To My Daughter: Now That You Have Made History

Do you know where you were on 21.1.2017?

21.1.2017

Let me tell you, little one. You were visible. You were a bright voice and an ally. You stood in a huge crowd in London, this tiny figure of great stature and you witnessed history being made with the calm reflection I've come to know marks your curiosity. Your wide eyes took in the placards and helicopters that whirred overhead as they captured the moment on film. Your little hand reached up to mine and you smiled. You, sweetheart, were a history maker. 

Now that you have made history

The day before the march, we practiced our facepaints and talked about how busy it would be so you would know what to expect. When I started to paint the Pride flag on our cheeks though, you insisted the colours needed to be in a different order. I explained about the need to have a symbol and how for some of us, it had come to mean safety. We talked about the fact that it was your body though and your choice about what happened to it. We talked about love and working together and how perhaps, this was the best thing we could do. It felt like you understood why I was packing a bag and booking us tickets into London. We painted the rainbow just the way you wished it. 

I am writing to you now, the Monday after the weekend that begun a momentum that was much needed. This was the weekend when you joined with millions of us across the world as we marched to capitals and city centres to say we rejected a seeping hatred that had increasingly become the norm. This was not your first protest and I sigh as I know that it will not be your last. Your little shoulders are already so weighed down by a responsibility but at least this march showed us something- there are many who wish to help you shift that burden. 

In the middle of that busy march, a little boy caught your eye. He was high on his father's shoulders and grumpy. He yelled "NO!" loudly and you felt sad for him. We asked what the matter was and his mother explained that he was hungry and they were out of snacks. We shared what we had brought and you whispered in my ear "It's better if everybody shares, isn't it mummy?" It was a perfect moment and sentiment but I have to tell you, not every potential conflict will be so easily resolved. Sometimes, you will have to wrestle with your discomfort about a topic like FGM or faith that is not your own and you will need to push through that because on the other side is understanding. You must resist the temptation to remain silent for fear of offending because when you do, your silence makes these issues invisible and you become complicit in the oppression. Be brave. The other side feels just as good as sharing those snacks, trust me. 

It's important now that I tell you that my feminism isn't perfect. I'm sure yours won't be either but we can educate ourselves. We can read wider, outside of our own experience and seek out brilliant voices that tell us truths we have yet to hear in our own life experience. I promise you, I will do my best to constantly share my learning with you and hold my hand up as someone who is still learning. I've been enjoying working my way through some excellent books this past year and you will see them on our shelves; they're yours to learn from too. May I also recommend attending talks that regularly make you uncomfortable. Listen to your discomfort because it is often shame. Becoming acquainted with your own shame response will help you see oppression clearer and challenge it in a meaningful way. 

Feminist reading material

This weekend, it was important that we acknowledged that no action or feminism is perfect that ignores the narrative of our friends. Yes, we both face prejudice as women and I can do my best to teach you strength but when we kick down that door we must make sure we are opening it wide enough for everyone to step into the room. If it isn't truly inclusive, it isn't feminism. 

There have been rumblings about our protest being vulgar. There were those who objected to the language of “pussy” or the fucks we gave that day. The thing is dear one, these are words that will litter your future and your ownership over them is how you will overcome their potential violence against you. There is no correct way to be a woman and we reject the term ladylike. Yes, have dignity. Yes have grace under fire but my girl, when you wish to express yourself, do it any damn well way you want. You are not the sum of others opinions of your words. That is their insecure definition of femininity and it is not yours to own.

You see, your generation have been forged in the fire that was 2016 and I have a sneaking suspicion it will propel so many of you into jobs and careers that are political and vocal and active. There are many of your peers that are going to break barriers as a direct result of what they saw this weekend. My only regret when I write this is that my generation was not enough. While we sat at our desks at school learning that fascism was a word from history it crept into our news feeds and timelines and we didn’t call it out soon enough.  

We are calling it out now. We are calling loud and so please know this: I have never been prouder to have you by my side. So my daughter, now that you have made history, what will you do next? 

Rebranding Pink

Can we talk about the pink thing for a moment?

pink dress up

It's not so much the pinkness of it that bothers me. It's more that as the mother of a 3 year old girl, I'm finding the pink glittery tsunami a little too much to bear. The problem is that in resisting pink, in making it something I must oppose, I've made a problem in my daughter and I's relationship. 

 

I didn't see it coming. When I found out I was expecting a girl I took a sharp intake of breath and breathed out all my fear of misogyny, body shame and inequality. I grit my teeth at the idea of her achievements being brushed away by a commentary on her appearance. I decided then and there that I would provide her with as many alternative ideas of gender identity as possible. I wanted hers to be a path that she chose armed with as much knowledge as she could cope with. I had grown up strong enough to kick down barriers in my life and I felt it my duty to raise her the same. 

However, the first time she reached for the pink taffeta princess dress at a play group, I froze. When she told me firmly in her little 3 year old voice "Mummy I want a dress so I can be pretty today" I felt my world tilt sideways. How could this have happened? How could my daughter place so much value on her appearance when her brilliance truly shines from within? I concluded that I had failed to protect her from the constant barrage of marketing that communicated to her that pink is for girls and girls are for looking at. In the face of this I kicked up my war on stereotypes and in doing so condemned her opinions just as I did those I sought to protect her from. 

I'm a self employed single mother. It's fair to say I have a chip on my shoulder about what independence looks like that has been rubbing a little raw since the separation. Looking back over the past 2 years I can see the moments that I made the princess identity a forbidden fruit that she just had to have. I'd always choose the blue dinosaurs over the pink glitter in toy stores and I banned Little Mermaid because DEAR GOD SHE CAN'T EVEN TALK?!?! In doing so, I limited my daughter's ability to explore and reject these ideas of her own accord. 

Realising this was a big moment for me this week. It came unexpectedly during a Bowie tribute I wanted us to share together. Hearing the news of his death was a deep blow and I felt that somehow I had to mark the day with my daughter so I could pass on his legacy. Bowie had helped me as I struggled to understand my own gender identity and sexuality as a teen and I dearly wanted her to know his brilliance too. I hit play on the Bowie playlist that's accompanied so many of our post dinner dance parties and pulled out some face paints. With Bowie looking out at us from the ipad we painted on red stripes and quiffed our hair. 

Bowie Collage

What followed was a discussion like no other I've ever had with my daughter. She asked why the man was wearing make up. She looked closely at his face and sighed "He's so pretty". Bowie's ability to challenge our expectations of gender were once again working their magic and though the eyes of my entranced daughter I saw all the opportunities that I had been missing with her: dressing up, playing with our appearance and taking the concept of beauty full on and celebrating it. How had I not communicated to her that feeling good about the way you look is actually incredibly healthy and powerful?

It was like someone had punched me in the stomach. 

embracing the dress up

Overnight my attitude has changed from that of a wall she needs to break through in order to reach her beloved frills to a comrade she can explore them with. I can't turn back the clock and remove the shame I'm sure I made her feel when she chose the stereotyped 'girly' option but I have since scrubbed my disapproval out. 

Playing dress up

The funny thing is that the next evening while we pranced around the kitchen to Missy Elliot, she turned to me and said "I'm not going to be just a princess Mummy. I'm going to be a Queen Bee too". 

 

Shine on little bee. You're gonna be just fine.