I love my daughters so much that sometimes I wish they had never been born.
Maybe things are not as bad as the media suggests, and I believe that Elliot Rodgers would have killed even if he had gotten laid. He was a killer looking for an excuse. That said, there are definitely aspects of cultural biases against women that I find heartbreaking, and it is hard not to fear for their safety when I see statistics like “1.3 women are forcibly raped every minute.” Even more so in light of the fact that my daughters will experience (and, in some cases, already have experienced) these biases.
My sweet four-year-old already knows that people treat her differently depending upon how she is dressed. I hate that she knows this, I’m utterly destroyed by it. I want to strangle every person who only calls her a “sweet little girl,” when she wears a dress, and dropkick everyone who comments, “she’ll outgrow her tomboy phase,” when she wears her cement mixer T-shirt. I want to scream every time I hear, “boys will be boys.” Whenever someone asks about my one-year-old, “is that a boy or a girl?” I want to counter, “will you treat my child differently if you know?” But I don’t need to ask. I know they will.
And, of course, this is small time compared to how they will be judged on appearances later in life. Too revealing will mean they are sluts, asking for trouble, as if men’s cognitive abilities have an inverse relationship with the number of square inches of female flesh within their field of view. Too stylish will mean they are shallow; I’m still trying to figure out how anyone fails to see the hypocrisy there. When you are clearly being judged on appearances, doesn’t it make sense to look your best? If their style is too conservative or outdated, it will mean that they aren’t trying hard enough. That, too, gets treated as an excuse to harass a woman. “What’s under that dress, eh?”
I hate it that I have to drum into them that their bodies are their own. I hate that people sneer at me for telling them that they need to ask before touching my kids, and I hate the frequency with which I find myself asking family members, neighbors, and even strangers to apologize. Yes, you really do have to apologize for touching my kids. No, not to me. To them.
But I want my girls to be horrified, angry, and indignant when, inevitably, some all-American male thinks it’s okay to grab their backside as they walk to their next class. I want them to speak up when they see people getting bullied and harassed. I want my girls to know that there is nothing they could do, ever, that justifies or causes another person to use their bodies without their consent.
Really, I desperately wish I could make the world better by raising my daughters’ expectations.
Of course, I want them to be indignant…but I don’t want them to be surprised. So I’ll tell them about how, when I was 14, a boy threatened to slit his wrists if I wouldn’t go out with him, and how I didn’t know it then, but I should have told him that he had no right to hold me hostage.
I’ll tell my daughters about how, when I was sexually harassed at work, and the HR person assigned to my case said, “this wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t been so friendly with him,” I should have replied, “how does my choice to have a conversation with someone entitle him to threaten me when I reject his advances?”
I’ll tell my daughters that I should have called HR and reported the colleague who told me that I needed to, “stop wearing dresses because it will give your male colleagues the wrong idea.” As if I am somehow responsible for the ideas men have!
I’ll tell them to watch out for the small things in potential friends and partners – using “bitch” and “pussy” as euphemisms for weakness. And the big things – acting like they are a hero for having sex with a drunk girl because, “she was going home with somebody, at least this way it was someone nice!”
And I’ll do my part to make things better. Teaching my girls to respect other people’s bodies, too. Calling out cases when I hear people, even friends and family, use language that denigrates women. Standing up for myself if I am catcalled or harassed. And befriending other families who understand and teach their children about consent and respect.
This is why we need #yesallwomen. This is why we need to have this conversation. Because our sisters and daughters deserve to grow up without fear.