This might come as a shock, but all of us here at Tits and Sass are daughters. For Freakonomics-famous, probably John Mayer-loving Steven Levitt, this is a hard pill to swallow. He thinks that because women so often are dissuaded from performing illegal sex work because of its illegality (ha,) it is a good idea to keep prostitution criminalized. More precisely, he’s okay with the government limiting and penalizing his daughter’s behavior rather than allowing her to make her own choices because, apparently, women need protection from themselves and their bad decisions:
[If]I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind the government passing a law against it.
This inspired New York Times blogger Russ Douthat (is it just a coincidence that his last name begins with the same three letters as “douche-bag”? You tell me!) to do Levitt one better by rephrasing his statement to seem even more insulting:
There’s a touch of Kantianism in it: One’s (legal) preferences for one’s daughter should become a universal law… (Emphasis added.)
He prefaced that by saying that this paternalistic “perspective on public policy often goes unspoken.” Indeed , American citizens have for centuries complained about the lack of laws articulating white dudes’ preferences, like that white women not marry black men, or vote.*
So allow me to thank these two brave pioneers, on behalf of all prostitutes.
Thank you, Stephen Levitt, for not being foolish enough to claim that sons also need to be legally compelled to live their life as you would like. Clearly, they don’t! Sons can handle themselves.
Thank you, Russ Douthat, for recognizing that anyone disagreeing with you isn’t displaying rationality, they’re just cool with their daughter becoming a prostitute.
Thanks to both of you for realizing that it’s far preferable for your daughters to face assault, robbery and rape at the hands of johns or police rather than be able to work safely and with (a presumption of) police protection. We all appreciate your willingness to contribute to a world in which parents of murdered prostitutes have to ask themselves, “Would the police have caught the killer by now if the girls weren’t prostitutes?”
I understand that not everyone can spend inordinate amounts of time reading about and reflecting on sex worker rights. But these guys aren’t even pausing to think critically about what they’re saying. When you support the criminalization of prostitution, you support the treatment of prostitutes as criminals, meaning as lesser members of society deserving of suspicion, derision, and imprisonment.
I’m infuriated by the idea that either of these men seriously thinks their efforts at fatherhood should involve turning their daughter into a criminal before supporting her ability to safely sell sex. And frankly, any guy who would find himself seriously applying “the daughter test” to how he votes and responds to public policy, is most likely a crap dad. If you can’t successfully instill in your child your values, you can reexamine those values, reexamine your parenting style, or resolve to love your offspring regardless. You don’t put other people’s children at risk with a lazy and ill-conceived law.
*Will Wilkinson, who is actually criticizing Levitt, states that he wouldn’t want his daughter to vote. Chivalry, thy name is horrible men! And Kevin Drum, who thinks the daughter test is stupid, still subscribes to Douthat’s assessment that Levitt is performing a “valuable service” by bringing this up, because apparently everyone who reads political blogs forgets that morality is personal and “ordinary people” are in possession of a “clearer view of human nature” than intellectuals. Oh my god, could he play any more into the Fox News caricature of a blue state/red state class war? Drum ends with “it’s worth keeping in mind sometimes that the broad working and middles classes often have different moral sentiments than us well-off, highly verbal types […] because they live in different communities and this stuff affects them differently than it does us.” All of which I offer up as evidence that my “son test” would outlaw literacy for men.
Ewww, why’d you have to bring John Mayer into this? He is a whole new level of gross.
There are about a million legal things I’d hope my kid wouldn’t get involved in. If we outlawed all of them we’d live in a fascist state.
I know! I’ve had that hideous song stuck in my head ever since writing this post. Why did I gamble with my mental health by linking to it?
“Frankly, any guy who would find himself seriously applying ‘the daughter test’ to how he votes and responds to public policy, is most likely a crap dad.”
Yes! This particularly pissed me off because as a sex worker and the father of an 11-year-old girl, I spend a lot of time thinking about these very issues and drawing the very opposite conclusions. When a person is mature and wise enough to make their own decisions they should get to do so with safety, support and protection under the law. Levitt’s “daughter test” is flimsy on so many levels. As this article points out, besides the blatant sexism it completely disregards a person’s right to make their own choices. When my daughter grows up I’m quite sure she doesn’t want the state taking over as her parent. I respect my daughter enough to be honest with her about what sex work is. I wouldn’t encourage her to do it herself, but if she has questions about it, just like with drugs, she knows she can talk to me and get honest answers. Every parent wants the best for their child, but the “best” is often giving them the information they need to make their own decisions, rather than trying to protect them with stigmatization and punishment. No matter what decision she made in her life I would rather it be a choice that offered safety and legal protection.
I’d be real interested to know if he has a problem with his daughter giving or receiving oral sex. Anal sex?
Does this apply to his wife/exwife/girlfriends?
[…] Larry Flynt. Also, apparently Steven Levitt and Russ Douthat are not the only people living by the “Daughter Test.” Miss Minnesota has the most interesting variation on […]
It would not be so bad if he limited himlself to acknowledging he instinctively reacts to the “daughter test”, but then he goes on to justifying it philosophically on the basis of an essentially elitist position that the middle/working classes actually want to be protected from themselves. That may be a reasonable description of how politics has devolved under the influence of populism, but is he promoting that the political class actually embrace or at the very least abandon resistance to emotional-gut-reaction-based policymaking?
[…] and pathetic, avoiding eye contact with the real live strippers. They were holding signs about daughters (“Our daughters are not for sale,” “They want our daughters”) and meanwhile […]
[…] From xoJane: “I’m Not Your Daughter, And Neither Are Sex Workers.” Reminds us of this Tits and Sass post by Charlotte. […]
Levitt, Dubner, Douthat, Brooks, and Friedman are all brazen hacks who are taken seriously only because they’ve been given an imprimatur by other “serious” authorities, i.e., the New York Times and its ilk. There are no discernible lower bounds to the foolishness and depravity that they can get otherwise intelligent and educated people to take seriously just because they have an engaging or deceptively milquetoast writing style.
Appeals to the tyranny of paterfamilias are only a partial explanation for Levitt’s and Douthat’s hesitancy to support laws that grant women sexual autonomy. The subtler part, hidden in plain sight, is the consuming neurosis of SWPL parents who are pathologically invested in vicarious achievement through their children. This is exactly the readership that the New York Times targets, and one that any commercial publisher is happy to tap for its disposable income. Ginning up worry about the prospects of these readers’ children falling to a lower station in life is a reliable way to sell copy. It may be beside the point whether the Times and other highbrow publishers are earnestly providing what their readers want or cynically manipulating them for profit; in either case, they’re contributing to the neurotic smothering of young adults by their parents and doing very little to encourage parents to calm the hell down and keep some perspective.
I can say from personal experience and from what I’ve observed of my friends that this is not just a matter of parents fearing that their children will end up destitute, jailed, homeless, heartbroken, drugged out or otherwise ruined. Some of these parents are afraid that their kids will end up working as bus drivers. They don’t want to be embarrassed by children who have settled for work that they regard as menial, uninteresting and unduly humble. A few months ago, an abrasive retired British submariner became a cult hero after his daughter published a letter he had sent to his three children accusing the lot of them of being sexually dissolute fuckups who broke their mother’s heart. Even my dad, an extremely decent and well-mannered man who finds that sort of righteous scolding disreputable, has told me that he and my mom want to be able to tell their friends that I’m successful, by which he clearly means that I’m not driving for Greyhound, among other horrid fates that I would find agreeable enough. To that end, my parents spent the summer and fall berating me to keep working for my uncle the winegrower, the broke bullshit artist who has never paid me in the thousand-plus hours that I’ve worked for him, despite my recurrent, substantive, and angry complaints about his rotten behavior. This is the uncle who owes about half a million in worthless interest-free loans to relatives and friends, including $50k that my dad fronted on short notice to keep a friend from foreclosing on the farm after he decided to renege on an oral agreement to defer mortgage payments. My parents are worried that I’ll report him to the authorities, but I wouldn’t make such threats if he weren’t habitually drinking behind the wheel, making fraudulent statements to investors out of expediency, and using money invested in trust for me to prop up an unplumbed shantytown where he unlawfully charges rent on other bullshitters.
My parents like this arrangement because it allows them to keep tabs on me by proxy (over my screaming insistence that my uncle not act in loco parentis for me) and because they consider winegrowing a suitably genteel pursuit, allowing them to keep up the appearance that even though I’ve been living in a tent and have gone five years without payroll income, I haven’t fully dropped out of the middle class. I’m slowly putting an end to the happy horseshit by telling anyone who asks that my uncle has turned into an asshole who is ruining our professional relationship.
This situation is extreme, but I have the feeling that it isn’t as unusual in the upper-middle class as it seems. For one thing, I’m more open about family and professional problems than most of my friends are. Also, my parents are clearly much better-intentioned than some. Most people try to pretend that such things haven’t happened, but I’m just too sick of the bullshit to do that.
I know that my parents wouldn’t want their son going into the business of rubbing down naked flight attendants for cash money. That’s why I intend to keep my family out of the loop should I take that path. On the other hand, if I put that on the table, they might stop worrying about my interest in becoming a trucker.