It's Creepy Patriarchs Week
Dad No. 1 would like to know exactly what his son is jerking off to. Dad No. 2 wants to control his daughters' access to 'promiscuity' pills (a.k.a. contraception).
It’s only Tuesday and it’s already a banner week for creepy fathers who are much too involved in their kids’ sex lives. We’ve got one dad who has a pact with his teenage son to review each other’s porn-viewing habits and another dad who is suing the federal government to prevent his daughters from getting birth control without his permission. The patriarchs are not OK, folks!
Over the weekend, Rolling Stone reported on resurfaced footage of Speaker of the House Mike Johnson talking about how he uses the app Covenant Eyes.1 It’s software that tracks your internet activity and looks for any spicy material, which it screenshots and blurs before sending along to an “accountability partner.” As Covenant Eyes’ website puts it, the software “helps you and the ones you love live porn-free.”
This reminds me of the documented link between religiosity, shame, and self-diagnoses of porn addiction. It also… raises national security concerns. But here’s the creepy patriarch part: Johnson’s accountability partner is his teenage son. “So he and I get a report about all the things that are on our phones, all of our devices, once a week,” Johnson said in the 2022 clip. “If anything objectionable comes up, your accountability partner gets an immediate notice. I’m proud to tell ya, my son has got a clean slate.”
Just as I was trying to comprehend this father-son porn pact, I realized that a federal appeals court was hearing a case against a Title X rule that allows minors to get contraception at federal clinics without parental permission. The case was brought by Alexander Deanda, a father in Texas who wants to prevent his three daughters from accessing contraception without his permission. He claimed the rule violated his parental rights. In December of last year, a district judge—and Trump nominee—ruled in favor of Deanda. Now, the Biden administration is asking for the ruling to be overturned.
Given this week’s developing theme of creepy patriarchs, I had to look back at the original lawsuit to see what daddy (and his lawyers) had to say. A choice excerpt:
Mr. Deanda is a Christian, and he is raising each of his daughters in accordance with Christian teaching on matters of sexuality, which requires unmarried children to practice abstinence and refrain from sexual intercourse until marriage.
Unmarried children! What a phrase. It continues:
Mr. Deanda wishes to be informed if any of his children are accessing or attempting to access prescription contraception and other family-planning services. And he does not want his children to obtain or use these drugs or services unless he consents… .
The lawsuit goes on to refer to “prescription contraception or other family-planning services that facilitate sexual promiscuity and pre-marital sex.” It argues that by allowing minors to obtain these “promiscuity” pills without parental permission, parents like Deana are unable “to raise their children in accordance with the teachings of the Christian faith.”
Of course, the reality is that preventing teens from confidentially accessing contraception does not mean that they will not have sex. It means that getting contraception is infinitely more difficult—and potentially even impossible, especially for those with shaming, forbidding, and/or abusive parents. One in five teens would have unsafe sex if getting birth control required parental notification, according to Journal of the American Medical Association.
When we make it challenging or impossible for teens to get contraception, they will still have sex; it will just be riskier sex. It will be sex that carries potentially life-changing consequences, particularly in a state where abortion is banned. When the lawsuit says that the Title X rule facilitates “sexual promiscuity and pre-marital sex,” what it is actually saying is that it allows for sex without punishment. The point is punishment for sex.
Actual fathers are not the only creepy patriarchs here. Deanda’s lawsuit is just one slimy tentacle of a monstrous attempt to broadly enact the patriarchal control of the home at the level of the state. Deanda is represented by Jonathan Mitchell, who is behind Texas SB 8, which banned abortion as early as five weeks, and a lawsuit against employer healthcare plans covering PrEP, a drug that prevents HIV, as Thalia Charles reported earlier this year.
Again, it’s all about maintaining consequences for sex—specifically, sex that takes place outside the married, heterosexual, and procreative ideal. This applies to Johnson’s anti-porn software, too. If he or his son views spicy images, the punishment is humiliation via an accountability report.
In all of this creepy patriarchal grasping, you can see the fragility of the whole enterprise.
Note that Josh Duggar, the former star of TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting,” reportedly had Covenant Eyes on his computer and used his wife as his accountability partner (a very typical reflection of the woman-as-sexual-gatekeeper model). To say that Duggar managed to circumvent the software would be an understatement; in 2021 he was convicted of child porn possession.