From the time I started seriously considering having kids, I knew I wanted a girl. I told anyone who would listen that, in fact, I would only have daughters. After trying (and failing) to take care of two teenage boys, I felt the Universe owed me some feminine energy. I’ve heard all the arguments about why and how boys are easier in the long run – girls have hormones! it makes them crazy! – but ultimately, I’ve been a girl. I’ve had those hormones. I get it. A daughter would probably never believe me, would no doubt sigh and yell and slam doors in my face, but at least I would understand her while she was doing it. A son would want to blow things up and take things apart and just generally act like the alien being he is, and that didn’t sound so easy to me. I wanted – and felt I deserved – a daughter.
Be careful what you wish for.
Since becoming mother to a daughter, it has struck me that there is a whole other side to raising girls that I didn’t think about. The fact that Gwen will someday slam her door on me and tell me she hates me, I’m prepared for. The part that breaks my heart is the near certainty that someday, she’ll hate herself.
Girls have it rough, is what I’m saying.
Gwen will worry that she’s too fat or too thin. She’ll worry that she’s too tall or too short. She’ll worry about wearing the right clothes. She’ll worry about how to make the popular girls like her, and how to make the cute boys notice her. She’ll feel pressured to dress older than her age, including makeup and piercings. She’ll feel pressured to dumb herself down in order to appeal to boys. Years before she’s even in high school, she’ll be exposed to enough media images to make her seriously question her physical appearance, which will in turn make her question her worth as a person.
How do I know? Because I’ve been a girl. I get it. Even so, it breaks my heart to think of my daughter – who is surely the most beautiful, amazing, and perfect daughter ever to be born – feeling these things.
And that’s the easy stuff! What about rape? What about abuse? What about misogyny and sexism and being treated differently by everyone from primary school teachers to potential employers? How on earth do I prepare my daughter for this world? How can I protect her?
There is so much I want to teach her, and I don’t feel even vaguely qualified. She might be just like me – a frumpy, unspecial girl with the wrong clothes and a great brain who didn’t get any social skills until the age of 17. The type for whom the elementary school playground is a particular kind of hell. I’ve reflected often on the fact that I don’t want Gwen to repeat my mistakes. I want her to grow up with confidence, with a strong sense of who she is and the utter conviction that who she is is great. But I don’t know how to teach her how to be that girl, because I’ve never been that girl. On one level, I can’t teach her how to wear makeup or style her hair or choose the right clothes, because I’m thirty-three years old and I still don’t know. But on the deeper, hopefully more important level, I don’t know how to give her the unshakeable faith in herself that goes beyond makeup and hair and clothes, beyond freckles or glasses or braces, beyond big feet or unusual names or funny accents and fills her up so full that she’s buoyant with the sensation of self-acceptance.