My dear daughter:
Every morning when you wake up, we cuddle in your bed, and we talk together. You repeat after me, in that delicious 2-year-old accent, “I am kind. I am twong. I am smawt. I am pwetty.” And we look at the sign on your wall—the same one that hung on my wall when I was your age—and we announce together, “Girls can do anything!”
When your brother was your age, he didn’t think women could be pilots, because he’d never seen one. “Boys work in the front of the plane, and girls work in the back,” he said. We met two female pilots at the airport that day, and now he assumes every flight needs at least one female pilot. Your brother also used to think that only boys could be firefighters. But at his second birthday party at our local fire station, we were greeted by a female firefighter. “Boys and girls can both fight fires,” he says now. “Those suits fit everybody.”
When I went to bed on election night, I was hopeful that a female president would be as commonplace to you and your brother as female pilots and firefighters. I was filled with optimism that we had turned a centuries-old page in our country’s history. I hoped we were entering an era in which you wouldn’t feel the need to apologize unnecessarily or second-guess yourself every time you spoke your mind. But we are not quite there. Regardless of how much more qualified one candidate happened to be, too many people in our country were afraid to elect a woman. Despite the hurtful, misogynistic, unimaginable things that one candidate said about all women, too many people in our country failed to value women enough for that to matter. My dear daughter, I am so sorry that we could not turn this page for you.
As you grow and find your voice, I am eager to see you discover the strong-willed, confident spirit that is within you. But I also know that this means you will be met with resistance every step of the way. As you move through school and become successful in your chosen career, people will question your abilities, simply because you’re a woman. If you are given a position of leadership, you will be expected to be ruthless and demanding. Because you are a woman, you will also be expected to be sweet and passive. If you’re a strong leader, you will be called a bitch. If you act as a woman should, you will be called weak.
You will encounter sexism—both blatant and implied—in every aspect of your life. Strangers on the subway will tell you to smile. People you just met will comment on your appearance. You will be judged by how thin you are, by the clothes you wear, by whether you’re in a relationship, by whether you have children and by a million other benchmarks that have no bearing on your worth as a human being and that your brother will never experience.
My dear daughter, though you are not yet two years old, the world can already see that you are a confident, determined, incredibly smart young lady. It breaks my heart that you may face any obstacle, or that any person may not believe in you, just because you are female. Our country may not yet have a woman in the highest seat of power to serve as your example and to shatter stereotypes, but you have a champion in our home, reminding you every day that there is immense satisfaction in proving your haters and doubters wrong. There are no limits to the amazing things you can be in this world, my daughter. Girls can do anything.