This morning I awoke to sexism. It doesn’t matter how often it happens, I never get used to it. Some context; a friend of mine has daughter in a local middle school. Today, she posted this story:
Since she was 3 years old, EV has wanted to be POTUS. Right now, she is in the midst of her first election ever as a 6th grade rep on the Student Council. She excitedly turned in the paperwork early, thought through her platform (efforts to reduce bullying, structured library time for all, a 6th grade dance?), and enlisted help to make the maximum number of campaign signs allowed. This is EXTREMELY important to her.
One of her running mates, a boy (who apparently is running on no platform at all), has been harassing her. He has been calling her names, insulting her daily, and even threw pencils at her on one occasion - all of which we discussed after school and, I felt, EV handled with grace and tact. I praised her for "going high" every time he "went low." She seems to have a healthy, not-taking-it-personally attitude about his taunts. Last night I learned that this boy approached EV's table at lunch and said to the girls and boys sitting there "Any of you who vote for her will be getting raped."
Am I surprised that this 11 year old boy, about whom I know nothing except his gender and his desire to be on the Student Council, said that to my daughter and her friends? No. Of course not. I'm a woman in America. I live in North Carolina where half the people are just fine with grown men who want to run our country speaking that way to more qualified, emotionally stable, women on national television. They make all manner of excuses for those men - allowing them to get away with it - thereby encouraging it and teaching our children that it's OK. Surely, this was just lunchroom talk.
What really shocked me was that, after MANY conversations on the topic of late, EV and her friends did not go and report this remark to an adult. She did what I would have done at her age - she didn't make him accountable for it. I realized in that moment I had failed her and I made a promise to do better. Her inaction proved to me that we need keep talking. ALL OF US. Talk frankly and openly and often to our sons and daughters about why this is NOT A JOKE. IT'S NOT CASUAL and IT NEEDS TO STOP.
I'm done with excuses for behaviors like this. I'M DONE. My daughters deserve to feel safe in their skins, not shamed. They deserve respect as HUMANS. They deserve to choose what to do with their bodies and brains. They deserve equal pay for a job based on their qualifications. They deserve to be happier, healthier, and freer than any woman that has come before them. I will fight for my daughters and yours because THEY DESERVE BETTER THAN THIS.
So, here, sweet, EV, is a letter for you.
You are a courageous, intelligent and creative young woman who cares about the world, who has ideas and the gumption to back them up, and who is eager to start working for progress. This, unfortunately, makes you seem dangerous to uneducated, weak people who want the world to stay the same. Here’s a pro tip from me to you: the world never stays the same, no matter what people want.
I was sorry to hear about what happened to you at school the other day, and I am even sorrier to tell you that this will not be the last time that someone witnesses your brilliance and tries to squish you back into a box that they believe you should fit in. They will tell you that you are not lady-like, while calling you the kinds of nasty names that prove they could never be gentlemen. They will tell you that you are wrong, while spouting incorrect and under-informed opinions of their own. They will tell you that what you want is impossible, while never trying to accomplish anything themselves. This is all an attempt to control you, and turn you into the kind of person that THEY want you to be, instead of letting you be the kind of person that YOU want to be.
I'm here to tell you not to believe them. That there is hope, and you are not alone. That out here in the world, waiting for you to grow up, are thousands of smart, confident, creative women just like yourself. That we trust you, and believe that you can make it through these difficult younger years with your optimism intact.
Please do not give in and become ordinary. We will eventually need the extraordinary version of you in our fight for justice, kindness, and equity. So until you are grown, stand up against injustice when you can, and protect yourself when you need to. Remember that in addition to your brilliant and tenacious mother, you have all of us standing behind you, ready with an angry speech, a well-worded letter, or a big warm hug whenever you need it.
The Women of the North Carolina Women’s Theatre Festival