My darling girl,
(Okay. Yes. You’re only 11 months old, and therefore not exactly able to read this on your own yet, but the internet being the ultimate elephant and greedily hoarding every single thing ever ever ever, you’ll be able to access it at some point. So bear with me. Also, on that note, sorry about all the fanny talk. And the fucks. That’s probably going to annoy you the most, knowing how squawkingly self-righteous I’ll be whenever you swear.)
You might not know this yet, but you are part of an incredible team and powerful force for change. Why? Because you’re a woman, my love. For a long time, being a woman hasn’t exactly been the best side to be on. Yes, we get to unapologetically scoff chocolate and peanut butter from the jar for five days every month; make best friends with complete strangers in queues for bathrooms; slap on concealer when we wake up with a huge zit or eye bags from all the wine we necked the night before and, lest we forget, have multiple orgasms. (More on that another time.) But with all those lovely silver linings, come lots of darker, nastier clouds. Only 22% of MPs are women, 30% of all speaking parts in Hollywood are given to women, 13% of FTSE 100 board members are female and 12% of Creative Directors and 30% of Agency Management are women. Then there’s the even muckier statistics. The ones like 54 000 women a year being pushed out of their jobs while pregnant or on maternity leave. 5 in 10 women being routinely harassed at work, with 1 in 10 of them being assaulted. 85 000 women raped a year – though with reports admitting that only about 15% of women even go to the police, the numbers must be far higher. And of the 113 women murdered in 2016, 78 of them were killed by their spouse or partner, with 75% of them happening in their own home. And we can’t feign ignorance or point the finger. Those stats are largely from our country; a supposedly modern, civilised, enlightened society.
I’m not saying this to scare you, darling. I’m saying this to demonstrate why I was so scared of you for such a long time. The thought of bringing a girl into the world; a girl who I had to train and teach and toughen up, felt like such a responsibility. No girls for me thanks! I just wanted a gang of boys I could dress in corduroy dungarees who’d wolf down all my meals with glee and bring me foraged treasures from exploring and let me fuss over them even when they’re too old to be fussed over and love me just a teeny tiny bit more because I was the girl of the house. That. I wanted that. That sounded pretty easy, since I thought it was more your father’s job to shoulder the good, male, role model thing. (Try not to judge me too harshly, I was naive and daydreaming about things I didn’t even really understand.)
And then you came along.
I don’t know if you remember, but we didn’t know what you were when I was pregnant. We kept you a surprise. (Which if I haven’t told you enough, was the best surprise of my entire life.) Obviously, I thought about what you might be a lot. I scrutinised every nudge and roll; every response to certain music or things on the telly; every urge and craving and fancy that needed tickling. When labour came to an almighty, crashing crescendo and your warm, slick body was gently placed on my chest, our bodies still physically connected by the cord that had kept you alive for the last nine months, what gender you were seemed utterly inconsequential. It actually took me at least five minutes to ask the midwife. When they said that you were a she, happiness surged through my bones and out through the ends of my fingers and toes, making my heart thump painfully. At that exact moment I realised I had missed you my whole life. The little niggle I carried with me, the thing I couldn’t quite put my finger on, was you. Having you made me confront all the complicated, messy, jumbled up feelings I had about myself. It showed me I should be more grateful for the body that carried you and then pushed you out (in spite of my unhelpful breathing that kept sucking your head back up); that I could only teach you about self-care if I practiced it myself; that if I wanted you to be proud of your mother that I should do things, every day, that are honest; that if I needed to tell you to be a good person that I had to learn to be someone who gives, instead of someone who takes; that if I asked you to face the world with an unconquerable spirit then I had to show you what that looked like. Every single ounce of energy and motivation I have comes from you.
Being a woman can feel impossible at times. It is hurdle after hurdle after hurdle. It’s working your arse off on a massive presentation, only to be talked over in the meeting and complimented on the skirt you wore. It’s getting consistently better grades in science and maths compared to your male peers, but getting bullied and muscled out of ‘male industries’ like engineering and technology because you’re the only woman there. It’s knowing that looks shouldn’t matter and then being bombarded with sly, cruel media that tells you your thighs shouldn’t touch. But things are changing. Last year, a very big man got turned into a very small one. Women’s voices joined together and one story became ten, became a hundred, became thousands, until this voice became a deafening roar that couldn’t be ignored any longer. You see, for ages, we’ve always been told to find our voice. But this movement proved we’ve always had one, it just wasn’t being listened to. The air is fizzing with female solidarity and finally it feels really exciting to be a woman. I don’t know what society is going to look like when you’re 18, or 21, or even my age, but I think people will look back on this time as a turning point. No one said change would be smooth or easy or that we’d fix things overnight, but there are a lot of people out there – women and men – who are fed up with the scales being so skewed; who are fed up with intolerance and misogyny and insidious behaviour. I’m not sure what perfect, or perfect enough, looks like. Maybe the things we’re reaching towards today will be commonplace for you when you’re older, and there’ll be another injustice to wave a banner for that we didn’t even think about. But until that day, I promise I’ll do everything I can now to ensure that, while you’re growing up, you always feel proud and powerful to be a girl.