As I told you the morning after the election, the hard work begins now. Yet, the thing is, it won’t always be hard work, it will simply be you being you. Be yourself. Speak up and claim your space, as you have been doing. And keep encouraging your friends to do the same. Women often hurt other women on the ladder to success, but your generation can stop that. That expression about a rising tide lifting all boats? It’s true. There is room for all to succeed, and if you move as a team, you will help move this country forward faster than we can imagine.
Don’t forget that your brother is part of the solution. He has a kind heart and he treats others with respect. How you interact with him helps shape how he will treat women when he is out in the world. He loves, values, and encourages you, and he’s one of your biggest fans. He will be an ally to women when he is an adult and a large part of that is due to you.
I want you to read this letter, written by a real writer for a fictional character. While I know you skim the things I email you – the modern equivalent of when your grandmother would mail me newspaper clippings – here is the important part I don’t want you to miss. I’d Snapchat this to you if I knew how.
Our president-elect is everything you should abhor and fear in a male role model. He has spent his life telling you, and girls and women like you, that your lives are valueless except as sexual objects. He has demeaned you, and belittled you, and put you in a little box to be looked at and not heard. It is your job, and the job of girls and women like you, to bust out.
You are going to run this country, and this world, very soon. So you will not listen to this man, or the 75-year-old, doughy-faced, gray-haired nightmare men like him, when they try to tell you where to stand or how to behave or what you can and cannot do with your own bodies, or what you should or should not think with your own minds. You will not be cowed or discouraged by his stream of retrogressive babble. You won’t have time to be cowed, because you will be too busy working and learning and communing with other girls and women like you. And when the time comes, you will effortlessly flick away his miserable, petty, misogynistic worldview like a fly on your picnic potato salad.
He is the present, sadly, but he is not the future. You are the future. Your strength is a million times his. Your power is a billion times his. We will acknowledge this result, but we will not accept it. We will overcome it, and we will defeat it.
Now find your team, and get to work.
Thankfully, the men surrounding you are not like this person. Your dad is not like this person, and neither are your grandfathers, uncles, cousins, coaches or any of the men I can think of in our bubble. But be warned, men like this are out there and you will encounter them at times when you least expect them. Maybe it was a boy on the playground telling you that girls can’t like the color blue. Maybe it will be a classmate commenting about your body. Or maybe it will be when you are the most qualified person for a job passed up in favor of someone who happens to look a lot more like those in charge. Even more shocking is when this same attitude comes from another woman. Change can be scary, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue it.
The road looks different than we’d hoped, but the exciting news is that you get to help blaze the trail. My ability to make choices about my life, my future, and my body were hard fought by women who came before me. We look back in disbelief at pictures of the first woman to run the Boston Marathon or when we read of the struggles of women breaking barriers, including those who were the first to join newly co-ed schools, the first in their profession, the first to serve in combat. While this latest chapter is sad, I am confident that your daughter* will look back at it in disbelief that this is how a highly dedicated, smart, and hard working person was treated simply because she was a woman. The disbelief will be because women will have come so far since this time. Change won’t happen at once; progress happens in moments. Some moments are big, like an election, others are very small, like being true to who you are.
Americans always move forward, but that doesn’t mean we don’t fall down sometimes. History is pointing toward you and your friends. Gather the girls, link arms, and take charge.
*If you choose to have children. Totally your choice, you know.