When I was a freshman in college, I was having a hard time adjusting. My once stellar academic record was circling the drain. My aunt invited me over for dinner. My older cousin had gone through a similar experience, as I know now, most High School Over Achievers do, his first semester and she just wanted to chat and touch base. During conversation, I mentioned off handedly that when I had kids, I hoped I didn’t have girls. I found girls mean, catty and I wasn’t confident that as an adult-parent I would be able to lead a female through the hellish adolescence I experienced. I don’t remember how the conversation led there, but I do know this wasn’t the first time I’d said or thought that. In fact, I felt strongly that I would only birth boys someday. Girls were too hard.
My aunt, the mother of two men, considered what I said and replied with the following:
“I think it’s harder to raise boys. As a mom, it’s my job to make sure they grow up to respect and value women and fully understand the ideas of consent and equality. Those things are a lot harder to teach.”
At 18, this went over my head. I spent very little time thinking about consent or equality. I grew up as the only girl in a family of what seemed like hundreds of boy cousins. I was never undervalued or treated as less than equal. I was supported and encouraged to pursue my dreams in sports and later, in the male-centric fields of film and broadcasting and media. I had full autonomy over my own body. I’m almost ashamed to admit it now, but I even thought of feminism as unnecessary; an idea that brought us important things like suffrage and Title IX, but now something society had outgrown a need for. Surely, the ideas of consent, equality and respect were no longer things we had to teach our boys, they were innate in the society we lived in.
I have long since left my precious, private, liberal arts bubble where I was so equally valued. I’ve been grabbed by strange men in dark bars and honked and whistled at on the short walk from my car to my office. Strangers demand I smile, as if they have any authority over my feelings or face. This has all been written off as “things men do” and I’m told I should be flattered. I’m too familiar with the feeling of darting to my parked car at night, keys firmly gripped between my third and forth finger, ‘just in case’. I’ve been made to feel unsafe by the very idea of walking anywhere alone. I question what I wear before I leave for a night out, because God forbid I look like I’m “asking for it”. I hold my hand over my drink and always carry it to the bathroom with me. ‘Pretty’ is my rent to pay for existing. My thighs are too large and I feel guilty for eating foods I love. I know my male peers will earn more money than I do over a lifetime and eventually, I’ll be expected to make a choice between a family and a career because it’s only the exception to be able to truly have the best of both worlds.
I know the consuming fear and worry of maybe, possibly, accidentally conceiving a child with an exclusive, loving and committed partner that we have no means of supporting; the idea that taking a pill a little late one time could derail my entire, carefully planned life. I’m lucky enough to know the immense relief of finding out there was no fetus in me – that I wouldn’t have to navigate a complicated bureaucracy to facilitate a medical decision concerning my life, my family and my body. I know the shame that comes from having to look a parent in their face and tell them you made a mistake that could potentially ruin everything we’ve worked so hard for.
I know now that I am lucky my cousins were taught about consent and respect and equality, because as it turns out, that’s not innate and some of our men think they can digitally penetrate unconscious women behind dumpsters and get away with a slap on the wrist. It turns out, they’re right. Other’s think they can grab us by the pussy without consent and they can still be elected President of the United States. Turns out, they’re also right.
The gravity of what my aunt said to me that evening at dinner never really weighed on me until we were deep into this election cycle. And now, I get it. White American Men are so uncomfortable with the ideas she and my uncle worked so hard to instill in their boys, that they will elect any alternative.
I am lucky. I am a white, suburban middle class Natural Born American citizen. I will continue to have less than because I was born with a vagina, but hey. That’s standard, as we can plainly see. I am afraid for my friends. I’m afraid for my friends who don’t meet the heteronormative standard. I am afraid for my friends who worship the Koran. I am afraid for my friends whose parents did what they needed to do to get to America and support their families. I am afraid for the world who have previously seen America as a place of hope and refuge. I am afraid because a nation who elected our first Black President is now voting at a majority percentage in line with the KKK. I’m afraid that we’ve made it OK for people to hate openly. I’m afraid because this all seems eerily familiar to a story about a girl hidden away in an attic in Amsterdam that I read in 4th grade.
I have never been sadder and I have never been more hopeful that I am wrong.