When I was pregnant with my daughter, we didn’t know she would be a daughter. We didn’t want to find out the sex of the baby, because: surprises.
In truth, I was terrified to have a girl. I already had a boy. I knew what to expect. I could do the boy thing again. Sure, boys come with their own set of issues. For example, I can’t and will never understand the obsession with the penis that seemingly all little boys have. And I’m told the teenage years with boys get … gross.
But those things seem so arbitrary when compared with the problems that young women face. Discrimination and harassment, to name a few. And even if she escapes those, then there is the general feeling of being told – either overtly or indirectly – that she is “less than.”
Take the recent push to put a woman on the $20 bill. Sacajawea had enjoyed a short stint on the $1 coin before it was discontinued in 2012 because it was unpopular. So, we asked could we pretty please be on the $20 bill? We got a pat on the head and a, “Sorry, sweetheart, the best we can do is put you on the $10 bill, but not until 2020. And Alexander Hamilton will still be on the bill, because women need babysitters.”
While it might seem to be petty to pick a fight over this, it’s not. It’s yet another instance in which women – who have been secondary to men since our country was formed – are ignored and underrepresented. Shortchanged, if you will.
I hate that my daughter will have to deal with it.
My little girl has these bright eyes and a blissfully ignorant smile. She is fearless and brazen. She watches her big brother do something and immediately tries to do it no matter how seemingly beyond her capabilities it may be. She surprises us and even herself at times, like when she jumped off the couch onto the mountain of pillows and enjoyed it. Or when she successfully wrestled her favorite toy away from her brother, who had taken it from her just moments earlier. Or when she named all the colors on her fish puzzle correctly.
She is smart, and at 2, she already has a personality that tells me she won’t stand for anyone trying to keep her from doing what she wants to do.
But that doesn’t mean she will be immune to the bullshit.
How will I comfort her when she is sexually harassed? Do I say to her what a former female boss of mine said to me: “This will just happen anywhere you go, there’s nothing you can do”?
What will I do when someone embarrasses her in front of her colleagues by making an inappropriate joke? Do I say to her what a former female colleague said to me: “You shouldn’t report this to anyone unless you want trouble”?
While the thought of my daughter becoming the teenage nightmare I was does frighten me, the idea that she will be disrespected and dismissed and possibly physically harmed simply because she is a woman bothers me infinitely more. I can deal with her hormone swings and first-love heartbreak and temporarily disliking me.
Those things will suck, but they are temporary. They aren’t some lifelong curse that is going to find her when she grows breasts (maybe sooner) and follow her until, well, death.
It makes me sick to know that my daughter WILL experience sexism in some form. It’s a given. Every woman has, whether she recognizes it or not. Sexism dresses itself up in harassing comments, it manifests in violent crimes against women, it hides in the laws (or lack thereof) that fail to protect women and their interests.
That’s what scares me most about raising a daughter. I can’t shield her and I can’t even explain it to her.
“Mom, why are we on the $10 when we were going for the $20? Aren’t we worth it? Aren’t we good enough?” she might ask when the bill finally makes its way into currency.
I won’t have a good answer for her. Will you?