Saturday, September 7, 2013

To My Daughter: You Are Beautiful

I've been thinking about something you said recently--something about a friend of yours who's prettier than you. You said it in such a matter-of-fact way that it was disheartening to me, yet I couldn't think of a thing to say, in much the same way that I might not know how to respond to someone telling me that the sun is green. What is there to say to a statement so obviously, wholly untrue that it seems not to bear on reality?

We've spoken about this before, so I suspect that right now you're defending your self-deprecating position by pointing out that men respond to your friend differently than they do to you. To that I have two replies.

First, human perception is flawed, and you're human. You don't see yourself clearly. None of us do. When I look back at myself at your age, I see a young man crippled far more by his perception of himself than by any intrinsic limits. I thought I knew what I was and how people saw me, but now I know that I was just telling stories. I could have been whomever I wanted to be, if I'd just had faith in myself. I see the same aching gulf in you. I doubt you see yourself clearly, let alone how men react to you and your friend.

Second--and I know we've talked about this before, but given the dismal sound of your voice when you talked about your friend, it bears repeating--even if those men do react to her in some way that they don't react to you, so what? Men respond to women for a host of reasons, of which static physical attributes compose a small portion. In a person's motion and behavior there are hundreds of cues you would consciously recognize and thousands that you wouldn't. Men may respond to traits that have nothing to do with your friend's looks--traits which you may or may not want to possess.

Your statement stuck in my head so thoroughly because of that article we spoke about, How to talk to your daughter about her body. Many of the women who commented disagreed with the author because they'd spent their whole lives wanting their fathers to tell them they were pretty, but they never did. I keep thinking back to your childhood, wondering what I said to you, if anything, about your body. Did I tell you that you were pretty, or beautiful, or cute? I don't remember. I tend to think I didn't, because I didn't want to emphasize physical attributes. Did you want me to?

I know I can't reach in and change you. I know my opinion only goes so far. I just want you to know the depth of befuddlement and sadness I feel when I hear you say your friend is prettier than you. She isn't prettier than you. You aren't any less attractive then her. You're beautiful, inside and out. I've always thought so.



To My Daughter: Introduction

Dear Morgan,

Last night you posted the following on Facebook.
i'm going to be corny and post this on your wall so everybodyy can see it: you are the best dad and i love you : ]
In addition to getting me all choked up, you may have dropped an answer into my lap.

About seven months ago I broke my decades-long silence on the subject of feminism. During the following six weeks I wrote six more articles. In the last five and a half months I've written only one.

If you read all of my feminism articles from the beginning, you'll see the progress I've made and you'll understand why I've been reticent despite that progress. My initial passion was suffused with an anger that cooled as I wrote. I needed to write about, and with, that anger to get past it. That process has given me both clarity and pause.

Do you remember when I told you I was learning the difference between writing to say what I needed to say, and writing to communicate with my readers? I was thinking primarily of this piece. I don't know if you've read it. Hell, I don't know if I want you to read it. It's not the type of thing your average Dad wants his daughter to see, yet perhaps that very discomfort makes it all the more important to share with you. I stand by every word of it, because it's the truth. Yet I see now that it's an example of my saying what I need to say, rather than writing in a way that communicates. That's why future articles will include rewrites of that piece.

Feminism is polarized, politicized and rhetorically ossified, and I am angry. That's a shitty combination. Now that I've written a few pieces and gained a bit of clarity, I doubt that I'm yet capable of writing usefully about feminism, because the concepts I consider so vital to convey are so easy to misconstrue. Yet I have to keep writing if I'm ever to write more usefully.

I spent months ruminating somewhat bitterly on all these thoughts, and then last night you wrote the post above. And it suddenly occurred to me that I should write all my pieces on feminism TO YOU. After all, why am I concerned about feminism? Because I want to contribute to a world where you are safe, where you have equal opportunities, where you can exercise your vital powers, along lines of excellence, in a life affording you scope.

I trust myself when I think of you. I have faith in my ability to do what I do not because anyone's watching, not because I'll get credit--hell, not even caring whether you know about it or not--but because it's right for you. If I write to you, you'll be my pole star leading me through pitfalls of anger and narcissism.

Thanks for being you. I don't know whom I'd be without you.