Letter to my thirteen year old daughter about the war on women.
What you will have to fight.
Letter to my daughter on the eve of her 13th birthday
You need to know some things that I have never told you before. First, you need to know that being a female is the most glorious privilege. And you need to know that there is still a current war on women, a systematic oppression that every woman in your family has fought as best she could.
Your great grandmother marched with the Suffragettes, your grandmother marched for Pro Choice, and me, your mother, marched with other early Gen Xers to get the term “date rape” classified as criminal. Before we fought to criminalize the term date rape, it was called a “date gone bad.”
There was no recourse back then. Only a woman’s rage against herself for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, for drinking one extra beer, for thinking she was dating a gentleman, for going out after dark.
I remember watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in 2018. She was my same age and looked similar to me in high school. Still years later, I can’t get her testimony out of my mind. Millions of women stood with her, blessed her, braved her. Watched her in a solid blue suit with a new hairstyle for the camera — just because we all know that every woman is judged partially on her appearance. She was terrified and tenacious. She was frightened and fierce. She was every woman. She was me.
You see my daughter, Mommy had things, similar things, happen to her. Like Dr. Ford she sometimes wanted to go to a party with cute boys who drank too much and shoved her around. She once trusted a geometry teacher who she thought would help her after school and instead tried to kiss her, she once fell asleep in an ex-boyfriend’s apartment to wake up and have him inside of her.
And even still as I write this to you, I have to talk about this in the third person. You see, my precious one, that is how so many of us get through it. We blame ourselves. We keep silent. We pretend it didn’t happen. We believe if we ignore abuse it will go away. And we do what so many of our forewomen did. We get on with our lives and keep society running with our wisdom and honor.
We are women! We birth and bleed and love in spite of the patriarchy. We navigate a landscape with pot holes at every turn, step here: we are shamed, step here: you are denied the promotion, step here: you are dismissed, step here: you are raped, beaten, or tortured.
Lila, I have something so sad to tell you. One out of three women will be raped, beaten or tortured in her lifetime. Some of your friends may have already had some older man inappropriately touch them.
I am so sorry my darling.
Yet to not tell you that there is a battle ahead would be telling you a lie. It would be pretending. To not tell you would leave you unprepared for the massive confusion some people hold about women. You must know there is a battle to fight! You will win some battles and you will lose some too. I will rejoice in your victories. I will hold you in your defeats. I promise this, sweet one.
I will teach you how to be a woman. And that means, I will teach you how to fight.
I also refuse to give up on men!
You have a twin brother. He is the closest person in your life. He is my son. My joy. Your best friend. To give up on him would be to deny half the world and settle into separatism. So many of the early women of our movement blamed men and thought they could do it alone. I understand their frustration. I stand on their shoulders. Yet, I also know to bash all men is boring and leaves us in a victim place that we don’t want.
I also refuse to give up on men because just as you are learning to become a woman, boys learn to become men.
The social construction of men is different than ours. Part of learning to be a man is learning how to dominate women. So often we see packs of men cat calling at young women, they slap each other’s chest while commenting on a nice piece of ass. This is not about any real connection to the female crossing the street, it is about a desire for closeness with other men. It isn’t easy for a young straight man to say, “I’m scared shitless” to another guy. Or “I’m lonely.” So they posture and pretend. Then grab a beer and watch porn.
They want to be like their Dads.
I did understand why so many of the men in this country were standing behind Kavanaugh. I thought his rhetoric is disgusting-a frat boy loop of blame, denial and deflection.
However, when I peel back the many layers, I saw that Bret Kavanaugh was also dominated by other men. Perhaps that is why he liked beer so much? He is not the first teenager drinking to numb the pain of a high pressure prep school, where you have to perform at all costs. A kind of Prep School that is a breeding ground for privileged young men to hold dominate positions in business, government and law. He is not the first jock to sexually assault a woman.
When he pulled Dr. Christine Ford into a room, he didn’t act alone. He was acting with his buddy. “Having fun, at someone’s else’s expense.” Intoxicated and invisible. I’m sure there was a major part of this that was a “oneupmanship” with a fellow athlete. They were both trying to prove manhood by exploiting a girl that wasn’t part of their social circle.
This plays out again and again in the profitable systems that seduce men: the porn industry, the military, the alcohol industry and competitive sports.These systems display a rigid kind of manhood that leaves men isolated and unable to show their vulnerability. Crying equals castration in the minds of most straight white men.
Boys know how to cry. Men have to relearn. Most rarely do!
What I wish for Bret Kavanaugh is that he could have asked for help. Thirty years ago. And three months ago. That he could have said, “Dad, I need help.” “Coach, is it ok to sit this one out?” Or “P.J. Please don’t pass me another beer.”
That he could have said, “I may have done it.” “I didn’t know how to stop it. I was drunk.” “I had a problem back then but I have rebuilt my life into something meaningful now — something that even goes beyond a big job.”
In the end no one wants to be held accountable for one very bad choice that they did as a minor.
Yet, my sweet daughter, the difference is that for most women, one poor choice can have a life altering trauma. For most men, this is not the same. Most women feel fear when a group of young men walk by. Most men feel comfort when they see group of women.
Lila, you and I are both native Angeleno’s. We were born in earthquake country. Where our land shifts in tiny increments until one day the earth moves, shakes, and topples down the old buildings. We rebuild. That is what is happening now. Women are moving the earth.
This will be hard for some men. They know that their foundations aren’t based on solid principle. They can see cracks in their ceiling. They can feel the small tremors too. Straight white men have been running things for too long. When something is dying, there is always a death howl. A guttural, delusional outcry of rage for the possible ramifications of their fleeting foothold.
So Kavanaugh’s appointment was one anxious scream to hold onto a fleeting power.
But don’t you worry, Lila, that shout is only so loud. It is ultimately a cry for help. There will be tantrums that might look contorted and crazy like a small child fighting the need for a long nap.
But can you hear it, darling? Over the death howl is a new chorus. The chorus of women and some men too. The earth is spinning and fracturing. Small gains will be permanent victories!
Yesterday, at your soccer match, I sat on the sidelines wearing my favorite black t-shirt that said, “THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE.” I had a defiant “don’t fuck with me face on.” You were doing practice drills. A man came up to me and stared at my chest.
“I like your shirt,” he said.
“Thank you.” (“Now get out of my face,” was my inner monologue.)
“Then he said, where can I get one?”
“Oh, for your daughter?” I replied.
“No,” he said.
After the game I ordered him a shirt as I will order one for your brother.
I will continue to teach you how to fight like a woman and how to have fun as we disable the patriarchy.
I will continue to teach your brother how to hold on to his heart: to ask for help and cry.
The time is near, the time is now.
I love you forever my sweet daughter,