Before I had you, there was just your brother. And while I’ve worried enough to fill the Mariana Trench for him, when you were born there came a different kind of fear. A knowing fear. And while it may not be so deep, it is far wider. Because it is familiar.
We are women.
You are like me. You have my feet and my hands. You have my sense of humor. My love of dance and words and silliness and bright colors and things that sparkle. Everyone loves your twirls and dance moves, but I patented those way before you came along. You are fierce and friendly, mercurial, and wise beyond your years. You are my little döppleganger.
My dreams were all my own; I accounted for them to nobody; they were my refuge when annoyed — my dearest pleasure when free.
— Mary Shelley
You are four now. You tell me every day how much you love me. That I’m beautiful. Your pictures, almost all of them, are the two of us, together. Hand in hand. Bows as big as dinner plates on our heads. Lipstick and eyelashes and big, wide smiles. Every joy. Together. Always together. I treasure every one.
You know, I almost lost you. Pregnancy was not easy. I didn’t even allow myself to think of you as a real being — you were so fragile at that point, and I was so terrified you would never live to hold my hand — that when they told me you were a girl, I fell apart a little bit. The tears were there even before I knew what to do with them.
Then we had a name. Then, I held you. Still attached, I held you. Womb to womb and back again, I stood at that bright, painful threshold and together we held the power of the universe’s most perfect mystery. That wonder, that magic, still connects us.
They keep telling me that you will grow up and you will change. That I need to watch out for your teenaged years. That we will be torn apart. That you will prove your difficulty later. Well, good. I can be difficult, too.
(Of course you will be difficult. Everyone is. Being a person, merely existing, is really fucking difficult. I am technically an adult, but there are plenty of times when I feel absolutely incapable of wasting oxygen, let alone understanding my own consciousness. But I have been there, for the most part. And I understand that burden. And when you have those Terrible Awful Times, I will do everything in my power to be the mother you need. I will probably make some impressive mistakes, but I’ve never pretended I’m perfect.)
What’s more is that we are smart women. Fierce women. Women who see beauty. Women who feel things like knives in our hearts. I see compassion on your face, I see concern in your eyes. Already, so young. A wise woman within the face of an angel, who cries at movies because she understands on a level many adults either don’t or won’t allow themselves.
So I want to talk to you about an emotion I’m dealing with. I’m having a difficult time right now because I’m afraid. I’m thinking so much about you, and the future of women like you. And women who have it worse in so many ways, because of money or race or religion.
Listen, it was never easy for me as a girl. I never fit in with other girls very well. I remember lying to try and keep friends as a kid, getting caught in them. I was telling stories because I wanted to escape from my own reality. It’s served me well as a writer, but it took a long while to get the flow right. I raised my hands too much in school. I was a persistent know-it-all.
Things haven’t changed a whole lot. I’ll tell you I’m ambitious as hell. I have a hard time shutting up about things when I know I’m right. I’ve been told to keep things to myself in meetings because “everyone already knows” that I’m smart. I’ve seen looks from other women, and from men, too, in the corporate world. Because I am still a bit of a persistent know-it-all, and I’m sorry, but your brother gets that from me. Must be an older sibling gene.
I grew up in the wake of bigger, stronger women than me. Women who paved the way. Grandmama worked and supported the family in the 80s and 90s. She was so stunning, so smart and clever, and everyone just adored her. Your great-grandmother did work in the 60s no one had even conceived of years before.
(But to say I had it hard makes me feel sick. Honestly, darling, there are so many women, here and around the world, that are still seen as property, are abused because no one protects them, not even the law. Some day you will see this and it will shake you. It should. We need to be shaken, sometimes, to act.)
The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman.
— Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1860
But now… I really thought we’d be better than this. I thought by the time I was an adult, the world would have become brighter and more understanding. That being a woman would mean nothing different.
Now, somehow, I stand and see that there are dark words and deeds everywhere, in both men and women, all over the news. It’s especially hard for me to see it in women. Women who laugh and say “boys will be boys,” as if that’s an excuse. As if we shouldn’t hold you and your brother to the same standards, as if sexual assault is a laughing matter.
(Someday I’ll tell you what happened to me. Someday, I’ll cry about it to you. I’ll tell you about a person I loved before your father, and how it went so, so wrong, and how hard I had to work to put the pieces back together. How it took years for me even to process what happened. That one day, I turned to your father and told him about that day, and I felt as if someone had poured cold water down my spine because I never thought it could have happened to me. I never thought for a moment that someone you loved could do such a thing.)
This is not about an election to me anymore. I’m furious, my darling, so furious that I feel twisted inside. Because I see so many willing to shake the hand of a man who would reduce you to nothing but an object.
And worse even, because he represents so many more who feel that same way. Because for every step women have made before us, there are others willing to shout louder. To holler things at us in the street, to tear us down, call us names, rewrite the rules so we don’t have power.
But I’m going to keep fighting. I will be your shield. And I will train you up. You already have the heart of a warrior, a princess superhero who slays dragons and tells the most astonishing stories.
For you, and for all women, I can’t let it slide.
“All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
— Julian of Norwich
I am going to be louder. I am not going to back down. I am going to be worthy of that huge bow and that brilliant smile. Worthy of you seeing me as a hero.
It stops here. Because your future is here. In my hands. In the hands of all women.
Right now, as never before.
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