To My Daughter, in the Wake of the Steubenville Trial
To Her Majesty, My Little Honey Badger,
You’re getting to an age where you’re going to have more freedom, so we need to establish a few ground rules. The most important of these is that I need to know where you are, who you are with, and when you are coming home at all times. No lies. This isn’t to be mean; it’s a common courtesy to your family. I tell you where I’m going and when I’ll be back. You tend to roll your eyes at me when I do, but still. Oh, and keep your phone turned on, charged, and on your person at all times.
Now, I know what I’m about to say to you isn’t fair, but it’s the truth: people are going to judge you for who you hang out with, what you wear, and what you do. Yes, they’re going to judge you more than they judge your brother. If he messes up, someone’s going to wave it away and say, “Oh, boys will be boys!” Girls…well, everything is more complicated with girls. As long as you’re being true to yourself and being kind and compassionate to others, I don’t really care if people think you’re sugar and spice. You just need to know society doesn’t hand us a free pass when it comes to flaunting our sexuality.
You see, people—especially the boys who are starting to notice you—are going to make some assumptions about you based on how you dress and what you do. No, it’s not fair, but that doesn’t make it any less true. If you wear revealing clothes, some boys are going to think you’re open for business. If you drink at parties (which is ILLEGAL until your 21st birthday I must remind you), they may think you’re looking for a good time. If you’re drinking from an open cup, one of those asshats may decide to slip a little something in your drink so he can knock you out and take advantage of you. I don’t want to make you paranoid, but, again, it’s the truth. Being a girl is a lot like being a wizard in the time of Voldemort: Constant Vigilance.
And the girls? The same girl who told you to wear a tube top and the world’s tiniest shorts may very well call you a total slut behind your back. You see, some girls like to wage a war of words. Don’t be one of them. If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, don’t say it online or behind someone’s back. If one of your “friends” is constantly putting other people down, she’s probably telling them similar things about you. You don’t need to hang around people who have to break others down in order to build themselves up. Even more importantly, if you see anyone being physically abused or verbally abused, you have to tell someone. Tell me. Tell a teacher. Call 911. If you stand on the sidelines while someone else is being hurt, then you’re condoning what’s happening. It takes strength to stand up to assholes. I’d like to think I’ve raised you to have that kind of strength.
Oh, the boys. You’re going to have a hard time finding gentlemen at this stage of your life. Some of those gentlemen—and indeed some of the ladies—are going to look a little awkward, maybe not be as popular. You remember that any high school student can turn out to be a swan. Maybe you feel like an ugly duckling. Don’t worry. Your time will come. That time might be in college, but it will come. Be patient.
Speaking of patience, please, please don’t make some of the mistakes I made. I remember wanting to go on my first date for the sake of the date because I was one of the few of my peers who hadn’t dated yet. He was a gentleman. But some of the guys after him? Not so much. As your Big Dada would say, “Some people are just sorry.” If you feel as though you have to have a man in order to be complete, you’re going to run across a greater percentage of those “sorry” guys than if you wait patiently to meet the right person. I’m not saying you shouldn’t date. I’m saying you shouldn’t date out of desperation.
When you do start dating, it’s once again time for Constant Vigilance. You have hormones. He’ll have hormones, and things may get heady fast. Please remember this one thing: your body is your body to do with as you want to do. Please, please don’t let any guy pressure you into something you’re not ready for. He may tell you that you were the cause of the wet dream he had the night before in the hopes you’ll do something about it. He may tell you that if you were really a feminist then you’d take charge of your own sexuality and let him stick his fingers up your hoo-ha. He could–despite your protestations–perform oral sex on you in the hope that you will reciprocate. A man who respects you and loves you won’t do any of these things. He’ll let you take the lead and do what you want to when you want to. You always have the right to say NO at any time no matter what–just remember that it’s considerably harder to say no if you’re high, stoned, or unconscious. Should he try to pull some kind of bullshit to the effect of “If you love me, you will do such and such,” you turn those tables on him fast and respond, “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t ask.” And if he ever hits you or harms you in any way? Well, you come on home. There are no second chances with that sort of behavior.
It is your body, but once you lose your virginity, you can’t get it back. And the same goes for every base from first to home. You can call me old-fashioned, but I still believe sex is meant to be between two people who love each other very much. I don’t care what the boys say, what your girlfriends say, what the television or the radio says, that’s when sex is its best. You’re going to have feelings and want to explore, and that’s fine. Be aware of your instincts, do they tell you to run? Do they tell you that this is a man for whom you would be willing to clean toilets for the rest of your life? If you listen closely, you’ll know. You think about it. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life cleaning toilets and birthing babies for an asshole.
And I haven’t even spoken of the ultimate consequences. Any time you have sex you could become pregnant. I wouldn’t kick you out of the house or disown you like some parents do, but I wouldn’t baby you, either. Your life would be instantly different and more difficult. The “father” would probably trot merrily off to a future similar to the one he had before. You would be stuck with a baby on your hip and a much longer row to hoe. Trust me, you don’t want to have children until you have found a good man, someone to be your partner in the endeavor. Not only that, but STDs are nasty. They often don’t show themselves as quickly in women, and many of them stick around forever. Some can even make you infertile. I’m not saying you can’t have sex, I’m saying you need to be careful and deliberate. You need to trust your partner implicitly—and always use protection even when you do.
Look, I’m not gonna lie. In some ways I’m being harsher with you than I was with your brother. I told you from the get go that this wasn’t going to be fair. The fact of the matter is that we, as women, have to be careful. We need to be aware of our surroundings at all times and project an air of confidence even when we feel like crumbling from the inside out. We have to be extremely careful about our friends, sticking closest to the loyal ones who build us up. And guys? There are good guys out there, I promise. Don’t waste your time with the cads. Wait for the guys who respect you. You’ll know you’ve found the right one when you start to bring the best out of each other. He’ll know what you need even when you have trouble figuring it out. He’ll do what’s best for you even when it’s not best for him. He’ll respect your opinions, ask your advice, relish your independence, and always think you’re beautiful no matter what. In those ways, he’ll treat you the way your father treats me.
Remember: if you are ever in a place you don’t want to be, you call me. Any time day or night, I will be there. You can throw me under the bus and tell people I’ll kill you, that I’ll ground you, that I’ll take away your car or you shoe collection. You can tell people your dad is tall and extra mean (he will be if anyone hurts you) or that your brother is overprotective (which he is). Friends come and go, but family stays forever. Anyone who makes you do something you don’t want to do doesn’t deserve to be a part of either circle.
And no matter what anyone says, you are intelligent and beautiful. We love you just the way you are, and you should love yourself like that, too.