I don’t have a daughter. Nor do I have sisters or nieces. But I often think what if I had a daughter? What would I want her to know? What would I have wished someone had told me when I was young? If I could give my younger self advice, what would I say?
I wish someone had given me advice to be yourself. I wish I hadn’t had to wait until college to learn about gender, sexism, reproductive justice and rape culture. So I decided to write a list, a letter of sorts to my younger self. Advice if you will, advice for girls of all ages (okay, with my sailor mouth, maybe not all ages):
Now I know that living in the U.S., I can’t possibly presume that my advice will necessarily be applicable to girls globally. Young women in many countries, if they have the opportunity to attend school, might not be able to afford the tuition and cost of books, deal with a lack of nutrition, have unreliable menstrual products (using rags that leak) or travel miles across dangerous terrain facing the threat of rape and assault. Or some young women live in societies where a value isn’t placed on their education but rather on their brothers. Or families facing poverty can only afford to send one child to school. But one thing is clear: we must invest in women’s education.
So in the spirit of education…here’s the advice I wish I had known when I was a girl:
- Feminism is not a dirty word. Feminism is not anti-men/boys. Feminism is anti-kyriarchy (intersecting forms of oppression).
- Tap into your creativity. Write, paint, act, play a musical instrument, sing. If you have the time and means, participate in writing groups like Girls Write Now or band camps like Girls Rock. I so wish they had been around when I was young.
- For little girls, read The Paper Bag Princess, Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots? and Girls Hold Up This World.
- For older girls, read classics (old and new) with strong and intelligent female protagonists like Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, A Wrinkle in Time, Julie of the Wolves, Harry Potter (hey, Hermione kicks ass…the series should have revolved around her), and Hunger Games.
- If they’re available to you, take feminist and women’s studies classes in high school. I’m uber jealous as I wish they had been taught at my school.
- Love should never hurt. Ever. No one should ever lay a hand on you. Ever. You are worthy and deserving of love.
- It is not okay for men to catcall you or harass you as you walk down the street.
- You can never bring rape or sexual assault on yourself. Rapists are the ones to blame, not survivors.
- Never turn your back on what you want to do or what you believe because of a boy.
- Cherish and nurture your friendships.
- You’re not crazy and you’re not alone. It’s the world that’s fucked up.
- You are beautiful just the way you are. Society and the media will tell you you’re too fat, too skinny, you’re hair’s too curly, you’re body’s too curvy, not curvy enough, and on and on and on. It’s so hard but try to resist messages of warped toxic beauty standards.
- Exercise and eat healthy foods to be healthy, not a certain weight on the scale.
- Run for student council, student president, treasurer, etc. Don’t be afraid to step into the limelight and lead. Politics can be a powerful way to create change.
- Having sex doesn’t make you a slut. Society labels women “sluts” who are articulate, independent and have sex. There’s nothing wrong with exploring your body. If you don’t want to have sex, that’s great too. It’s whatever makes you feel safe, good and happy.
- Abortion, birth control and condoms aren’t anything to be ashamed of. They’re stigmatized in our society but they shouldn’t be. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making choices about your body that are right for you.
- It’s totally okay to like fashion. Just be aware that the women in fashion magazines, billboards and advertisements don’t really look that perfect. No one does, not even models. Their images are airbrushed past the point of reality.
- Women are often viewed as “difficult” or “bitches” when really they’re intelligent and assertive. Men aren’t the only ones who should be allowed to speak their minds.
- It’s okay to like boys. It’s okay to like girls. It’s okay to like both (bisexuality is not “made up” or “fake”). And a trans girl is a girl. Period. Despite what some ignorant assholes say.
- Read feminist books The Feminine Mystique, Second Sex, The Handmaid’s Tale, Manifesta, Full Frontal Feminism, The Purity Myth, Yes Means Yes, Sister Citizen, Other Side of Paradise and What You Really Really Want and anything by bell hooks and Audre Lorde…the sooner, the better.
- Question your privilege. We all benefit from some kind of privilege whether it be white privilege, male privilege, class privilege, cis privilege, straight privilege, able privilege, Western privilege, etc.
- Read feminist blogs like Feministing.com, Bitch Flicks, I Will Not Diet, Crunk Feminist Collective, Shakesville, Stuff Queer People Need to Know, Racialicious, Women and Hollywood and all the other fabulous blogs out there. Read magazines Bust Magazine and Bitch Magazine. Read teen feminist blogs The F Bomb, Scarleteen, Sadie Magazine and Rookie Mag. I wish all these awesome blogs and magazines had been around when I was young.
- When you get older, be careful with your credit and finances. Once you fuck it up (ahem, like I have), it’s so hard to recover. Financial independence is vital for women.
- Passionately pursue your education. It opens so many doors.
- Read Enlightened Sexism by Susan J. Douglass, Reality Bites Back by Jenn Pozner and watch Miss Representation directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom. You will never look at the media the same way again.
- When you’re watching a movie or TV show, ask yourself why there aren’t more women and girls on-screen? Are the women/girls talking to other women/girls? Are they talking about something other than men/boys?
- Constantly question the media’s sexist objectification of women. While empowering female characters do exist, more often than not sexist portrayals perpetuate patriarchy and oppress women, reinforcing outdated gender roles.
- Find a mentor. Someone who can guide, challenge and support you.
- Find your voice. Don’t let anyone silence you.
- Never sell yourself or your dreams short.
Perhaps this is my Western bias talking, the notion of individuality over community. But I truly believe that all girls globally need to know their worth and value. Girls must find their voice. They need to know that they are powerful and have important things to say. They must be navigators of their bodies and their lives, charting the course of their own destiny. That is the only way to achieve equality and empowerment.