Normalising Rape Culture in Toddlers: The Lock Your Daughter Up T-Shirt

I regularly get told I’m over-thinking things. Hell, my mother just told me so at dinner when I was holding forth about superinjunctions and confidentiality agreements. I think they are nothing more than Patriarchal tools to permit rich, white men to sexually abuse women whilst giving those women no recourse in law. Apparently, this was over-thinking the issue. 

Anyway, we were at the St Johns Craft Fair. I may have mentally spent about £18 000 pounds. Just so much beautiful furniture, clothing, jewellery, and art; most of it made by women. There are so few spaces wherein women’s art has a chance to shine that being somewhere full of women’s art feels so incredibly special. The jewellery company Eclectic Shock was my favourite new find of the day. 

It was all extremely lovely right up until the point I found a t-shirt for a toddler with the ever-so-lovely maxim “Lock Up Your Daughters”. You know, because girls need to locked up and protected from would-be rapist toddlers. Erm, or instead of perpetuating rape culture in your baby sons, how about teaching them to respect themselves and women. How about teaching your sons that they are capable of acting like actual humans with empathy and kindness? How about teaching your sons that girls are humans too; that they are entitled to be treated with kindness and respect. 

The “Lock Up Your Daughters” t-shirt for toddlers is just the normalisation of rape culture. They aren’t funny or cute. They are just the same old misogynistic shite. Just this time using toddlers as advertising. I’ve never understood why people would dress their sons up like would-be rapists. I mean, what the hell else is that t-shirt supposed to mean? Seriously, someone tell it’s actually a silly reference to a TV show that I’ve never heard of or the name of some celebrities pet elephant or something.

15 thoughts on “Normalising Rape Culture in Toddlers: The Lock Your Daughter Up T-Shirt”

  1. The term in common parlance comes from an early 80s Slade song, which was of course typical tongue-in-cheek glam/cock rock of the era (especially in view of the fact that David Hill at the time was generally wearing enough make-up to sink a battleship).

    They probably got the phrase from the film of the same name a few years earlier which in turn was based on a Henry Fielding comedy (the name of which I did have to look up I confess) ‘Rape Upon Rape’. Fielding is of course interesting from a feminist perspective as he has strong women characters and was writing at a time when women’s sexuality was acknowledged and even encouraged (not least because it was then believed a woman needed to orgasm to conceive – odd how these things keep coming up of late).

    The phrase had a bit of a revival in the mid 90s as ‘Lock up your Sons’ with the arrival of the Riot Grrrl youth subculture. I recall seeing that variation quite often at the time – and having more than one discussion why that was perceived as acceptable when Lock up your Daughters wasn’t.

    Who was selling the t-shirt? To be honest I’d be surprised if they didn’t have both the ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’ variation in their range.


  2. None of that makes the misogyny and perpetuation of rape culture implied in the t-shirt any better. “Lock Your Daughters” implies that all men are animals incapable of controlling their cocks. Weirdly, i think most men are more than capable of doing that.

  3. Ah, but I think you’ll find that the historic subtext is not that the men can’t control their cocks, but that the daughters need locking up to stop them going out after the cocks attached to the ‘desirable’ males.

    That is this is sexist in the sense that it’s men (fathers) wanting to control their daughter’s (willing) sexuality rather than women being passive victims of male sexual aggression. Certainly that is what Fielding is implying and oddly enough if you listen to Slade there’s an echo of that in there too. Remember at Fielding’s time women were chattels, and allowing your daughter out could severely affect the value of your property for marriage.

    So I would say that in the true cultural context what Lock up your Daughters actually implies is that the wearer of the t-shirt is such a desirable hunk of alpha-male that your daughters won’t be able to control their sexuality and will be throwing themselves all over him. It’s still sexist because it implies that women are animals incapable of controlling their vaginas, and weirdly I think most women are more than capable of doing that.


  4. That is the biggest pile of ahistorical twaddle I’ve heard in a long time. Do you honestly believe that? Have you actually read any history texts on the subject?

  5. You’re viewing things though the perspective of Victorian values imposed on women’s sexuality in the 19th century and a little before. Back in Fielding’s day that was all still to come.

    At that point women were regarded as very much the inferior and weaker sex (no shit….) and ruled by their reproductive function. Men on the other hand were more considered more advanced in all their capabilities. However both sexes were thought to experience desire equally, so it followed that women were less able to control their desires and so their nature was more carnal then that of men. Consequently their sexuality had to be controlled and regulated by their fathers, husbands or whoever’s chattels they were.

    This goes back a long, long way. For example, Chaucer’s Wife of Bath is your classic anti-feminist text precisely because she’s a sexually aggressive woman who isn’t controlled by the ‘proper’ patriarchal arrangements.

    So as I say, the implication of “Lock up your Daughters” in the correct historical context is as much to do with uncontrolled female sexuality as it is with male. It does seem to me to be odd that you to want to argue the opposite and impose a passive victim role on women.


  6. Not to put too finer point on it, J, your argument is as specious as it is facile. 

    First, you appear to be suggesting that simply by excavating the roots of this phrase we can determine whether or not it makes reference to rape and the need to protect women from rapacious men, yet that doesn’t really hold water without some serious research into the reception of the phrase, not simply by men in Fielding’s time (or indeed, Slade’s) but also by women, who may well have read it in very different terms. 

    Second, you seem to be extending a view of male and female sexuality from Chaucer to Fielding and thence to Slade  if it were monolithic and unchanging. This is truly ahistorical, as SGM maintains. Think, for instance, about the 19th representation of women as the guardians of virtue and men as repositories of  vice (and this of course is before we even get into discussions of the way in which carnality and gender intersect with race, class, age, sexuality…) Yet you appear to be suggesting that this has no influence in the meaning of phrase and insist it should be viewed in its “proper historical context” as if language is somehow only meaningful once and then preserved in aspic. What nonsense when in fact the opposite is true – language is made meaningful in the present. If that were not the case, then you would surely be be offended if I were to refer to you as either Naff or Quaint, two words which have very different contemporary meanings to their past significance. What Fielding or Chaucer meant is, so far as this discussion is concerned, of antiquarian but not historical interest and has no bearing on why the phrase is considered offensive today, or why it was considered offensive in the 1990s (something you, yourself, concede).

    Third, and perhaps most importantly, you are defending a t-shirt that sexualises toddlers in terms that only emphasise that this is what it does. Why? 

    In the end, however, what really irks me about this bit of patronising twaddle is that it follows the tedious form of explaining that the only reason someone is offended by something is that they are too dumb to understand it. How quaint.

  7. Hi Stimpy

    Good solid points, I’d have to concede completely on the second of course – although I would underline that the understanding of women’s sexuality from a pre19thC viewpoint isn’t at all what one would naively expect from a 20th/21st C context. Indeed it’s quite alien to us to envisage a situation when women’s sexuality was considered more aggressive than the male, it’s so deeply conditioned into us it’s more than a little surprising when this turns out to be largely a cultural construct (and a Judeo-Christian one at that – even Islam is more enlightened). I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is a patriarchy, but it’s not the same patriarchy across time and culture and how women are perceived varies from place to place and time to time and it’s a mistake to assume otherwise and see a monolithic repressive conspiracy. Something positive to take from that surely?

    On your first point I simply do not know. I’ve never seen a study that tried to do that and I imagine the paucity of documentation would make it impossible. The only thing I can think of that might have some relevance is 12thC Occitan where there’s some glimmer available of how women perceived men in terms of relative sexual aggression well before the modern age, but that’s a (very, very) long stretch.

    We’ve come a long way from t-shirts :-). But as to your third point, and to return to that, I think the original issue is that SGM says that she see the t-shirt as the normalization of rape culture and the same old misogynistic shite whereas I would dispute that this is the case across for want of a better term I’ll call the ‘mainstream’ population. Obviously that’s not to invalidate SGM’s opinion because from her viewpoint male rape of women is a ingrained into every nook and cranny of our society and our very laws and institutions constructed to support it and repress women (aka posts about privacy and super-injunctions), but a moment with Google shows that the this is actually nowadays a pretty gender-equivalent sentiment….

    Now if you’re going to suppose that Lock up your Daughters supports a male rape culture then how do you explain the equivalent Lock up your Sons variety? Isn’t is just simpler to suppose that all that’s really being expressed here is that the toddler in question is thought of by their proud parents as a a really good looking individual who’s going to to have the opposite sex queuing up for them later?

    And what is wrong with that?


  8. Whats wrong with it? It is the sexualisation of toddlers. Plain and simple. I don’t want my children or anyone else’s seen as sexual actors or even as future sexual actors; as it stands their right to an innocent few years on this planet seems sadly short (witness Juicy emblazoned on 3 year old buttocks, Pornstar on per-teens) and these shirts, in either variety, simply add to this.

  9. PS: It is also naïve (wilfully so?) to suggest that feminist men and women view patriarchy as a conspiracy. There are no meetings, no grand high wizard of the golden phallus giving orders, no cover ups. It’s much more insidious in that it is a way of imagining social relations that pushes individuals and groups to think, see and act in ways that are actively discriminatory. Patriarchy encourages us to believe in hierarchies that privilege the white-adult-heterosexual-male (and we might add in other categories here relating to class, culture and education) at the cost of others that are effectively constructed as abnormal and thus less deserving. And then patriarchy holds up a mirror to society and reveals this bias and suggests that it’s normal, natural and probably best all round in any case.

    Which brings me back to t-shirts. You cite “Lock Up You Sons” as a gender-equivalent sentiment, yet it’s not, because we live in world where most rapists are men and most of their victims are women and where contemporary (as opposed to historical) constructions of female sexuality emphasise the vision of woman as in a constant state of sexual arousal, just waiting for a man to “show her a good time”. Men, on the other hand,are apparently possessed of two almost entirely separate brains, our penises apparently capable of making decisions entirely of their own volition. As such, the t-shirt you describe is not equivalent in any way. In short, as you have already conceded, it’s all about context, and the context of a patriarchy (which none of has ever presented as monolithic and unchanging) “lock up your daughters” means something totally different to “lock up your sons”. Obviously.

  10. Hi Stumpy

    That’s a different argument though and actually one I’d agree with you over in many cases. The examples you cite (Pornstar etc.) are just not acceptable on teens, never mind pre-teens, and are clearly the wrong side of the line.

    But I just don’t see that with the “Lock” slogans which seem to me considerably more innocent (possibly because the former are addressed at the reader of the t-shirt and do carry a subtext of abuse, whereas the ‘lock’ ones imply a different age-equivalent message). Really it’s just the equivalent of your Mother cooing at your baby and saying ‘he/she will break a few hearts when they’re older’ to complement you on how sweet they look.


  11. If you don’t see it then bully for you. As you have already pointed out, this slogan was viewed as offensive in the past when it was referring to adult women, just as many view it as offensive now. Presumably in your world we who are offended are overly sensitive types who see “male rape as ingrained into every nook and cranny of society” and are, by implication, a little cracked. Nonetheless, it seems like we are a significant constituency who were and are persuaded that locking up women isn’t a nice sentiment. So feel free to be unoffended. No-one is suggesting you are somehow demented or irrational for being so. Perhaps you would be decent enough to return that courtesy.

  12. “lock up your daughters” means something totally different to “lock up your sons”. Obviously.

    Not Obviously at all. In your opinion, what does “Lock up your Daughters” and “Lock up your Sons” actually each mean?


  13. J, I have been really quite tolerant of your tedious mansplaining. This is a feminist blog. Your anti-feminist rhetoric is unnecessary and, frankly, rude.

  14. Oh dear. You claim to agree with me about the nature of patriarchy, which is, we agree, subject to change over time and space. You also state that you not only understand what I mean by the idea that meaning is shaped in the present by its context, but that you agree with that statement as well. You have also conceded that we live within a patriarchal society, albeit one which is not the same as the patriarchal society of the Victorians, Elizabethans, Cave Men etc. So we agree on all those things. It is thus obvious that statements which connote sexual power and the power to dominate others have different meaning when applied to men and women (or in this case boys and girls).

  15. FYI Here are the entirely innocent and inoffensive lyrics to Slade’s 1981 Lock Up Your Daughters:

    Lock up your daughters! Yeah, yeah, yeah

    In sometimes you’re acting the fool
    Sometimes you’re breaking the rules
    Sometimes you wanna run away
    Sometimes you stay out of school

    Well it’s a dirty old town
    And you know it’s where we all belong
    Tell your mama back home
    She was just the same when she was young

    I wanna give you some advice
    Lock up your daughters right now
    Will give you a smile on your face
    Lock up your daughters somehow
    This is the time, the time of the place
    Yeah, yeah, yeah!

    In sometimes you whip up a storm
    Don’t get to bed until dawn
    Sometimes you get a little high
    And wish you’d never been born

    We’ll it’s a crazy old word
    Everybody’s gotta get along
    Tell your Mama back home
    It was just the same when she was young

    I tell you right now
    Lock up your daughters right now
    Will give you a smile on your face
    Lock up your daughters somehow
    This is the time, the time of the place
    Oh ho ho ho ho ho!
    You better lock up your daughters right now
    Will give you a smile on your face
    Lock up your daughters somehow
    This is the time, the time of the place
    Lock up your daughters right now
    Will give you a smile on your face
    Lock up your daughters somehow
    This is the time, the time of the place
    We take them away!

    And to The Noise Next Door’s 2004 song of the same name:

    She was his only daughter
    He would do anything for her
    She was the apple of his eye

    Now she’s a teenage rebel
    Out late and getting in trouble
    And he can’t stop her but he tries

    I met her out at a club on Wednesday
    Took her home to her dad on Friday
    He was waiting at the door to say
    Don’t you come round here no more

    I’m gonna get it on with your daughter
    Can’t stop us going out tonight
    I’ll be waiting at the window for her
    You won’t win
    I know that you know, that she knows,that you,
    better lock up your daughter tonight

    He told she was grounded
    She looked at him dumbfounded
    But knew he’d never get his way

    Lock the windows
    Chain the doors
    I don’t know why
    It never worked before
    She’s gonna meet me anyway

    He thinks she stuck up in bed
    She’s waiting with the light off instead
    All dressed up and ready to go
    When he wakes up she’ll be gone

    I’m gonna get it on with your daughter
    Can’t stop us going out tonight
    I’ll be waiting at the window for her
    You won’t win
    I know that you know, that she knows,that you,
    better lock up your daughter tonight

    She’ll worry about not going out
    Don’t be a fool
    We’re not at school
    So lock up your daughter
    Lock up your daughter
    Lock up your daughter tonight

    Clearly not a whiff of misogyny or rape culture in either, eh?

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