I Am Terrified of Having a Daughter

6 Dec

One of our authors wrote what someone called a “beautiful love letter to her eggs” (it really is!) and I found it made me warm and sort of gooey. I thought about what I would like to say in a letter to a someday-daughter – I’m surrounded by children now, in my office, in my personal life, they’re everywhere – and I got a little stuck because, try as I might to think of something inspiring or powerful or comforting, something that I would have liked to read during the difficult years in my life, all I could think, the one sentence thundering through my head, was sad and resigned:

“I hope the world doesn’t fuck you up too badly, sweetie.”

I’ve only ever thought, when I’ve thought of having children in passing, of having a daughter. I think this is because I believe it represents, given my personal values, the greater of the two gendered challenges. By “challenge” I mean “a thought so fucking terrifying it cripples me.” Daughters. Little girls. All the neediness, the insecurity, the vicious things visited upon young women from infancy through adulthood – what could be more terrifying as a parent? It’s terrifying as a big sister, an aunt, a cousin, and a friend, never mind as the first and last line of defense that a parent often represents or expresses the desire to be. How can I fairly bring a girl into this world knowing that the odds of her being raped, assaulted, and abused are so very, very high? What of the smaller daily humiliations and their physical manifestations, like the high rates of eating disorders?

I think the best way I could raise a “boy” would be with self-respect, respect for others, kindness and feminist values. I think I would be almost too pleased to raise a gender non-normative kid, knowing that their challenges would be so utterly unique and hoping they would trust me so we could face them together, invent new ways to live. But a girl? A child who wants to present as a girl, be recognized as a girl, live and move through the world as a girl? That thought unhinges me. So much can go wrong. So much is beyond me, beyond my control. I would wake up every morning knowing for a fact that the world would enact some pretty awful hurts on her, and the best I could ever do would be to teach her to minimize the damage, to get up every morning and live with the most joy she’s personally capable of, and to never give up. Is the difficulty of life as a girl the life I would want to offer a child? I’m grateful for mine, certainly, but I wonder if I could consciously choose to bring a child into what I know would be a difficult if not debilitating reality. And, most importantly, I wonder if I could possibly rise to the challenge of giving that child everything it would need and never faltering in my own faith and belief.

We’ve got a baby girl in my office for the month whose mother is just rejoining us after maternity leave. This mama is fierce beyond belief; tiny of body but huge of spirit, her presence takes up a whole room. Baby is going to be bilingual, beautiful, and a force to be reckoned with. The earliest years of her life will be spent between continents, and in New York City; she will always be surrounded by strong, loud feminists who don’t hesitate to yell and share opinions, who never let her spoiled butt hit the chair because everyone wants to hold her and tell her how amazing she is. It doesn’t seem like a bad life at all, I’ll tell you. But what about when she goes to school? What about mean spirited classmates? What about the news, when she realized her parents are immigrants and she’s the only naturalized American citizen? What about the “what ifs” I can’t even contemplate here, the things that happen around the world every second of the day that break us? What about when we can’t all carry her all the time?

What do you think? Do you want kids? Do you think, or care, about gender? Anyone want to talk about the intersections of race, ability, class and sexuality that I didn’t even touch here? I have questions!

11 Responses to “I Am Terrified of Having a Daughter”

  1. Oubli December 7, 2012 at 3:20 am #

    I’m the opposite, I never want to bear a male child. As a rape victim, I would feel violated by it, I don’t want a male child, I don’t think I could raise it without thinking everyday of my life that he is a potential rapist.

    And heaven forbid if he were to actually rape someone, I would feel as though it would be my job to put that man down because he was my son and I had brought him into the world and as a mother should have the power to take him out again. While I understand your worries about having a girl child, I think it would be easier for me to teach a girl to be strong than to teach a boy to respect women.

    This isn’t the only reason why I don’t want a male pregnancy or son but it’s up there – http://everysaturdaymorning.net/2012/09/05/the-extremes-of-choice/
    *Check out the commentary.

    • Kaitlyn December 7, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

      Oubli, I’m so sorry that this happened to you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on raising a child. I have a beloved younger brother and I expressed in the post that for gender and world-specific reasons I would feel more comfortable raising a boy, but the whole point is definitely to be in conversation about what people think about when they think about having and raising children, and what is loaded into the question, “Is it a boy or a girl?” I really appreciate you bringing this perspective in.

    • Katherine Kramer December 17, 2012 at 12:09 am #

      Oubli,
      I’m sorry that you had this experience and know the pain and lifelong scars that this horrible experience can have. Your post made me think about my practice and about sex-selective abortions. Usually, I won’t perform an abortion for a couple seeking to terminate just because of the gender of the fetus. I however do consider myself completely pro-choice. In the past I did terminate male fetuses in light of the possibility of transmitting X-linked diseases and was asked (but never did) terminate female fetuses by certain ethnic cultures. So I had to think for a minute about why, at first thought, I would be so hesitant to perform an abortion in your situation and what it would mean for me who considers herself prochoice. Am I on the slippery slope by justifying who can and under what circumstance have a termination? So, I came to the conclusion that I would feel comfortable aborting a male fetus in this circumstance. Personally, I too would prefer having girl kids as well!

  2. CeeCee December 7, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    Thought you should know your post inspired an entire article here:

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/12/06/1167684/-Thoughts-on-Raising-a-Daughter

    It’s not mine, but I found both yours and hers very interesting.

    I have a daughter. Always wanted a daughter. It’s often not easy but I’m always glad I have her!

    • Kaitlyn December 7, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

      CeeCee, thank you so much for sharing that article – that is SO COOL! I think it’s amazing that my friend wrote about hopes and dreams for her eggs – so I wrote about hopes and fears around having a daughter – so someone somewhere wrote about *raising a daughter*. What a cool conversation to be in!

      I’m sure your daughter is amazing, and as a daughter and a human, I am psyched there are people out there doing the hard work I’m scared to do, bringing beautiful brave women into the world and equipping them to rule it one day.

    • Caroline Winfield (@mydoggyruss) December 7, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

      I wrote the Daily Kos article. Thank you, Oubli, for the inspiration, and thank you, CeeCee for posting the link. I found your article very thought-provoking, and the response on Daily Kos has been amazing. Some terrific advice and stories in the comments.

      • Caroline Winfield (@mydoggyruss) December 7, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

        Oops, Kaitlyn, not Oubli. I apologize. I’m glad that you enjoyed my article, as I enjoyed yours!

      • Kaitlyn December 11, 2012 at 10:02 am #

        Thanks so much Caroline! I think it’s really cool that the conversation expanded the way it did.

  3. JayBirds December 7, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    I worry about my daughter all the time. We know that she is strong and capable and brilliant and unstoppable, but the thought of the assumptions people will make about her based on her sex hurt my heart. I worry all the time.

    I am working to be a good role model- not to engage in body shaming language about myself or anyone else, to follow my passions and show her how to be a person that you love and respect, to love myself and to tell her I love myself.

    I don’t know if it will be enough. I was raised by wonderful and conscientious parents, but I still went through storms as an adolescent female. It terrifies me to think of her experience being the same, but then I think of strong women I know who didn’t go through that, and think she could be like them. I also think about the fact that I came out the other end, maybe worse for wear, but still strong and capable and unstoppable.

    • Kaitlyn December 11, 2012 at 10:05 am #

      You know, I actually find it really encouraging that people out there raising daughters have this in mind, and are doing the best they can as parents to make sure girls are equipped to face the realities of growing up gendered. Thank you so much for your thoughtful parenting! I hope someday our daughters’ daughters won’t even have to ask these questions.

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  1. Daily Press Clips – December 7 | Trust Women - December 10, 2012

    [...] is a great post from theĀ Abortion Gang. How do we raise girls when the world is such a hostile place? About Trust Women Visit Trust's [...]

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