like zinester Cristy C. Road and the writers on websites like Feminist Frequency) I’ve discovered a surprising effort to disempower women from owning and controlling their own bodies. 

Jezebel goes on to address inequalities in pay, health care expenses, and domestic violence. It also shows how it is even worse for women of color.I read on that there were 1,100 reproductive-rights-related laws introduced by state lawmakers in 2011. Another 604 had been introduced at the state level as of June 1 of this year. Most of them aimed at controlling women’s choices, their bodies, and/or access to information. Many of them written by men.

I fear for my daughters.

As I watch my eldest and her boyfriend lounging on the couch, cuddling, learning to love each other, I wonder what things will be like when they become parents, what the front lines of this war will be then. I wonder how I can help them prepare.

I am committed to seeing my daughters as individual people, not limited to their gender, but not disconnected from it either. This is tough. I seek to respect my children’s autonomy and privacy, to trust their power and to keep talking with them, even when it makes all of us uncomfortable.


Tomas Moniz wrote this article for  It's Your Body , the Fall 2012 issue of YES! Magazine. Tomas is editor of the book  Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood.

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