Question - which would you prefer: a CSA-shirking father who forgets your birthday, or one who takes an unhealthy interest in your sex life? It’s not an especially difficult call to make. Though perhaps requiring slightly more brain exertion than ‘Daddy or chips?’, the notion of that particular kind of hands-on dad sends a shiver up the spine, as illustrated by the creepy dad on a recent episode of Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents. His continued reference to her sex life, naughty parts, behaviour and attire began to make the whole episode begin to look like a Freudian nightmare in which social services should almost certainly take an interest.
But even that is nothing compared to this week’s revelation that Gordon Ramsay paid his son £20 to install a spy camera in his sister’s bedroom, so that Ramsay could ensure that his darling and her boyfriend were getting up to nothing more than revision. The whole thing could be a massive joke, of course, or a malicious rumour (please, God, let it be a vicious rumour.) The tastefully juxtaposed paparazzi shots of GR holding his fifteen year old daughter’s hand in the Daily Mail are clearly intended add a tinge of credibility to the whole thing. Meanwhile, we’re left with a shedload of uncomfortable questions. If you don’t want them having sex, why not make them study in the dining room? Why joke about the possibility that you might have been watching it on camera (Ramsay said: ‘They seem to be spending a lot of time revising but the results aren’t…’ then, following the camera disclosure: ‘Megan, I want to talk to you about your revising…’)? ‘My house, my rules’ is, of course, fair enough, if a little old hat – after all, most of us have come to realise that if teenagers can’t have sex in the safety of a bed, many of them will abscond to the bus shelter behind Aldi.
The cliché of the overprotective father is not one that sits especially well with us. You know the type: gives any potential suitors a good old roasting, as though he has appointed himself bouncer at the door of the nightclub that is his daughter’s vagina (no trainers). It’s not quite those Dads who take their daughters to chastity balls, or wear cufflinks to weddings which say ‘Father of the bride: I loved her first’ (these actually exist), but it’s getting there. Behaving as though your daughter is Princess Jasmine and you have ultimate sovereignty over her private parts is not the makings of a healthy relationship. It implies that you’ve been thinking about her private parts in the first place. Which you shouldn’t be doing. At all. Even in passing. Ever.
Perhaps it’s because our own fathers have not shown the remotest bit of interest over what we get up to with our boyfriends, and wouldn’t dream of policing our sex lives in such an invasive and Orwellian way, that we find the whole trope particularly upsetting. But even from a social perspective, such behaviour hearkens uncomfortably back to a patriarchal age where men could trade their daughters like livestock, tender virginal meat first, and therefore had a genuine interest in the existence of her hymen. Then, it was of course equally sexist, but seemed to at least serve a financial purpose. In 2013, joking about smacking your daughter’s bottom because she didn’t wear enough clothes to some fishbowl-peddling bar in Malia just makes you look like a Greek Tragedy waiting to happen.
The overprotective dad is, of course, a stalwart of the American television sitcom, wherein a hapless but ultimately loving demi-pervert will work himself into a frenzy over his daughter’s sexual shenanigans, only to discover that rather than engaging in rampant fornication she’s been arranging a surprise birthday party for her daddy dearest all along. Then we all have a jolly good laugh, forgetting entirely about how fucked up it really is. This was essentially every episode of ‘8 Simple Rules’ ever.
Which brings us back to good old Gordon. "My son said, 'Daddy, Megan had a friend around yesterday called Alex, but it wasn't a girl, it was a guy.' I said, 'Jack, get me his cell number now.' So he sneaks to Megan's room, and two minutes later I'm on my cell,” he was reported as saying by E! He then memorably continued: “"Can you imagine that poor guy? But that's one less hand that's going to be crawling all over her." How... graphic.
Perhaps the most distasteful part about the Ramsay household exchanges – though it’s difficult to settle on one – is the father-son collusion. ‘Knowing’ as he does that all teenage boys and men are sex-hungry hand-crawlers who cannot be trusted around women, Gordy has decided to convey that message to a son who isn’t old enough to grasp exactly what the message means yet. By the time he does, it will be a fully solidified belief, with all those fun accompanying ramifications like Ramsay Jr’s skewed perception of himself as a man when he grows up. His father, after all, will have passed down the idea that men enter women’s bedrooms and set up hidden cameras because policing female sexuality is a good excuse. When is it justifiable for the tables to ever be turned? Presumably never.
Nowadays, fathers walk their daughters down the aisle and ‘give them away’ to the husband in a figurative sense. But it doesn’t hurt to remember every once in a while that the transaction was literal, and ghosts of the sentiment still remain. In other words, Gordon: make your mind up. Have the kids study on the sofa or turn a blind eye to the creaking in the bedroom, but for the love of God don’t involve yourself with two teens, a bed and a hidden camera. Your daughter’s vagina is officially none of your business – and if you make it so, you will only live to regret it.