My husband and I have two boys who are growing up to respect girls and women and who understand that girls are not weaker or worth less than anyone. I’m quite certain our parenting skills are not perfect, but I feel like we’ve got this area down with the boys. This is just how it is in our home. We talk about the potential and accomplishments of both men and women. We talk about bodies of both men and women, and they see my changing body as I grow their baby sister. Any comments with even a tinge of chauvinism are addressed immediately but constructively (well, usually constructively; sometimes a little defensively), but these comments are truly very rare. Their favorite toys while growing up have included kitchens, dinosaurs, cars, magic sets, dolls, science experiments, and baseball. They love to cook with me, and my oldest loves to help around the house. Favorite colors have evolved from clear to pink to plaid to blue and finally to green and red. They’re fascinated with their muscles and both instinctively made imaginary guns out of their fingers when they were little. Now they collect Nerf guns and love to hold real babies.
So as I approach the halfway mark of this pregnancy with our first (and last) baby girl, I will honestly tell you I am terrified. I am scared to death of bringing a girl into this world. I was scared about bringing boys into this world, too, but it feels remarkably different this time. On one hand, I feel like this is the perfect opportunity to introduce one more kind, strong, smart woman to this ailing world. I feel like it’s my way of healing society just a little bit. (Perhaps a bit arrogant on my part; but hey, that’s my goal.) But I have an overwhelming fear that it’s going to be more difficult to raise my daughter than my sons. I feel guilty about this because it seems I’m perpetuating the double standard I try so hard to shut down.
But I can trace the root of my fear to the realization that not all children (both boys and girls) are being raised with the awareness and understanding and appreciation my boys have. My husband (who is an amazing role model) and I can pour our hearts into shaping our boys into men who will respect women (although I know there are no guarantees, and this is what scares me most about raising children). I know my boys will be at risk of violence and car accidents and will wrestle with the pressures of sex and drugs, etc. But I’m bringing my daughter into a society where not only will she face these same challenges, she is guaranteed to be targeted and made more vulnerable than men. She’ll be more likely to be sexually assaulted, cat-called & objectified, paid less, dismissed & overlooked for leadership positions, verbally criticized for her appearance by both men and women, silently judged for her appearance by both men and women, and likely overprotected by her family, especially her brothers, simply because she is female. I, although relatively unscathed, endure many of these realities as a woman. I don’t know what it’s like to be a man, but I know full well what it’s like to have to be prepared to use my keys as a weapon and what’s it’s like to be approached and even touched or simply watched from a distance by an unknown man twice my size while walking across a parking lot. Knowing my daughter will face these same scenarios is scary as hell. Will she know how to protect herself? Will she be able to protect herself even with the martial arts training she will likely start from a young age like her brothers? Will she have the mental, emotional, and spiritual strength to endure these abuses?
While these thoughts from the future plague my mind & heart, I can’t even decide how to decorate the nursery. I feel like this is the first in a ridiculously long series of decisions that will effect the rest of her life. I know, I’m overthinking and I promise I’m not as stressed about this as it sounds as you read these words, but her nursery decor feels like the foundation of everything. This is where she will spend most of her time during her early years. I feel myself torn between traditional social constructs and my own feminist values. In the end, I know we’ll find something that hits a healthy balance, but this whole experience has reminded me how no decision we make as parents (of a child of any sex) is ever taken lightly.
I do remember being afraid with the boys, but right now raising strong, sensitive men seems a hell of a lot easier than raising a strong, sensitive woman.
I can see the potential for people to argue this ’til the cows come home, but I have no qualms sharing my thoughts because I know full-well they are contradictory and will seem over-reactive to many. But the reality is parenting is one of the most complex jobs to have ever existed and I don’t think it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Ever. Sure, being uptight and overprotective has its own damaging effects, but that’s a whole separate topic. Here I’m simply sharing my legitimate fears and the internal struggles during some of the scariest times my generation has ever faced. Sometimes fear is irrational; sometimes it saves our lives.