Dear future daughter

I first wrote this column in 2015 for my college newspaper, but in an America that makes it pretty difficult to be a woman these days, I wanted to share it here.

Dear future daughter: I think of you often, although we have not yet met.

I think of you as I walk home alone in the dark and rainy Cleveland streets. I think of you as shadows take on lecherous, human personas, as raindrops hitting the gutters become footsteps, as my heart pounds through my water-logged jacket and my breath becomes quickened. In my frightened frustration, I want your walks home to be better.

I thought of you when my first heartbreak sent pangs of embarrassment and pain through my body like a tree split in half from a lightening storm. I thought of you when I sat alone, disempowered and angry at the realization that I let a man control so much of my heart. I thought of you when I realized I wanted your father to be better than the one who ripped my heart down its seams.

I thought of you as a nascent first-year college student, when a professor mocked my naiveté in wanting to peruse journalism instead of pursuing reproduction. I thought of you as a middle-aged man told me how I should go about being a woman. I thought of you as my lip snarled, my brow beaded with sweat and my eyes held back tears. I eternalized his words and hoped I wasn’t doing you a disservice by wanting a lofty career. Later though, I thought of you when I told him to (proverbially, of course) shove it.

I thought of you when I interned for the United States government, and the exchange of business cards between my hands and men’s were given with the suggestion of lunch (if you know what I mean). I thought of you as I stood dumbfounded that I possessed the same resume as male interns, yet my prospects included free meals, and theirs career improvement.

I thought of you when I learned that multiple women within my social circle had been sexually assaulted by men they thought they knew. I thought of you when I saw incredibly strong women become defeated and afraid. I thought of you when I realized that not all men possessed the kind heart and gentle spirit of my father.

I thought of you when my female friend was shoved into a wall at a party for refusing to go home with a man. I thought of you as he spit derogatory language in her trembling face, as she cried with me when we returned home, as her head lowers when she sees him on the way to class.

When I wake up each day, I work for a world that will be kinder to you. You see, daughter, the world for us girls isn’t always easy. In fact, it very rarely is. As I have gotten older, I have come to understand just how hard it can be. You will be told starting quite young that you aren’t good enough. People will tell you that your mind should remain numb and unquestioning, that your heart should long for days devoted to domesticity. But if you are any daughter of mine, your frustration and pain will become purpose.

I thought of you as I returned from my walk home, took a deep breath, and realized that I made it.

I thought of you the as the clouds of heartbreak parted, only to find myself a stronger, less fragile young woman.

I thought of you when my condescending professor gave me an A in his class and shook my hand on the last day. I thought of you when he and I landed in a place of mutual respect.

I thought of you as my boss, a Congresswoman, showed me that being a fearless, self-assertive woman can be an identity that yields deep respect in the government that, after years of taking demeaning business cards, you will have the power to grab the hands of other young women, pulling them into positions of power.

I thought of you when my friends used their scarring experiences to be advocates for social change. I thought of you as my friend made eye contact with the man who harmed her, unwilling to let her spirit remain broken.

Dear future daughter: I think of you often, although we have not yet met.