Nonfiction | Intersections

What I Would Tell My Daughter

A Reflection on the 2016 Presidential Election

As I ran this morning I thought about what I would tell my daughter. I tapped my left fist against my ribs, something I do when I am afraid, when I want to feel more powerful, something I do unconsciously on the back roads I run or the deserted warehouse streets with crushed glass beneath my feet when I suddenly come across another person I do not expect to find, another person who is often, and is this time, a man. I tap the rolled fingers of my fist against the breath-pulsing expanse of my ribs. I do it to the beat of the music and I feel strong, and I think I will be okay. I wonder if that’s what I would tell her. Would I tell her, when faced with everything this 2016 Presidential election has dragged to the surface of America, to be strong and she will be okay?

The man I’ve just passed is staring at my ass and because it is Beyoncé filling my ears I think of poetical descriptive terms for ass: ripe melons, one ripe melon split open in the sun, maybe something without melon. All of these descriptions are bad. Just like people sometimes. But you can’t tell that to a kid. You can’t sit down on the edge of a bed, smooth back the silken strands of your daughter’s hair and say: “Welcome to the world sweetie—humans are garbage.” I mean you can, but even I don’t think that’s a good idea.

I suppose I could tell her about studies in conflict. On the one hand, people are prejudiced and the world’s a mess. On the other hand, we must do everything in our power to make things better. I used to think these concepts should be held at a distance, but now I think they should be held close, right up next to each other, because the closer we hold these two concepts and the more we look at them through the lens of our choices, the clearer we will see what we’re doing with our power.

When I speak to my daughter, we would have to talk about the statistics. We would have to discuss the fact that more than fifty-percent of women voted for a man who has been accused by numerous women of sexual assault, which is essentially saying that fifty-percent of women have so internalized the notions of female value through physical presentation that it is no longer, or more likely never was and still isn’t, a priority to ensure that our bodies are free from unwanted touching. I will have to tell my daughter that. I can’t hide that from her. She should know. She should know so she can be prepared. It’s harder when you’re unprepared. I know that from experience.

I thought maybe I could turn to television this morning to figure out what to tell my daughter and I tried. I turned the television to LIVE with Kelly where I watched two women, Megyn Kelly and Kelly Ripa, two white women, spend five-minutes discussing how unattractive they are and how the most important thing to them was self-tanner. I suppose I could delve into the layers of ingrained misogyny that must exist for two wildly successful white women, one of whom played, if media reports are to be believed, a crucial role in taking down Roger Ailes from his role as Chairman and CEO of Fox News because of his unwanted sexual advances on her, to be so concerned about their physical appearance that on the morning of an unprecedented historical turn in our nation what they felt the need to discuss was flaws in their appearance. Maybe I should tell my daughter the most important thing she should think about is how to properly use self-tanner and just how early she should start getting botox.

Maybe I’m blowing this appearance issue into more than it is, but I don’t think so. It speaks to a foundational divide of mental resources between women in the United States of America and, as the voting has revealed once again, the women in the United States of America matter. For white women, women like me, we can spend a lifetime of financial resources and mental prowess building an instagram-worthy lifestyle, which seems to often be what we’re doing, or we can look at the class and race issues within our gender, try to bridge these gaps—gaps like wages and childcare and safety—and make the world a better place. We have choices to make and they are hard choices. To be frank, it is likely we will have to give certain things up—pretty things, shiny things. We have to do this for even better things—for kindness, for physical safety, for more mental and emotional fulfillment in our lives.

I would tell me daughter that she will have to make very difficult choices, choices that may lose her friends and possibly wealth, and she will have to put up with very difficult things in the process and that the process will almost certainly include moments of physical and emotional trauma on some level. I would tell her that when she is done being sad, she should get back up. I would tell her to be kind and to walk slowly. I would tell her to listen deeply to others, to listen without speaking for a long time so you can really hear what the other person is saying. I would tell her to listen deeply to herself, to what she really wants out of life, to sit quietly and alone in a frazzled, beautification-obsessed world and work to hear the tiny spark in her life that actually brings her pleasure. Then I would tell her to follow that tiny spark with all her heart and all her mind and all her will. I would tell her that to do this she will have to walk slowly, very slowly, and she will have to be kind, so very, very kind, and she will have to be brave, which I already know she is.

I don’t have a daughter though, so I’m telling this to you.

Get back up, my brave soldier.

Walk slowly.

Be kind.