(In which I address the daughter I never had, with the advice I always wanted to give.)
Dear Imaginary Daughter,
I did not fully understand the value of my all-girl education until I was an adult woman, confused by the confusion I kept encountering in collegiate, and corporate settings, when I would say what I thought without qualifiers. I didn’t know girls were supposed to soften their opinions before offering them. I spent most of my young life in rooms full of brilliant girls, who were encouraged to be articulate, outspoken, and maybe raise a little hell because RARRR! Girl Power! Getting Things Done!
The women in my family were all outspoken, assertive, and did not shy away from anything. I thought that was the way to be.
Along the way, and really when I decided to devote myself to religion, I learned that if I pretended I was a Lady, people in positions of authority would like me more. Pretending to be a Lady didn’t get me anywhere, but at least I quit hearing whispers of “bitch” behind my back, and people quit accusing me of having a spirit of Jezebel on me. When I pretended to be a Lady, people thought I was nice. Sweet. Good.
As an adult, even in personal conversation, that all-girl education, and that all-girl privilege can get me in trouble. Unless I am really working to present myself gently, I tend to state my thoughts bluntly. Around women, I revert to that all-girl mentality, and I fully expect spirited, excited exchange. More than once, I’ve had people tell me that my strident delivery made them feel like they couldn’t respond to me, or like I didn’t respect their opinions, or like I judged them for their beliefs. –Like, you don’t want to pet a barking dog, but if you are also a barking dog, you know you’re just interacting, and you’re just excited to have a friend.
Unless I am really thinking about it, and really working to craft my communication into something culturally palatable, I forget that I am supposed to start sentences with phrases like, “I could be wrong, but,” and finish them with, “but, I’m sure you know more than I do.”
I forget my but.
Your father, your brother, your grandfathers, your uncle, your boy-cousins–listen to them talking. They don’t have buts. They have opinions and ideas, and that’s it. You’ll notice that your mother, your grandmothers, and your girl-cousins also have opinions and ideas, BUT, they also have buts. We have an idea that if a woman wants to be heard, she must show her but. Her but is what makes some men (not men like your father, or your brother, or your uncle, or your grandfathers, but some men) feel safe. Men (and some women) like buts.
I want to tell you that you cannot make a career, or a satisfying personal life on your but. If you spend your days superseding your own intellect, and suspending your own feelings with buts, you will spend your nights chewing off the insides of your cheeks.
Yes, if you won’t show your but, people might call you a bitch. They might think you aren’t very nice. Nice girls don’t show their butts, but their buts are on full display. People also like reminding girls of their buts. You know, like they did with Grandma. “Oh, Jo is for Joan. Well, we wanted you to play baseball for us, but…”
Imaginary Daughter, I have no interest in you being a nice girl.
I’d like you to be a fully self-realized*, confident, opinionated, assertive boss. I hope you stir the pot, and get things done. That can take on a lot of forms.
You can be a public servant, working to change the world through politics. You can be a research scientist, working the change the world through chemistry. You can be an astronaut, working to change the world through exploration. You can be a mother, working to change the world through parenting stellar children. You can be a librarian, working the change the world through dedication to sharing and archiving the written word. You can be anything you want to be. No buts.
Own your thoughts. Own your opinions. Understand that you might be wrong, and that isn’t bad. Learn from mistakes, and turn them into foundations for higher education. Never be afraid to speak your mind.
I leave you with these words of advice from a woman whose but is smaller than any other I’ve ever seen. She gets called a bitch a lot. That’s okay. She’s probably going to be our next President, and if not, she’s already been a Senator, and the Secretary of State, so she knows a thing or two about having to speak up. No buts.
“Speak your opinion more fervently in your classes if you’re a student, or at meetings in your workplace. Proudly take credit for your ideas. Have confidence in the value of your contributions. And if the space you’re in doesn’t have room for your voice, don’t be afraid to carve out a space of your own.” Hillary Clinton via The Toast
*I think self-realized people are people who are self-assured, self-aware, and that with self-awareness comes a sense of one’s place in society, and the responsibility we have to one another. That means, I expect you to be respectful of humanity, and a contributing member of society.