Friday, September 5, 2014

On Raising a Daughter

Dear Danica,

Recent events have caused me a lot of inner turmoil and yet also, have given me the inspiration to begin this blog -  a series of open letters, from a mother to her daughter, on what it's like to raise a daughter in a man's world; the things I know I must prepare you for and yet dread to, the fear of what you will encounter as you grow into a woman, and the belief in you and wishes for you that form the core of me as a mother. Here are the talks I know we will have to have in person someday, much as I might fear some of them. Perhaps writing this will better prepare me for when those days finally arrive.

There have been a lot of headlines recently about some celebrities who had private accounts get hacked and the information found there released to the public. Most of the victims of this invasion of privacy were woman and they have been almost universally blamed for its occurrence. It arouses a lot of feeling in me, for many reasons. First, and I hope I've done a good enough job in raising you that you truly understand this, it is NOT their fault. Every time I see someone blaming these poor women for what happened to them, I get infuriated. A red haze of anger, roaring to be unleashed. Because this is the world we live in, where women are victimized and blamed for their own victimization.

I know. I've lived it.

And this is the world I'm raising you in and it terrifies me. I wish I could teach every single one of these people the truth about these issues, I wish I could teach everyone, so that by the time you are old enough to go out on your own in this world it will be better and you will not have to face this. But I can't.

The second reason I get so upset about this issue is this horrible sense of entitlement that seems to exist in this country, no matter how far we've come, that women's bodies exist for men - to desire, to take, to defile. It's not true, not at all, but the idea is so pervasive - not just in America, but in this world.  An offshoot of it that is present here in the US -  I don't know about other countries - is that *celebrity* women's bodies somehow belong to all of us. So if there exists photos of female celebrities that the general public has not yet seen, then by god those photos must be found and spread to the masses. That isn't true either, and I hope that you know better. But there are so many who can't seem to understand that just because these people are famous they DO NOT belong to us. They have the right to privacy, just like everyone else. If they photos of themselves that they do not wish others to see, that is their right. And we, all of us, need to respect that privacy.

I feel terrible for these women, all of them. For what happened to them, but most of all for the sick society that turns around and shames them for it. 

And yet, there is another side for me. Because I cannot help but see the stories of these women and think of you. One day you will be grown up, like them. One day you might have private things stolen from you and published without your consent, like them. And one day you, too, might be shamed and humiliated for it, forced to shoulder the blame for something that was not your fault. I cannot help but think it, cannot help but see how easily it could someday be you.

How do I raise a daughter in this world, knowing all the monsters in human faces that wait out there for her? How do I raise a daughter in a world where women are routinely blamed for being victimized?

There are things I should teach you, to protect yourself. The fact that I have to teach them to you sickens me, possibly more than you can understand. Somehow the expectations of our society have come to be that we must take thousands of precautions to keep from being victimized; and yet, when we are, it will still always be our fault. Why can we not just teach that the crimes are wrong? Why can we not change our society to stop this from happening?

I have always taught you that there is nothing you can't do. Never have gender roles existed in my house and never will they. When you would hear them elsewhere and come home to me with them, I did my best to explain to you just what gender roles were and why they are so wrong. From the moment you were born I have done my best to keep you from EVER thinking or hearing that you can't do something just because you're a girl. It's not an easy thing to do in this society.

I have always wanted you to grow to be a strong, intelligent woman, without the weight of falsehoods on what women can and can't do on your shoulders. And yet...I can't help but fear.

If I raise you as if these prejudices don't exist, as if we live in a world where women aren't STILL treated as second class citizens, what happens when you have to go out into that real world?

How do I raise a child to believe she can be anything she wants to be and then send her out into a world with a glass ceiling?

I hope you shatter it.

Because despite these fears, I know it is still right to tell you that you can do anything. You can grow up to be anything. It doesn't matter if you're a girl, screw that noise, you can do it. I know, truly, deep down, that I HAVE to tell you these things. It is one of my ultimate duties as your mom, to tell you these things - because if I don't, others will. Except the others won't say what I say. They will tell you that you are less than you are, they will feed you fear and shame by the bucketful, they will tell you that "you can't" "you can't" "you can't" until eventually you start to believe it. They will tell you that as a woman you are an object, that you exist for men and their pleasure. They will take from you all that you are, all the unique and wonderful things that make you beautiful, that make you *Danica*. 

I wish I could shield you from it forever, but I can't. No one can. The best I can do is to teach you, to give you all the tools to be able to face these things and not back down. You are Danica, smart and funny and wild. You are not less, nor ever will be unless you yourself let it happen. You are Danica, savior of kittens and puppies alike. You are not an object, not property, you do not exist just for men. You are not a victim and you, already, are stronger those that peddle fear could ever hope to be. Your strength is rooted in a long line of strong, independent women.

You are Deborah's granddaughter, one of the strongest women I've ever known.

You are Chandra's daughter, the best thing I've ever done in my life.

You are Danica and beloved and you always will be.

Stand tall, my dear girl, and do not fear. 

Love always and forever,