What should we tell our daughters? To wear longer skirts, avoid going out late and move in groups? Never to accept drinks from a stranger, and wear shoes you can run in? Or should we work to create a world where our daughters are as safe and respected as our sons; a world where they’re not seen as prey, nor living with a one-in-five chance of becoming the victim of a sexual offence?
I’d tell my daughter to ignore the message that her looks are all she is, or that men value her for her breast size and sexiness. I’d tell her to define herself by her own parameters and nobody else’s — not to be a tomboy or a “girly girl”, but whoever she chooses to be. I’d tell my daughter that there’s nothing right or wrong about any career path she might choose, from nursing to engineering to bringing up a family. I’d teach her about generations of brave, inspirational, ground-breaking women whose names she wouldn’t find in her history books. I’d tell her not to let her dreams be dented by old stereotypes about women “having it all”, but to look for a partner, if she should choose to have one, who would shoulder their fair share of the domestic and caring burden.
I’d tell her it’s not weird or wrong if she loves somebody of the same gender, or identifies with a different gender than the one she was born with — what’s strange and unnatural is a society that still struggles to accept this after having centuries to get used to the idea.
Perhaps most important of all, though, are the things I’ll never tell my daughter: “That’s not for girls”, “Take it as a compliment”, “Don’t rock the boat”, “That’ll go straight to your hips”. I won’t tell her that “beauty is on the inside”, but question a world that tells her she must be beautiful in the first place, when beauty pales altogether in comparison to passion, humour, wit and wisdom. I’ll never tell her that she should “think yourself lucky, things were much worse in my day”, because the point is, she shouldn’t be facing inequality at all. I won’t tell her to get used to it because it’s just the way things are, to stop making a fuss, to sidestep her sleazy boss’s advances rather than jeopardise her career, or to walk home with her keys between her knuckles. And finally, I’ll tell her this: if you can keep your head when all about you suggest that men are the default setting… you’ll be a woman, my daughter.