As a father of daughters, and of sons, I know how annoying it can be to sit through empty words while you're waiting for a person to say something pertinent.
"So dad, wait. Today at school -- well yesterday in the morning, before recess—the first recess, not the second recess..."
The pancakes are burning and the baby's about to swallow a Lego, can you please make your point, child!?
Experiencing this daily, I could sympathize a bit with the writers and tweeters who rolled their eyes at the preface that often shows up when discussions about sexual assault and harassment arise: "as a father of daughters."
If you have something to say, just say it. Skip the throat-clearing.
As an editor—
Oh no! I just did it again: I tried to put something in context by referring to my own experience! This evidently violates all the rules of debate in 2017.
Radio host Lizzie O'Leary suggested it made her want to jump off a cliff every time a man prefaced his comments on Harvey Weinstein with the words "as a father of daughters." The most popular tweet condemnation of this preface—garnerning nearly 100,000 likes and more than 30,000 retweets—requested "Dear Men, Please remove the phrase 'as a husband and/or a father of daughters' from your vocabulary. Women exist outside your bubble."
The most common refrain, however, was the simplistic and inapt charge that one "Shouldn't need to have kids to denounce sexual assault."
This would be a fair criticism if the entirety of the debate was, "is sexual assault good or bad?"
But—and I don't believe this is a crazy right-wing opinion—public discussions about sexual harassment and assault both are and ought to be a lot more complex and sensitive than that. When power, profession, and money mix with sexual advances, no issue worth examining is simple. The discussion doesn't end with "don't rape people" or "don't grope women."
Say a friend is a victim of sexual predation but doesn't want the case pressed. The interests and emotions here are tremendously complex. Victims sometimes feel guilt, or are unsure if they are allowed to consider themselves victims because they may have behaved in some way that could have been taken as consent.
How these grueling experiences—whether of sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual regret, power dynamics, sexism—affect women is not a simple story.
Sex is inextricably tied up with a thousand complexities and confusions because sex is such a powerful and meaningful thing. Especially in a culture that prides itself on tearing down old boundaries and rapidly instituting new norms regarding sex, this is a pretty tough topic that is emotionally laden.
On any issue this complex, none of us is smart enough to simply reason our way to clear answers. For this reason, our experience does and ought to inform our views and arguments. Different people have different life experiences. These experiences are enlightening. It's good to hear from different perspectives, and it's good to know where a speaker is coming from.
As a kid who grew up in Greenwich Village, as an alumnus of New York public schools, and as a frequent guest on MSNBC, I've come to appreciate many of the Left's arguments for diversity in race, sex, and place of origin. These arguments rest on the notion that one's life experience provides a perspective or wisdom often foreign or novel to those without the same experience.
One of the most significant experiences in life is having and raising children. I've known extraordinary people who seemingly from birth possessed extraordinary empathy. But for many of us, true sympathy—the Greek roots can be translated as "suffering together with"—comes first with parenthood.
We are called to love all of God's creatures. But like all of God's children, we are fallen. Humans need reminders and clues in order to live as we should—often physically proximate, material clues. That is, it often takes a tiny, vulnerable human being, who lives with you and relies on you, for you to really love another person as you love yourself.
Through unconditional love, we make ourselves vulnerable to what our children experience. In this way, complex, confusing, and difficult issues become a little more comprehensible.
At least that's my experience, as a father of daughters.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's commentary editor, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.