On Sunday night, The Bachelor‘s Olena posted a photo to Instagram of her with her dad.
The 23-year-old makeup artist shared an anecdote about being approached by a man asking her to dance, and her dad responding “mate she doesn’t dance, she dances alone.”
To Olena’s thousands of followers, the post was funny, because Olena’s dad behaved the exact same way when he met Richie Strahan on The Bachelor. He was scary, and didn’t hold back when it came to challenging Richie’s decision to take his daughter on a motorbike. Then, when he was feeling a little nicer, he suggested they do some boxing.
From Olena's light-hearted Instagram post, it's clear she doesn't have a problem with her dad's protectiveness. To her, it's just a normal part of their relationship, and reinforces how much her father cares about her and her happiness.
But there's something about the 'overprotective dad' stereotype that doesn't sit right with me.
And it's not just Olena - the 'overprotective dad' trope is ubiquitous in pop culture. We're meant to find it funny and adorable. On the surface, the nervous, sweating boyfriend against the stern, serious father is presented as a flattering scenario for women.
"Oh, no one will ever be good enough for me!" we're meant to laugh. "Don't break my heart or he'll never forgive you!" we're meant to say.
But when you dig a little deeper, there's something profoundly disturbing about this concept.
It assumes that women are 'property' - that we belong to our fathers, and then we belong to another man.
There's another 'dad' stereotype emerging, and it's far more encouraging. Post continues after audio.
I have a number of friends with dads like Olena's. They weren't allowed to date during high school, and even now, in their mid-twenties, their dad's are cold and suspicious towards anyone they bring home. It's always irked me, because the message it sends seems to be abundantly clear: Women are such vulnerable, weak creatures that even as adults, we need our dads to make our decisions. We can't take care of ourselves. Our sense of judgment is clouded, so we need our dads to protect us and guard us.
It also begs the question: If it's acceptable for dads to be scary and intimidating to 'protect' their daughters, is it then acceptable for partners to do the same? Is it okay for partners to dictate who a woman can and can't talk to, and what is and isn't 'good enough' for them?
The 'overprotective dad' stereotype is a symptom of a culture that sees women as objects with no common sense and no autonomy. It sees them as a prize to be had rather than a human being capable of good judgment and entitled to their own decisions.
But the 'overprotective dad' also sends damaging messages about masculinity. Men shouldn't be told that being threatening or physically imposing or 'territorial' is normal. Assuming the worst of all the men your daughter meets is also unfair to men, who deserve to be held to a higher standard.
Perhaps it's time we stopped laughing when we see this stereotype play out in pop culture. It's not funny, or cute, or endearing. It's paternalistic sexism - and it's deeply concerning.