Her Heart Belongs to Daddy
I. PLAYPEN GAMES
The Fine Art of Faking Out Father
Sieg Heil, Daddy
I Remember Mama
II. FLOWER CHILD GAMES
Little Princess Power
Sex and the Single Six-Year-Old
Miss Muffet's Fantasies
III. PUBERTY GAMES
The Making of a Girl
The Wisdom of Keeping One's Legs Crossed and Mouth Shut
Her Heart Belongs to Daddy
Let's face it. The war between the sexes is rigged in man's favor from the very beginning. The scenario for Round One is brief:
A little girl studies family power politics, sizes up Mommy and Daddy, and draws two conclusions:
1. Mommy is a mess.
2. Daddy is a prince.
Moral: Hop on the winning team fast.
However, there's no reason for men to feel cocky. Little girls may not want to grow up like Mother but it's equally apparent that Daddy, while a prince, is also a sap. Because even though Mommy kneels in tribute to Our Father Who Art at the Office, behind his back she's subtly (or, as the case may be, not so subtly) giving him the honorable old middle finger. A girl feels justified in doing likewise, and so, with the realization that Daddy is ripe for a royal screwing, she embarks on a lifetime career of exploiting the old man in one way or another. Disillusioning, but there it is.
Think of this chapter as an opening chorus of rude and disrespectful sounds.
1. PLAYPEN GAMES
The Fine Art of Faking Out Father. The first human being a girl meets when she enters this world is a man: the obstetrician. As if she already understands that Baby, It's a Man's World, she greets this advance man from the male establishment with an appropriately symbolic gesture. She pees on him. So far, so good.
The second man she encounters is Daddy; that is, if he hasn't been detained, bonding with his cronies in a bar or passing out cigars. There are two important facts about Daddy that she will eventually discover: 1. He's disappointed because she should have been a boy. (Mother, too, may have wanted a son.) 2. He usually manages to overcome his gloom when reminded that, even though daughters may be second best, there are some compensations. His newly revised attitude toward the inferior specimen is best summed up in a greeting card which announces: CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR BABY DAUGHTER and reassuringly points out:
Little girls are wonderful—
They're sweet and precious, too
And who should know that better
Than a happy pair like you!
In case this message isn't consolation enough, the card manufacturer helpfully reminds Daddy what he can expect from a female child. The poem:
WHAT IS A GIRL?
She's a bundle of sweetness and brightness and fun
The beauty of springtime, the warmth of the sun
She's Innocence covered with mud, sand, and soot
She's Motherhood dragging a doll by the foot
She's a composite picture of giggles and tears
Of tantrums, excitement, amusement and fears
A bundle of mischief and often a tease
A creature of moods not too easy to please
Who can capture your heart with her pixie-like grin
Or chatter and beg till your patience wears thin
But obedient, naughty, mischievous or coy
She's Mom's little Darling and Dad's pride and joy.
Of course, just like a woman: sweet, innocent, tearful, fearful, a tease, a creature of moods, coy, and wouldn't you know it, a chatterbox. Lulled into accepting this quaint, if wildly inaccurate image of his daughter, Daddy makes the mistake of treating her like a Little Darling. He will never know the true her, any more than he knows the real feelings of his wife. Score one for our side.
The tone of her relationship with Daddy virtually set for life, Little Darling can confidently proceed to manipulate him at will, unless one day she makes the deadly error of letting on what she really thinks of him. Nancy, a twenty-year-old college student and her father's favorite child, appraises Daddy:
Until about two years ago I felt my father was the most horrible person I'd known in my whole fucking life. I really hated him and I still have a lot of resentment and anger.
About two years ago she left home. Since then, she has tried to limit their reunions to occasions when she needs money.
If painting women as hypocrites and deceivers of men from the moment of birth seems too black a portrait, it's simply a case of necessity being the mother of invention. To some degree at least, all women are forced to dissemble if they expect to coexist with men by meeting the man-made ground rules for female behavior. The more successfully Little Darling fakes out Father, the better she'll get along later on in a man's world. Her only other option is to turn around and climb back into a woman's world, Mama's womb.
Family Fascism. Armed with the knowledge that Daddy can be used, a girl learns her first lesson in female behavior when she observes the power struggle between Mother and Daddy. One of the revelations apparent from her ringside seat is that conjugal conflict is a fact of life. Hostilities may not always be waged out in the open, but trench warfare goes on continually.
For reasons still obscure to her, one parent hands down commandments as if he were a local representative for the Almighty. (Wait until she hears about the real thing, that celebrated all-male triumvirate, The Father, The Son, and The Holy Ghost.) Daddy's list of Thou Shalts mainly concerns his status. It is his right to be Dominant, In Charge, Boss, and Head of Household—a precarious authority he nervously struggles to attain and then maintain by means of elementary fascism. Nancy remembers her father's nightly homecomings:
We'd be sitting there, talking and having a good time. When we'd hear the garage door open, which meant he was home, everybody would tense up and change what we had been saying. We'd ask each other, "Is he in a good mood or a bad mood?" Always, always there was this kind of dread. If he was angry, my mother would tell us, "Well, something happened at the office today and he's just taking it out on us."
We had such sensors. Determining his moods and whims became a science.
Whether or not Daddy is the only parent to provide Our Daily Bread, he still feels entitled to control. The crude propaganda he passes out is meant to reassure his family, but mainly himself, that domination is his due. He's bigger and stronger than Mother, isn't he? And smarter? Doesn't he drive the car? Pay the bills? All of which conveniently overlooks the unpleasant truth that his only claim to power rests on biological accident: He owns a penis. If he didn't, he'd be in the same position as Mommy, skimming the Monkey Ward catalogue and marveling at the latest toilet bowl cleaner.
The politics of the family, despite its lack of logic, doesn't take long to decipher. Daddy may act like a megalomaniac, but the real issue here is his unavailability. He simply is not part of a girl's daily existence. In her world the key person is Mother, who is available. For all Daddy's soliloquies about how hard he works, the office or store or wherever else he disappears to doesn't exist. She only sees that Mother, hustling between the stove and the A & P, holds the short end of the stick.
As for the agitprop she hears about males being smarter, this peculiar line of reasoning may confuse her for years to come. On the one hand, she can see that boys, despite their ordinary human abilities, seem to be treated as special people. On the other, this is a preposterous idea which she can refute by observing her brother or the boy next door. A mini-view of the sexes from Laurie, four, describing the boys in her nursery school class:
YUCK! Boys are stupid.
Well, I like boys sometimes. I like Charlie because he gives me gum. Once he gave me nine pieces of bubble gum. But girls are nicer.
While Daddy appears to possess extraordinary power, especially compared to Mother who usually behaves like a nitwit when he's home, his self-appointed title of Provider, Protector, and All-Round Responsibility-Taker is meaningless because, obviously, it's Mother who runs the house and takes care of her. Before long, she also stumbles across the ancient unwritten female code which says: Don't let him know who's the real boss. In the name of household peace, Mother keeps her trap shut and manages to yassuh her way from one wash day to the next by playing the wife's Number One game, Conspiracy. A girl recognizes that Mother's game-playing is far from irrelevant to the family plot. It is the plot. That she immediately acknowledges the seriousness of the game is apparent: She doesn't blow the whistle on Mama.
Meanwhile, television helps to convince her that Mother's conspiratorial games are hardly original; they are universal. To a child trying to check out the true relations between the sexes, the most educational program isn't "Sesame Street." More accurate information can be found on "The Flintstones" where those consummate castrators, Wilma and Betty, sweetly outsmart their Neanderthal child-husbands. Admittedly, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, strutting and blustering in the best machismo style, somewhat exaggerate Daddy's behavior. But the undermining tactics demonstrated by their wives are instantly recognizable as Mother's daily biography. When Laurie was three, she was amazed to learn that Fred Flintstone wasn't Pebbles' brother. Her critical comments a year later:
When I grow up, I want to be just like Wilma and Betty. They have so much fun.
One reason "The Flintstones" delights a small girl is that Wilma and Betty have won the family power struggle. For them, Conspiracy is a lark.
A more sophisticated version of Conspiracy is available on "I Love Lucy." Plotting and executing the games is a full-time occupation for Lucy and Ethel who happen to be pros. The reruns of "I Love Lucy" add up to nothing less than a how-to documentary on the basic principles of sexual politics.
Manipulation is the only way to cope wit...