I never wanted daughters of my own – in fact, I never even worried about it, I was sure God would never punish me like that – I’m just not good with girls. Anyone who knows me knows that I wanted to have boys – lots and lots of loud, crazy, rambunctious boys. If you met my dog you’d understand: I like them wild, carefree, and full of life. And it’s not that girls can’t be that, they can – it’s just that when they are, it’s scandalous. Girls like me need to be “explained.”
And now I’m three months away from giving birth to my first – a girl.
I’m not disappointed. That’s not the right word. I’m not scared. I’m mature enough to admit that no matter how much I know, in all reality, I know nothing. I am ready and open to the learning and growing it takes to raise a child. This isn’t like school – it doesn’t matter how many books and articles I read, how many all-nighters I spend prepping and practicing – I can’t get an A. I’ll still read every one I come across, and spend countless sleepless nights worrying about it – but there’s a sense of security that comes with knowing that I can’t know everything, and that simultaneously, I can’t fail.
But girls – see girls are a whole other story. I am one thousand percent confident that I can raise a man to respect women, but I don’t know if I can raise a woman to respect herself. Especially in a world that is hell-bent on making sure she doesn’t. See, if my daughter ever dares say something along the lines of “I need to keep my nails done at all times because I don’t know when he’ll propose” or “I did it because I just wanted his attention” – I’ll know I failed her. Not only as a feminist, not only as a mother, but as another woman.
This world is rigged against us. Forget the wage gap. Forget the glass ceiling. I’m talking about how society warps the way we think about ourselves – like that we need a man to validate us. That being “single” is bad, or means there’s something wrong with us, that how we dress should dictate how we’re treated, or that we act like sex appeal is our only weapon in this world. How we live in the 21st century, and gay men are revered by women as style/fashion/feminine gurus, while “lesbian” is still a dirty word, and being called a “butch” is considered one of the worst insults you can throw at a woman.
No woman is taught to value her mind. Her self. Her interests. We are about to have the first female leader of the free world, and yet the first compliment we give little girls is about what they look like – not about what they’ve accomplished. Shit, I do it too – “you look so pretty!” Or “that dress is beautiful!” Or “aren’t you cute?” And by doing this we are teaching little girls that the most important thing is what they look like – not what they think, not what they feel, not what they do – the first thing we notice, and the first thing we compliment them on, is appearance.
We value nothing in this world if it doesn’t make us look good – and by look good, I mean look good for men. Because we’re nothing without being visually appealing to men, right?
Wrong. So wrong. I will drill that into my daughter’s head, and I will value her creativity and talents and intelligence and I will let her run around with her hair a mess (who am I kidding, no I won’t) and I’ll let her climb trees, and walls, and skyscrapers if she so pleases because as a woman I know that the sky is the limit and I know that no man will ever “complete” you and I know that self-acceptance is the only validation you ever need.
The world, though – the world doesn’t know that. The world will tell her she’s pretty. The world will push products at her, promising to fix her hair, the world will measure the length of her skirt instead of the height of the mountain she’s climbing. the world will check her thigh gap and convince her a flat stomach will make her happy, and the world will tell her that she can snag a man with these flirting tricks, that this perfume will make him want her, and these tips will make her “wife material”, what to wear to get hit on all the time, teach her the 5 things that make her undateable and how to fix them.
I am blessed that she will have plenty of strong women in her life to look up to, who will help guide her through all of the bullshit the world throws at her. But despite my best efforts she will come out of the womb already losing, because she has no idea what she’s up against. Because one day she’ll go to a friend’s house after school and her friend’s mother won’t ask what she thinks about Plato’s cave allegory, or if she thinks that Hilary Clinton was a better leader than Golda Meir, or if she likes her math teacher. Her friend’s mom will ask “so how are the boyssssss”, and another friend’s mom will ask the same, and a well-meaning relative will ask her “so are you dating anyone?” Before even asking about her interests, and eventually I will have failed her. As a feminist, as a mother, and as another woman, I will fail my daughter because real discussions like these don’t happen enough, because I can’t control the way she feels and the way the world will affect her – I can only give her the tools to fight back.