Best dad ever or slut-shaming misogynist? You decide!

The Deseret News posted an interesting article about a father (Mackintosh, right) who didn’t like the shorts his daughter was wearing, so he cut some of his own pants to mimic hers and wore them in public. [1] This act was sufficiently lauded to be featured in the Deseret News, but then it also got picked up nationally last week.  The daughter is nineteen years old, and while the father lives in Utah, no religious affiliation was specified by the article. [2]

This article sparked controversy.  Some said he was a great dad for teaching his daughter this important lesson.  Others said that this is slut-shaming.  Here’s what daughter Myley said:

“My mom told me to change my ‘slutty’ shorts before we went to dinner.  I said no. So my dad cut his jeans to fit in. We went to dinner and then mini golf like this.”

Regardless of whether the father was slut-shaming, the mother clearly needs to wash her mouth out with soap if Myley’s account is accurate.  Here’s what the father said about the incident:

“Instead of turning her response and disrespectful attitude into a major battle, I decided to make a ‘small’ statement on how her short-shorts maybe aren’t as ‘cute’ as she thinks!  . . . I don’t think my object lesson of ‘modest is hottest’ made the statement I had intended. But no matter if social media gets the story mixed up and twisted, my daughter will always know that her dad loves her and cares about her enough to make a fool out of himself.”

“I was absolutely going for shock value and embarrassment,” Mackintosh said on Friday’sToday show.

Daughter Myley, age 19, who wants to wear what she wants to wear.

What was he thinking?  On his wife’s blog, the father explained his views on why the shorts were unacceptable:

“I know the world has varying degrees of what is modest and what is not when it comes to clothing. In our family we have pretty definite modesty guidelines; No mid-drift [sic] or low-cut shirts, no short-shorts, short skirts and we even go as far as saying no sleeveless shirts unless playing sports or on the beach. Having raised four daughters and three sons, I’m a bit protective. Some may call me old fashion [sic], but I call it “A Dad who loves his daughters” (and sons too) I know some of you may be rolling your eyes and that’s okay, my daughter does it all the time. I’m a firm believer that the way we dress sends messages about us, and it influences the way we and others act.”

If you had any doubts that the guy is Mormon (hello:  “modest is hottest,” no sleeveless shirts except for sports, and object lessons), I’ll just add that he has also 7 kids.  An article in Yahoo! News noted that other parenting efforts in this vein recently have included the following:

California mom Frances Hena, who punished her tween this week by having her stand at a busy intersection wearing a sign that read “I was disrespecting my parents by twerking at a school dance”; the Utah girl punished for bullying another girl over her fashion sense by being forced to wear ugly clothing in public; the 12-year-old girl who, after posing with a bottle of vodka on Instagram, had to post herself holding a note that read “Since I want to post photos of me holding liquor, I am obviously not ready for social media and will be taking a hiatus until I learn what I should and should not post.”

Guilt vs. Shame

These extreme parenting tactics are designed to foster shame in an individual when that individual doesn’t inherently feel “guilt” for actions that are being condemned.  Slut-shaming is defined as “social control of sexuality by exposing a person to shame for engaging in—or being perceived to engage in—unlawful, abnormal or unethical sexual behavior. Some behaviors and events which may expose women to “slut-shaming” include dressing immodestly or provocatively, requesting birth control, having premarital or casual sex, or being raped or sexually assaulted.  Slut-shaming is considered misogynistic because it applies a double standard for sexual behavior [3], but it also attempts to curtail individual freedoms in the name of pro-social behavior.

According to Miley Cyrus’s handlers this will help fans see her as a serious adult.

According to cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict, shame is a violation of cultural or social values while guilt feelings (by contrast) arise from violations of one’s internal values. Shame arises when one’s flaws are exposed to others, and results from the negative evaluation (whether real or imagined) of others; guilt comes from one’s own negative evaluation of oneself, such as when one acts contrary to one’s values or idea of one’s self. [4]

A Biblical Example

In Misreading the Bible through Western Eyes, authors Randy Richards and Brandon O’Brien argue that the story of King David and Bathsheba reveals that he felt shame but not guilt for his actions.  Only through being shamed by Nathan did he change his behavior.  As king, he was in a position to bed any woman he chose, Bathsheba certainly seemed to have been a willing participant, and David was clearly in a position to have someone killed who stood in his way, especially someone who so deliberately wouldn’t play the game by sleeping with his wife to confound the paternity issue (Uriah can’t have been unaware that his wife was playing hokey-pokey with the king; servants gossip, and she wasn’t exactly stealthy).  So, King David was used to a certain amount of executive privilege.

Only when Nathan pointed out to him the unjustness of his actions toward Uriah through the fictitious case of the ewe lamb did David realize the impact his actions had had on others and that he had adversely affected his relationships with his people through these actions.  His reputation and honor were now in question.  Reputation and honor are related to how others in society view us, to our social capital, to our ability to use those relationships to trade in favors and loyalty.  Did he also feel guilt for his actions?  Maybe, maybe not.  He was condemned by his own kingly judgment; he had said that the person who took the ewe lamb should die.  That realization was the beginning of his repentance process, one that was very public and begun by societal shame rather than introspective guilt.

Are Americans Shameless?

Hey, you down there! I think my frisbee went over the wall. Do you mind tossing it back?

As in the story of David, shame is motivation in every communitarian society. By contrast, westerners–Americans most of all–are steeped in an individualistic cultural mindset. We value freedom of self expression and freedom of choice over group values, norms and benefits. Our nation is founded on not being taken advantage of by tyrants or remote leaders in England who would want to exploit us, tax us, and financially enslave us for their personal benefit.  As frontier settlers, Americans believed in the supremacy of individual property rights, and the ability to use a gun to keep people off your land.  Centuries later, we make relatively little investment in community (compared to more communitarian societies) and therefore receive little benefit from it. That is largely the American experience. It’s one reason we prize guilt over shame. Guilt comes from within, and we can’t abide the idea of social repression or societal obligation.

Feminism is particularly individualistic, for the same reasons.  Society has often required a lot from women, and the returns have not always been equal to the sacrifice required.  Early feminists were treated like children, forced into domestic servitude, and not permitted to vote.  As women entered the workplace to protect their own interests rather than relying on abusive or feckless husbands, they were greeted with sexual harassment, unfair wages, and discrimination.  As these obstacles were legislated away, society wanted to enforce reproductive standards and choice on women, in some cases while divorce laws, domestic abuse, rape or incest had left them without much choice.

The more society restricts the benefits of belonging, the less likely those individuals will want to meet those demands.  There needs to be a balance between the demands society places on people and the rewards of being part of that society.

Look, a tiny prodigy popped out from between my legs.

West vs. East:  Society’s Demands & Benefits

In Asian countries, actions are motivated by relationships, losing face, and shame. [5] American parenting styles reflect these differences.  One weekend as I was sitting poolside in Singapore, I noticed that my kids were jumping in the air, doing fake karate kicks and splashing around while throwing a football.  By contrast, an Asian dad was standing on the side of the lap lane with a stopwatch, barking out encouragement to his begoggled youngsters as they strove to improve their lap time.  Over and over he drilled them, telling them they could do better and giving them specific instructions on their strokes.  My own benign neglect model was a win for me as I got to read my Kindle in a lounge chair.  But that’s the price of relationships.  Asian parents invest their time in ways we do not.

Why do they do this?  It’s all about relationships.  Children are a reflection of the parents.  Praising the results of Tiger parents also entails embracing the idea that parents can and should exert a fairly high degree of control over their kids:  how they dress, how they think, what studies they pursue, how they spend their time, and whom they date and marry.  That’s the opposite of most rhetoric in the US.  When kids push back against these restrictions, it can require far more force than we as Americans can stomach to keep kids in line with parental guidelines for behavior.

Asians often care more for group and parental approval than they do for their own individual needs or opinions.   I’m American to the core when it comes to my individualism, but I have to acknowledge that it’s a very anti-social value system.  Americans and Asians are both extremes.  As westerners, we feel self righteous in our extremist view that society can kiss off.

To me this dad is not controlling his daughter; note that he didn’t lock her in her room or tell her she couldn’t come on the family outing.  He is just exercising his individual choice like she is. He’s using his individuality to teach her that her clothes embarrass him just as his now embarrass her.  It is a shaming technique, but not one that is very hurtful or damaging.  Frankly, I think his instincts are better than his explanation.  His wife’s supposed comment to their daughter that her clothes are “slutty” is far more disturbing if true and seems likely to create resentment and rebellion.

The Limits of Shame

Should we be a society without shame?

When we don’t feel our actions were wrong (we don’t feel internal guilt) or we feel that the societal pressure to conform is unjust or contradicts our values, then we may decide to sever ties with that society.  In this case, it’s the girl’s family.  It’s one reason that the more controlling parents are, the more likely they may ruin those important relationships long-term, and the  parents are the ones who will reap the greater consequences.  As Principal Vernon says to janitor Carl in The Breakfast Club:

Richard Vernon: Now this is the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night. That when I get older, these kids are going to take care of me.

Carl: I wouldn’t count on it.

The other factor to consider is the conflicting societal pressure to which girls are subjected.  As the father points out, the “world” has different standards for dress than he does.  Girls are supposed to be sexually attractive, but “not too sexy” or access to suitable and reliable mates will be limited.  This mixed pressure can make it difficult for girls.  The father’s actions point to this dichotomy by pointing out the ridiculousness of the “normal” female fashion when applied to his middle-aged male physique.  He is pointing out to his daughter that society’s norms, those she and her friends find acceptable, are inherently sexist.  All of this subtext is probably lost on all the participants in this drama, and most certainly lost on many of its readers, both in the “Best.Dad.Ever” camp and in the worst.punishment.ever camp.

What do you think?

  • Is shame a risky motivator for parents?  Do we risk creating anti-social behavior and ruining our relationships with our kids?  Or does shame have a place in reminding our kids (and ourselves) of the consequences we all face in society?
  • In our individualistic culture, is guilt the only real motivator?  Does shame fail to reach us?  Are we shameless?  If guilt doesn’t apply because an individual’s personal values don’t line up, will shame succeed where guilt failed?
  • Did this dad do a good thing or a bad thing?  Why or why not?  Defend your answer.



[1]  Personally, I think he looks like Tobias Funke, the “never-nude” brother-in-law from Arrested Development.

[2]  No idea if he normally would wear garments.  Either way, wearing Daisy Dukes is definitely an activity you can’t reasonably do while wearing garments, so he’s got that going for him.  Also, I happen to think he is rocking this look with those shapely gams.

[3]  Because of this double standard, males are often expected to act in sexually aggressive ways.  Sexually passive males may also face shaming for not meeting society’s expected “norms.”

[4]  “Cultural Models of Shame and Guilt”

[5] Oddly enough, this is one aspect of tight knit Mormon communities and families that rankles the most: the idea that the group matters to us or that we should care what others think. Asians would not bat an eye at the notion of caring what others think.  They do.  A lot.

[6] Grown Asian children are expected to financially support their parents during the remainder of the parents’ lifetime.  In other words, this isn’t just euphemistic “investing” in children; it’s an actual investment.  By contrast, American parents often feel deep shame if they find themselves dependent on their children in their older years.  We prize our individuality and self-reliance over the dependence on relationships, even within families.  Kids are a cost to us; the payback is all theoretical.