When we found out I was pregnant, we decided to be simultaneously revolutionary and old-fashioned by not finding out the sex of our baby before it was born. We wanted to squeeze as much magic out of those months as possible, and not knowing was fun and exciting for us. We had a list of names for boys, girls, and a list of gender-neutral names. Our families had their hopes — the women wanted a girl, the men wanted a boy (so predictable). They begged us to let them secretly find out the sex of the baby so they would know what to buy. This was one thing we were specifically trying to avoid: our baby immediately being forced to conform to society’s gender roles the minute it escaped from my womb.
“That’s a girl!” declared a happy stranger on the train. “Oh my, you’re having a girl… and a Pisces!” a man told me, on the elevator at work. My mom and Grandma would say, “Oh, just give us a girl, Shannon,” to which I’d respond, “You know I literally have no control over that, right?”
I told everyone I just wanted “a healthy, happy baby” but my deep, dark secret was that I hoped for a boy. After a few months, though, the words of my family and strangers started to creep into my head and I began to believe that I would give birth to a daughter. My partner and I settled on the most beautiful name for a little girl, and I practiced saying it. Even though I had a dream, one night, of a baby boy swimming in clear, blue water, I prepared myself to be a woman my daughter could be proud of.
“The world is hard for a Black woman,” I would think to myself. But, at least I knew what to do. I would teach her the lessons from my own experiences, plus all the other things I would want her to know.
I started to make a mental list of Lessons for my Daughter:
I would teach her that she has a voice. She should use it to advocate for herself and for those who cannot do it for themselves.
That sometimes the “right” thing is the hard, unpopular thing. But she should do it anyway.
I would tell her that women don’t have to dress a certain way, or wear make-up to be beautiful, but if they do, they do it for themselves because they enjoy it –not because it’s required and certainly not for men (do they even know the difference between an orange-red and a blue-red lipstick?! Puh-lease!)
Looking good is fun, but feeling good is what really matters. Protect your mental, physical and emotional health.
I would teach her that women come in all shapes and sizes, and the uniqueness in body types is to be celebrated.
I would teach her that a woman’s body is her own, and belongs to no one but her.
She can say no as often as she wants. She can say yes as often as she wants. And she is free to change her mind about either, at any time.
A woman should live her life on her own terms, free from what society traditionally says is “acceptable.” The only expectations she should strive to live up to are her own.
She should know that women don’t have to behave in a particular way, nor do men. She should exist in the world however she feels most comfortable and most natural.
I would make sure she knows that she has her own mind, and while others’ opinions and thoughts can be valued, considered, and appreciated, they do not control her.
As a Black woman, she will be labeled all kinds of things. She’ll be called aggressive when she’s being assertive, angry when she’s passionate, and intimidating or difficult when she challenges someone. She’ll do her very best, and it still won’t be good enough for some people. Those people are not worthy of her best.
Because of the skin she’s in, she’ll be treated unfairly, and badly, more often than it seems believable. But how people treat her says more about them than her.
Because of her skin, people will want her to play small, and treat her less than. She should not let them.
A woman should know when a situation no longer serves her, and not feel bad about making the decision to leave.
It’s ok to be happy. It’s ok to love and be in love.
It’s also ok to be angry, sad, or disappointed. All feelings are valid.
It’s ok to be vulnerable or sensitive. She doesn’t have to be strong all the time, for anyone.
I would want her to know that it’s important to be authentic. True to herself. And honest – with herself and with others.
Finally, the day came.
After 74 hours of labor, delirious and exhausted, I heard the doctor say, “What’s up, little dude?”
“It’s a boy?!”
I cried happy tears as they placed our son on my chest.
Once we were home for a few weeks and our new normal was starting to become established, my mind floated back to the lessons I had for my daughter. “I guess I need to rethink this whole thing,” I said to myself. But then it hit me – the lessons for my son would be exactly the same.
Everything I would teach my daughter about being a woman are the very things I want my son to internalize about women, and all of the lessons still apply. I recognize that Black men have their own challenges in this world, so this is by no means a comprehensive list. It is, however, a place to start in raising a conscientious, emotionally intelligent boy into a man who is an ally to women.