Sunday, January 13, 2013

On Raising a Daughter

Kaitlyn of The Abortion Gang writes about why she is terrified to have a daughter:
I thought about what I would like to say in a letter to a someday-daughter – I’m surrounded by children now, in my office, in my personal life, they’re everywhere – and I got a little stuck because, try as I might to think of something inspiring or powerful or comforting, something that I would have liked to read during the difficult years in my life, all I could think, the one sentence thundering through my head, was sad and resigned:
“I hope the world doesn’t fuck you up too badly, sweetie.”
 Kaitlyn explains that she feels having a daughter would be a greater challenge than having a son because of "the vicious things visited upon young women from infancy through adulthood." Kaitlyn wonders, "How can I fairly bring a girl into this world knowing that the odds of her being raped, assaulted, and abused are so very, very high? What of the smaller daily humiliations and their physical manifestations, like the high rates of eating disorders?"

The whole piece irritated me.

Maybe I've just been very lucky. My parents raised my brothers and sisters and me with high standards regardless of our gender. For example, I was expected to get A's in math classes, and so I did. I didn't even know there's supposed to be a gender distinction in math performance until I reached college. My brothers and sisters and I were taught to stand up for ourselves, and each other, if anyone picked on us. And as we've grown into adults we've all learned well that life can be hard, that people can be awful, and that we should face it head on, tolerating as little bad behavior as possible. But I didn't really start thinking about any of this from a gender-specific perspective until I was much older, a couple years into college.

In the last few years I've gone from seeing things generally as an adult to seeing things more specifically as a woman. My interest in politics, especially the abortion debate, has probably played a role, but I think the bigger factor has been the women I've met. I know plenty of smart, hard-working women who actively build their own lives, but here I'm writing specifically about women who frequently speak out on gender issues. These women have drawn my attention to problems I hadn't really considered before; they've got me thinking a lot more about gender inequality.

Back to Kaitlyn's ideas. I agree that there are certain challenges unique to women and that women face more of an uphill battle in certain arenas. However, the way Kaitlyn describes the life of a woman makes me think (a) in comparison, life is a cake walk for a man and (b) most women go through life so battered by society that they can barely hold their heads up.

I think life can be hard for everyone, albeit in different ways. I have brothers, close male friends, my boyfriend--I've seen them go through really hard times. I'm not saying life is perfectly equally difficult for everyone; as I said, I agree that there are certain areas that are more difficult for women (sexual relations, career-building, balancing career and family all come to mind). But I am saying I think Kaitlyn's descriptions exaggerate the divide into a chasm.

It's good to highlight problems and work toward solutions, but it's defeatist to build those problems into seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Kaitlyn describes bringing a daughter into the world as if we're in the zombie apocalypse--as if there's nothing but cruelty and suffering waiting for a female from birth to womanhood, as if life is so terrible for females it's downright irresponsible to give birth to one.

Lori Grimes knows what I'm talking about.

I think our odds of not just surviving, but thriving, are quite a bit better than that. And I think this aversion to having daughters reflects a pretty dim view of women. Are we so weak and helpless? Such victims? My mother, sisters, aunts, and friends aren't. I'm not.

I like the idea of writing letters to future children. I've actually done it a handful of times. (For me it doesn't work to sit down and try to think of what to say. It works much better when a life lesson enters my mind for some other reason, and then I sit down and write it.) I've written letters to my future children generally, and specifically to my oldest child and my daughters.

I intend to raise all of my children to be smart, confident, and empowered. My brother once said "Dad didn't give us tools to deal with life--it was more like weapons." I hope to impart the same sense to my kids someday--to be fighters, not victims. But throughout my letter-writing process I've realized I have more lessons particularly for my daughters. (I suppose this makes sense. After all, I am a woman and I've gathered a lot more information about being a woman than a man.) I've also realized I'm especially looking forward to raising daughters. I'm looking forward to increasing the number of self-respecting, capable women in the world.

1 comment:

  1. If anything, women in our day and age are more empowered then they probably have ever been in all of history. Not to say that bad things don't happen to them, but if you're going to have a daughter, now seems like a great time, imo.