Of all the creepy moments in Bill Cosby’s trial, perhaps none stands out more than Gianna Constand recalling the comedian’s phone calls to her regarding his “relationship” with her daughter, Andrea. Cosby, according to Gianna, “admitted that he was a sick man,” acknowledging that after he gave her daughter some pills, he touched her sexually, but there was no “penile penetration.”
And during this little chat, he kept calling her “Mom.”
After dozens of women have come forward accusing Cosby of drugging and raping them, the 79-year-old has gone from America’s Dad to the Anti-Dad. If these accusers are to be believed — and it’s getting pretty hard not to believe them — many came to him for counsel on matters both personal and professional. Constand’s mother said Andrea saw Cosby “as a father.”
But Cosby’s role is actually the inverse of the one real fathers play in reducing young women’s risk of being victimized by overzealous men.
A recent study in the journal Developmental Psychology found that “girls who receive higher-quality fathering engage in less risky sexual behavior than their peers.” Researchers at the University of Utah and SUNY Albany looked at pairs of sisters in families that had gone through a divorce. They compared older sisters who had experienced more time with a father to younger ones who had less (after the split) and found that the latter were more likely to engage in promiscuous sex, unprotected sex and sex while intoxicated.
While this new study was helpful in separating out environmental factors from biological ones in determining the importance of fathers, it’s certainly not the first to point to this important relationship in delaying the onset of sexual activity.
Some critics, though, see such research as encouraging patronizing attitudes from men. Feminists complain about the double standards of fathers who lay out strict dating rules for their daughters but don’t do the same for their sons. They don’t like the idea of father-daughter dances because they imply an overly protective attitude toward girls.
Earlier this year, a British columnist complained that “father-daughter dates,” in which fathers take out their daughters for ice cream or whatever in order to make these relationships stronger, are “everything that is wrong in the world . . . [because] they seek to enforce patriarchal notions of femininity.”
But the reasons present fathers have this effect on daughters aren’t the ones that are often assumed. Sure, it’s probably true that the threat of a strong man discourages some nefarious guys from coming around. But most of the research suggests that it’s not some dad showing a prom date his gun collection that’s keeping girls on the straight and narrow.
Rather, it’s the nature of the relationship between the fathers and daughters. Linda Nielsen, a professor of educational and adolescent psychology at Wake Forest University, has written, for instance, that a girl who has a strong relationship with her father is “waiting longer to get married and to have children — largely because she is focused on achieving her educational goals first.”
In fact, though we’re often focused on the importance of female role models for young girls, it turns out to be their fathers who often play a pivotal role in determining their academic and professional success.
Nielsen, the author of a book called “Father-Daughter Relationships,” writes that “daughters whose fathers have been actively engaged throughout childhood in promoting their academic or athletic achievements and encouraging their self-reliance and assertiveness are more likely to graduate from college and to enter the higher paying, more demanding jobs traditionally held by males.”
It’s also true that the right kind of father figure gives girls an understanding of the kind of man they should be with and certain expectations for how they should be treated. “The well-fathered daughter is also the most likely to have relationships with men that are emotionally intimate and fulfilling [as well as] . . . more satisfying, more long-lasting marriages.”
There are many jokes we’ll make this weekend about fathers’ time spent golfing, their love of beer and their quest for the perfect barbecue. But the truth is they are our great protectors, there to save us when our childhood idols fall.
Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.