To say that I am scared for your future would be an understatement. I mean, I am afraid of the obvious things — that you will injure yourself, become ill, or simply grow up too quickly. But I am also I am afraid of what the world could do to you; what the world will do to you. You see, right now you are two. You are young and innocent and ignorant, and the greatest challenges you face every day are your indecisions. ( i.e. should you color or play with blocks? Is it a Frozen kind of day or a Finding Nemo one?
But as you get older, the challenges will become more … well, challenging; because with age comes responsibility. With age comes duties and tasks, culpability and liability. And with age comes some harsh realities: realities like bias, prejudice, and discrimination. Realities you will face because you are a woman — a woman in a world where women are not quite as equal as we are led to believe.
Here’s the thing: We’ve definitely made great strides. We’ve acquired the right to vote, the right to work jobs outside our homes, and we have — in theory — been guaranteed equal pay for equal work, the right to choose, and the right to control our bodies. But no matter how far we have come, we still have so very far to go.
I know because I’ve been there.
I know because I am there.
So to you, my dearest daughter, these are the things I hope for you most — the struggles I have endured and hope you never see.
1. The “glass ceiling.”
I hope you never have to work in a job where your male peers are paid 20% more than you, or where you feel held back simply because of your gender. You see, in 2016 the average working woman earns just 78 cents to every man’s dollar, and while I know some argue the pay gap is exaggerated, I’d like to shut that one down. Because discrimination exists. Gender inequality exists, and the pay gap absolutely exists. How can I be so certain? What makes me so sure? Let’s just say I once worked a job in HR where I saw that proverbial “gap” up close and personal, each and every week when I ran payroll and reported the numbers.
2. The sense that your body defines your worth.
I hope you never feel as though your body defines you, or that your body and your being are one in the same. I mean, I know it is hard not to feel that way, especially in our body-centric culture — in this age of airbrushing, photo filters, and fad diets. And I know that no matter what I say, others will judge you based on your appearance. They will compare you to asinine, unrealistic ideals.
So I need you to hear me now: You are more than a pair of skinny jeans or perky breasts. You are more than a pretty face or a tight butt. And you are more — so, so much more — than a number or a size.
3. Feeling ashamed of what you see in the mirror.
Just as I hope you do not feel defined by your body, I hope you also are not ashamed of it. I have wasted too many years worrying about what others thought — and what others think — about myself and my body, and instead of embracing my curvy hips, my “bubble butt,” and my feminine form, I starved it. I destroyed it. And I hid it: I buried it beneath oversized shirts and men’s hoodies. Why? Well, I hid my body because I was embarrassed and self-conscious. I hid my body because it wasn’t good enough or pretty enough. And I hid my body because I thought people wouldn’t take me seriously if I was “done up” or “made up.”
I thought brains and beauty couldn’t co-exist.
But they can. You can, and you don’t have to be a “suit” or a “pair of boobs.” You can be a woman and a powerhouse. You can be smart and sexy. You can be bright and beautiful. And you can be pretty and professional.
So be proud of who you are, and own it. Own your body and love yourself. All of yourself.
4. The belief that your feelings don’t matter.
Oh, little one, if I had a dollar for every time my feelings were minimized. For every time I heard, “Oh, you’re too sensitive” … “Stop crying, you’re acting like a girl” … or “Oh, is it that time of the month again?” Your collegiate career would be already be paid for, and we wouldn’t be living in a two-bedroom condo on Staten Island.
Because the truth is, women’s feelings are minimized. We are seen as overly sensitive and irrational. We are seen as illogical, and as though all of our feelings are “in our heads.” But your feelings matter just as much as you matter. Don’t stifle them. Don’t swallow them. And don’t ignore them, because that can hurt you. That can drive you totally freakin’ nuts.
5. The fear of standing up, and speaking out.
Whatever you do, my daughter, please do not let others control you. Do not let political correctness control you. Do not let fear control you.
You see, when I was younger, I thought my voice was weak and meager, and you might too. I felt I shouldn’t speak up, or stand out. I shouldn’t shake the boat or rage against the machine. Because “good women” didn’t do that. “Good women” kept things together — and kept people together. “Good women” didn’t tear the world, or people, apart … or so I thought.
But I was wrong. My perception of good girls and good women was wrong. So when you are in class and know the answer, go ahead and raise your hand. When someone hurts or offends you, call them out on it. When someone lies to your face, hurts you, or cheats you, have the strength to stand up and scream and — if necessary — walk away. And when you don’t agree with someone, say so instead of feeling obligated to agree for agreeances sake.
6. The shame of being reduced to a sexual object.
I hope you never have to endure the discomfort that comes from being whistled at, honked at, or “cat called.” I hope you never have to know the stress of having to chose between your family or your career. I hope you never hear “gendered stereotypes” (though, believe it or not, you already have. And it angers me. It enrages me.) And I hope you never experience sexual intimidation: I hope you never feel forced to do anything because others are “doing it” or because you are afraid for your safety, or your life.
I hope you never lose a job when you inform them you are pregnant. (Illegal, I know, but it happens: It happened to me.) I hope you never feel guilty for “me time,” alone time, or pursuing a life and passions away from your family. I hope you know you can ask for help, and that it does not make you weak. And I hope you never find yourself — and your self-worth — wrapped up in that of another.
I love you, my dearest daughter. And, like most mothers, I want the world for you. But I know that world is harsh, especially for women. So don’t take any crap. Don’t bend your knee and curtsy or bow down before the patriarchy, and never ever apologize for being strong yet vulnerable. Smart yet sexy. Crass yet capable. Opinionated or assertive.
Never ever apologize for being a woman. For being you.