“She found herself in a world full of men. Watching them slowly destroy all her plans,”
–The Angel and the Fool, Broken Bells
You can be anything you want baby girl.
I tucked a blonde wisp behind her ear and smiled at her. I believed it to my core. My brilliant, stubborn daughter. The world was an endless landscape for her to navigate. I would raise her to be independent and confident and to fight her way through anything that stands in her way. This was my vow as her mom.
Years later she placed her hand over mine as we cast a vote for the first woman president. My teenage son leaned in and placed his hand on top. His enthusiasm caught me by surprise, making emotions catch in my throat. The moment felt important. It felt like hope.
We all know what happened next.
The blatant sexism from the 2016 election still sticks to my bones like a thick paste. The punditry laced with sneers, the barely concealed contempt for a woman, all painfully familiar. Women and girls are well practiced at walking the tightrope between “too much” and “not enough.” And watching it happen on the world’s biggest stage was like reliving every infraction big and small we’d ever endured.
Now we’re faced with a choice of voting for a woman and watching a cruel replay. America’s not ready. We can’t risk another four years of Trump. The sexism runs too deep. Better play it safe.
I get it. I’m afraid too.
But fear is a liar. Fear is a tool. Fear will smother you in questions and doubts and will cloud your judgement. Fear will choke you into submission.
The truth is these fears are unfounded. Women have tuned in and turned up during the last four years. There has been a surge of women spurred by angry determination. The largest political march in history was organized by women. Women are the core of the gun legislation movement. The daily acts of resistance, the 86% of calls to congress, the ones who show up at congressional offices and town halls, we are the force that elected the most diverse Congress in history. We elected 118 women to political office in 2018. You’re welcome. And the truth is that black women have been doing this work all along, way before most of us had an awakening in 2016. Thank you.
The assumption is that women are expected to do the work and then sit back while more white men step in and take the reigns of power. We did the work on the group project and the slacker who slept through class is doing the presentation. We came up with the brilliant idea in the boardroom only to be unheard and ignored and have a man think it was his idea. This is what we’re going to do now. Again?
We’re going to stand on shoulders of women who’ve paved the way and decide it’s too hard? Or too scary or too risky? We’re going to tell our daughters to be bossy, to take charge… You can be anything you want to be baby girl… We’re going to scream Lizzo lyrics in the car and dream about the futures we want them to have, yet we are going to retreat now? PRECISELY NOW we are choosing to walk backwards out of the room. All apologies. Don’t mind us. Didn’t mean to be a bother. Back to business as usual please. *don’t forget to smile*
This is how you stall out. How you flood the engine. This is how you move backwards and retreat. This is how progress does not happen. Your fear is understandable, but it’s a tool.
Fear is the most powerful tool abusers possess. The precision with which they deploy it is designed to make you think your fear is all your own, that you are just being pragmatic. It’s designed to make you think you’re being smart, safe. But it’s a lie. Patriarchy and it’s cousin white supremacy are the biggest abusers on the planet. Who does your fear serve? It doesn’t serve my daughter or your daughter, it’s inflicting unspeakable harm onto our non-binary kids, and I swear to God it’s robbing our sons.
Fear would have us placate the racists and the sexists because we’re scared of losing ground. At the sacrifice of progress, we give in. But it doesn’t work. Progress isn’t made by hitting the brakes. The tepid driver stays in the right lane. Not only does hesitation and fear not lead, it’s dangerous. It’s the more insidious parallel to overt misogyny. It’s the enabler. Without fear and those giving into it, the abuse would be deprived of oxygen.
This abuse that we live under? The one that tells us to smile more and that our daughters are too much? It only survives if we let it. If fear decides for us.
So, no. America’s not ready for a woman president. America wasn’t ready for desegregation. America wasn’t read for integrated lunch counters and schools. America wasn’t ready for interracial marriage. America wasn’t ready for women voting. America wasn’t ready to see gay love on the screen. To see trans women in congress. Or gay marriage. America was not ready for a black man to be president. But he was. And gay marriage is legal. And and and…
Since when do we wait for permission? If people had listened to the naysayers and the hand wringers, if they’d given in to the fear, none of these things would have happened. We would be stuck in the purgatory of knowing it’s within reach but staying quietly in our lane.
Every time you feel scared, ask yourself who your fear serves. The misogynists? The red faced radio host? The internet trolls who hide behind cartoon avatars? The “Trump that bitch” and the “Lock her up” crowd? The paunch-bellied news personalities? Is your fear amplifying the messages of those who want to stop our progress? Hint: It is. Every time you speak this fear you’re giving a megaphone to the abusers. You’re amplifying their messages of misogyny. You might mean well, you say it out of concern, but the result is the same. You breathe life into the very thing that holds girls and women back.
We push so hard, we fight and scratch and claw for every piece of real estate in this world governed by people who want to see us fail. We talk out of both sides of our mouth. Work hard! Be powerful! Lean in! But not too far. Not too loud. Not too ambitious. It’s the constant modulation of walking the razor thin line of being a girl boss but not too bossy. It’s a losing proposition and we’re supposed to play the game. And what I’m telling you, what I’m trying to say every single time, is that’s it all connected. Dress codes at school, silencing victims of sexual assault, victim blaming, cat calling, an ass grab, a roofie slipped into a drink… not believing women when they tell you they’ve been raped or groped or roofied or about their medical condition or when they tell you that the everyday sexism is wearing them down… it’s all connected. And now we’re supposed to accept that in 200 years of American history and 45 presidents it’s TOO FUCKING SOON FOR A WOMAN.
The thing holding us back, the thing making you scared of voting for a woman? It’s never going to magically disappear one day. That’s not how this works. Change doesn’t just happen out of altruism. Abuse doesn’t suddenly develop a conscience. Doors only open when we push them open. When we take risks. Even when it’s scary. Even when a lot’s at stake.
It doesn’t matter if America’s ready. The time for waiting for permission is past. It’s about our will. Our will can bend time. Our will can change the future. It’s time to step off the tightrope and march into that office and sit at the head of the table. No apologies.
You can be anything you want baby girl.
Yes, you. Just watch.