mothering a daughter

I will be mothering a daughter. I thought that knowledge would bring me relief, the familiarity, the navigating what it means to be someone who identifies as a woman, having gone through the same steps on the ladder to becoming. The relief was fleeting.

I know that she will tell me who she is and who she wants to be, and that she will be a she until she tells me otherwise.

And I: I will work, toil, scream in order to quiet all the voices in my head, the 40 years of this and that, the suggestions and directions and requests and demands about being a girl and a woman. If ever there was a time to examine something, take a magnifying glass to it and peer at it and watch it squirm under the fiery sunbeam streaming in, it’s now.

Mothering a daughter.

Don’t have hips, don’t have thighs, don’t have a belly, don’t have fettuccini alfredo, don’t get pregnant, don’t dress like that, don’t look his way, don’t make eye contact, don’t purse your lips like you want to be kissed, don’t laugh too loud, don’t be past the point of passing out, don’t raise your hand and show off that you’re the smartest kid in class, don’t take up space, don’t be angry, don’t be a floozy, don’t bare your soul, don’t worry so much, don’t share your ideas. Oh let me count all these insidious ways of policing and patrolling a body and a mind, my body, my mind, her body, her mind.

Don’t negotiate, whatever you do, don’t think that everything that happens to you is because of your sex, don’t wear dresses and show your leg in the workplace, don’t report the coworker who tried to suggest you should come to his hotel room, don’t run from the colleague who tries to coax you onto the dance floor and threatens you with the title “party pooper,” don’t stop wearing a man suit, don’t slap your boss for his question about whether you’re going to step back from work after the baby, don’t be too direct, don’t be hostile, don’t make them feel less smart than they think they are, don’t interrupt, don’t upstage, don’t disrupt male spaces – locker rooms, engineering labs, cockpits, construction sites, street corners.

Don’t throw like a girl, don’t shoot like a girl, don’t swing like a girl, don’t be sad, don’t cry, don’t be upset, don’t get hysterical. Only later do I think of what the right response could have been – in this situation, in any of these situations – my neck flushing and hot – screaming, “do you even know the root of that word ‘hysterical’?!” because in each of these moments I so want whatever is agitating me to stop that I agree with the sentiment or action or direction. And, I swallow it. I want there to be harmony on the outside that matches the harmony I strive for on the inside. I’m not quick enough on my feet to really understand what an insult is in the moment and how it compounds. And then, maybe that’s even a symptom of it all – not wanting to scream and rant and be the bitch that someone else defines.

I wonder how deep these narratives run, into the air, to the culture, to the bone, to the marrow, to the soul.

I have to get to work.

The Future of Work is here: A regional feminist perspective on the effects  of COVID-19: Department for Middle East and North Africa
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