But surely we can agree that this man capping the visit by demanding the doctor “give me my results expeditiously” is a terrifying and hilarious move. Beginning with “expeditiously,” as if the fate of the universe hinges on how quickly a father can get read in on the status on his daughter’s hymen, a thin piece of tissue that is as likely to tear during a bicycle ride as a sexual encounter. And ending with “my results,” as if the vagina in question belonged to the dude in question, as if it were a joint checking account.
Anyway! We are talking, obviously, about T.I., the rapper and actor, who told a podcast this week that he engaged in this practice and who was then immediately hit with the slap-down that such behavior deserved. Everyone from Planned Parenthood to Rolling Stone responded with horror, and T.I.’s daughter — the one he’d claimed had “no problem” with the ritual — proceeded to hit “like” on a variety of tweets critical of her father.
Shame delivered, problem solved.
Except that T.I.’s impulse didn’t come from nowhere. Nobody wakes up one morning and spontaneously decides that good parenting requires latex gloves and stirrups, with an end goal of . . . what, exactly? Standing outside your daughter’s hotel room on her wedding night, demanding to examine a wad of bloody sheets? This act was bizarrely medieval, but it wasn’t a complete outlier, the relic of some distant chapter of human history. Vagina panic is still a central theme to modern fatherhood.
There’s a spectrum, of course.
Fathers: If you have ever escorted your daughter to a “purity ball,” or presented her with a promise ring, or done anything else implying that her virginity is something she should preserve for you rather than for herself, you’re definitely on this spectrum.
If you’ve ever strolled over to your daughter’s homecoming date and told him to have her home by 11 because you have a concealed-carry permit and a brother in the CIA, heh heh heh — you are, I deeply regret to inform you, on this spectrum.
If you’ve ever begun a phrase, “As the father of daughters . . . ,” implying that you didn’t realize that women were people until one sprung from your loins and that you didn’t care what men did to them until one did it to your babygirl — well. You might not be on the spectrum, but you’re spectrum-adjacent; you’re just a few Zip codes away from Hymenland. The phrase comes from a paternal impulse to protect daughters from harm. So does vagina panic, except the hymen doesn’t need protection, because sex isn’t inherently harmful when a grown woman chooses it.
Fathers, if you’ve done these things, it’s not entirely your fault. These are behaviors and phrases that popular culture mines for laughs and sentimentality. Haha: Some Tim Allen look-alike has padlocked his daughter’s door so she can’t go on a date! Haha: Now he’s followed her to the restaurant to spy from behind the lobster tank. But: cue the swell of music, when his daughter discovers him, instead of telling him she’s creeped out, she tells him he doesn’t need to worry. She’s not going to do anything. He raised her right, and by “right,” we mean “chaste.” Father of the year.
The seeds have already been planted in most of our brains: this concept that fathers are in charge of monitoring and shepherding their daughters’ sexuality. This concept that a loss of virginity is a personal affront to the patriarch of the family. T.I. takes the seed of this idea and blossoms it into a forest, giving other fathers of daughters an opportunity to laugh at his excess.
It’s heartening that the immediate public reaction to T.I.’s announcement was derision and disbelief. But he’s also a scapegoat in all of this. He’s a father who behaved so indefensibly that a bunch of other parents could feel virtuous in their outrage, and then go home and forbid their daughters from wearing crop tops while never forbidding their teenage sons from ogling girls in crop tops.
It’s worth noting that T.I. has sons. It’s worth noting that his then-15-year-old son admitted to being sexually active in a June episode of the family’s reality show and T.I. rolled with it. “I don’t want any of my children to have sex before it’s time for them,” he said then. “But who’s to say when it’s time?” He added, “However, I will definitely feel different about a boy than I will about a girl.”
T.I.’s gynecological obsession lets everyone pretend that the problem is dudes who submit their offspring to invasive internal exams and then have the nerve to demand “their” results “expeditiously.”
The problem is assuming that there was anything the universe — any medical exams, any purity balls, any short-shorts, any sexual decisions — that could make a father feel differently about his daughter.
Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit wapo.st/hesse.