Prince Andrew and the ‘Dad Defence’: Why stars under scrutiny often play the fatherhood card

As the fall-out from Prince Andrew’s ‘Newsnight’ interview continues, we examine why citing his parenthood did not get the desired response

FILE - In this Monday, April 13, 2015 file photo, Britain's Prince Andrew visits the AkzoNobel Decorative Paints facility in Slough, England. Prince Andrew's effort to put the Jeffrey Epstein scandal behind him may have instead done him irreparable harm. While aides are trying to put the best face on his widely criticized interview with the BBC, royal watchers are asking whether he can survive the public relations disaster and remain a working member of the royal family. (David Parker/Pool Photo via AP, File)
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At the height of the #MeToo movement two years ago, actor Matt Damon was asked about the allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The question was not unexpected. After all, Weinstein's entertainment company, Miramax, had produced the movie Good Will Hunting, which won both Damon and his childhood friend, Ben Affleck, the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, and the men had worked together on numerous projects over the years. "As the father of four daughters…" Damon told the interviewer, "this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night."

It was a sentiment later echoed by New York governor Andrew Cuomo ("I want to make sure at the end of the day, this world is a safer, better world for my three daughters"), Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera ("As the father of three daughters ... I urge all who have been offended to reach out") and US Senator Mitch McConnell ("As the father of three daughters, I strongly believe that Trump needs to apologise directly to women and girls everywhere").

And while the good intentions behind these declarations are in no doubt, interestingly, none expressed their compassion through the prism of being men, sons or husbands, as if only in the context of fatherhood – and more specifically as fathers of daughters – were they able to fully appreciate the scope of the allegations and express their disgust.

FILE PHOTO: Princess Eugenie, Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Princess Beatrice attend the wedding of Prince Harry to Ms Meghan Markle at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle on May 19, 2018 in Windsor, England. Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales marries Ms. Meghan Markle in a service at St George's Chapel inside the grounds of Windsor Castle. Among the guests were 2200 members of the public, the royal family and Ms. Markle's Mother Doria Ragland.  Chris Jackson/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
Prince Andrew, Duke of York, with daughters Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Reuters

Fast forward two years, and the "Dad Defence" has been invoked once more, in the wake of Prince Andrew's Newsnight interview. When it became clear that the backlash against his failure to express remorse for the victims of the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was not going away, a "source close to the Prince" told the UK's Daily Mail: "Of course, the Prince deeply ­regrets his friendship with Epstein. As a father, he totally condemns any exploitation of vulnerable young women."

Again, not as a man, a son or a husband – only as a father.

What was it then, that drove this “source” to use Andrew’s father status as a defence against ­allegations of wrongdoing, when having children does not automatically render a person more innocent or trustworthy?

“People will use whatever resources they have available to present themselves in the best possible light and to avoid being viewed unfavourably, such as claiming, ‘I couldn’t have done what you accuse me of because of my age, or because of my faith, or because I’m a good citizen’,” notes Marzia Balzani, research professor of anthropology at NYU Abu Dhabi. “Most likely, fatherhood was invoked as a way to appear more relatable, because although not everyone can be a member of royalty or fly around the world in private jets, a lot of people are parents, so, on that level, the message is: ‘Look! I’m just like you, I’m relatable’.”

While not as widely researched as motherhood, studies of fatherhood have shown that having a daughter can wield some influence over how a man treats women. Citing the paper Identifying Judicial Empathy: Does Having Daughters Cause Judges to Rule for Women's Issues, Dr Sarah Rasmi, licensed psychologist and founder of Dubai's Thrive Wellbeing Centre, says: "They found that judges who have daughters as opposed to sons are more likely to rule in favour of things that are aligned with feminism. Part of it might be, for judges in particular, that by ruling in favour of feminism, they're creating a safer, more inclusive, accepting and tolerant space for their daughters."

epa08012029 (FILE) - Britain's Prince Andrew and Queen Elizabeth II look at the Endurance event during the third day at the Royal Windsor Horse show in Windsor, Britain, 12 May 2017 (reissued 20 November 2019). According to media reports on 20 November 2019, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York is stepping back from his royal duties for the 'foreseeable future' due to the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.  EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA
Prince Andrew was reportedly asked to step down from royal duties by Queen Elizabeth II. EPA

Dubai resident Danny Phillips, 40, an account manager and father to daughter, Chloe, 5, agrees. "­Having a daughter has definitely given me more focus when it comes to looking at things from a woman's perspective, such as the challenges women face in their careers, because I want my daughter to grow up to do the things she wants and have the same opportunities as anyone else. For me, there was definitely a before and after when it comes to fatherhood. I'm a very different person now that I have Chloe, because before I only had one person to look out for – me. Now, I'm much more patient in general, more courteous and much more aware of the passing of time."

Prince Andrew is said to be Queen Elizabeth II's favourite son, as she had settled more comfortably into her twin roles of monarch and mother than when Charles and Anne were younger, a friend told Vanity Fair back in 2011, just after the photo of Andrew and Epstein in Central Park first surfaced. "Andrew has a stubborn streak," they said. "He does stupid things out of hubris, to show that he can do them. If he likes someone, he'll ignore the truth about that person. And that goes both for Jeffrey and Sarah [Ferguson]... He's an adored second son. His mother, the Queen, dotes on him, favours him above all her other children, and excuses his every foible."

Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine, backs that up, saying of the 59-year-old Duke of York: "Andrew's [childhood] mischief-making translated into arrogance and a distinctly un-­royal disdain for those beneath him. His tendency to get into scrapes and avoid blame by pulling rank or relying on his mother's forgiveness annoyed his siblings and vexed royal household staff who had to cover up for him."

So, after his justifications in the Newsnight interview – which included an inability to sweat, pizza parties in Woking and being "too honourable" to break off the friendship with Epstein – proved too much for the public to swallow, the 'Dad Defence' might have been seen as a last ditch attempt for sympathy.

“It might be that he hoped to play on the premise of ‘How could I have done this when fathers don’t do things like this?’” adds Professor Balzani. “After all, when presented with evidence of their actions, people will often say, ‘It couldn’t be me, I’m not the sort of person who would do this kind of thing’, when the truth is that there is no specific ‘sort’ of person who would ever do anything.”