It takes awhile. It’s not clear at first, just how the world works.
You are a bright student. You get good grades. High school is fun and interesting and complicated and emotional and full of premature freedom and lost love. High school is full of risk. You learn there are expectations for girls and it’s hard to balance who you are with how you are expected to act. You learn in high school that being your true self is sometimes not the self you should be.
You hear, “Be a good girl.”
You think, “There are rules to being a girl.”
You head to college. You are young. The world is BIG. You are finding your way in it. There is so much to learn and to see and to do. You have a favorite course, taught by a favorite professor. It’s endlessly fascinating. He is endlessly fascinating. He is much older. You could talk about topics for hours and you do. He patiently answers questions after class and during office hours and listens to your big ideas and you have found this safe space to be you and to be smart and to be heard and the conversation never veers off course. Until it does.
You hear, “Meet me for dinner. Just you.”
You think, “He wasn’t really listening after all.”
You land your first real grown-up job. You’re living on your own. You’re traveling on your own. You are staying in very nice hotels and designing dynamic PowerPoint presentations. You are on your way. You’re in Los Angeles for a conference or a meeting or some other sort of important Work Thing and you’re wearing your grown-up business suit and lacy underthings that make you feel great and confident because you’re a woman and you are magical and sometimes we get our confidence from lovely lacy underthings. Your meeting, your conference is over and you drive yourself back to the airport because that’s what you do now, you independent woman. You’re grabbing your bags from your rental car and while bending down to pick up a dropped something or other, you hear someone call out to you. They are whistling. They can see part of your lacy underthings.
You hear, “HEY THERE – I SEE YOU SEXY.”
You think, “Cover up, cover up. I should have made sure to cover up.”
You land your second real job, this time in a big city and the office is full of older men that you can tell have spent a lifetime only working with other older men. There you stand, with your business casual cardigans and your dress slacks and your womanhood. You wish those older men wouldn’t look at you like that. You wish they wouldn’t look at your chest before your face. You still have those big ideas but no one wants your big ideas. They are not recognized. They are not helpful. They are too dynamic. “Don’t be too smart,” your husband explains and you don’t take offense because you know he ADORES your smarts and you also know that he is right.
You hear, “Try less.”
You think, “Why even try.”
Now you have two baby boys and you leave that job and stay at home with those baby boys because it is the right move for your family. It’s the right move for YOU. And, you need a minivan because they’re awesome, not because that’s what moms who stay home with baby boys drive. So, you go to that dealership near the house to buy a minivan and you walk in with your two boys in their double stroller and you are looking, looking at minivans and no one approaches you. Minutes pass and the men are all standing just looking, looking at you. They don’t move. They don’t say anything. Do they know that you could buy a car right this minute, on this very spot? That your husband hasn’t written a check in seven years? That your husband doesn’t even have to be here? You refrain from yelling, “I AM THE DECIDER,” before storming out.
You hear, absolute silence.
You think, “I am invisible.”
You buy a different minivan instead and you raise those boys. Your boys are good boys and they see their father doing dishes and cleaning bathrooms and repairing ripped stuffed animals with needle and thread. They see their mother balancing the checkbook and mowing the lawn and fixing broken lights and working a little here and there and writing. Forever writing. You think to yourself, “we’re doing right by these boys.” They will grow up to change diapers and feed babies and braid hair and dress dolls and have tea parties. They’re getting the big picture because they’re seeing a strong woman being strong and an amazing father being an amazing equal.
The injustice of past wrongs, the sharp edges of past grievances fade away, are worn away, smoothed like a river rock under water. But, it is always there. Something that just is.
Then, at just shy of thirty-six years of age, you have a baby girl. She is a surprise in so many, many, ways. First, she turns one, then two, three and four and finally, she is five. She is your mini-me. In birth month. In birth order. In dry wit. In the freckles that stream across her face. And, she is so smart and so bossy and so confident. She is the absolute light of her family. “The icing on the cake,” your husband declares.
The thought of anyone – ANYONE – dampening that light, extinguishing that light just destroys you. The idea that one day this beautiful, amazing daughter of yours will be made to feel less than or too smart or shamed or ignored or silenced simply because she is a she is almost too much to bear. Imagining her having to hide her intellect or her body or her spirit to conform to someone else’s expectations is devastating. Your heart hurts for her.
It should be different for her.
It should be better for her.
I will vote for the female candidate for President of the United States because she is the most qualified applicant for the position for which she is applying. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. There is a job opening and I am selecting the person that is most qualified to do that job. That is the nexus of feminism: equality.
I will take my two sons and my daughter with me when I vote for the female candidate for President of the United States because I want them ALL to see that a woman can be elected to the highest office in this land. That a woman will be elected to the highest office in this land.
That a woman can be anything really. Anything she wants.