On the May 23rd Elliot Roger went on a killing spree in a California college town. On May 26th, my Daughter the Elder turned 13. These two events should have nothing to do with each other, but they do. Elliot Roger’s motive was clearly documented. Among other things his misogynistic rants and writings detailed how he wanted to enact retribution on women for rejecting his advances. By all estimations my daughter is becoming a woman.
The extreme actions of Elliot Roger, while obviously those of a mentally disturbed individual, did not happen in a vacuum. There is an undeniably misogynistic layer of our culture that deeply impacts the way that women live their everyday lives. Not all men participate in the degradation of women, but enough do that all women are taught to prepare themselves physically and mentally for the seemingly inevitable.
As she becomes a woman, what do I tell my daughter about the way she dresses? Do I praise her modesty when she chooses to wear shorts that come below the knee? I know it is because she is not yet comfortable in her changing body. Puberty is awkward for everybody. I want her to be comfortable in her skin but at the same time I feel a sense of relief at her choice to dress in a way that does not convey overt sexuality. It is safer because, welcome or not, that new body will draw attention.
As she becomes a woman, what do I tell my daughter about keeping her body safe? Do I remind her that her years of martial arts training can help to protect her in case of an assault? I know that she would not hesitate to defend herself from a stranger, but if it were someone she knows… She doesn’t like to cause a scene. I want her to feel secure in her ability to defend herself even if that person is someone she or we thought was trustworthy. How do I do that without implying that no one is trustworthy?
As she becomes a woman, what do I tell my daughter about saying what she means? Do I keep encouraging her to speak up, assuring her that her voice will be heard? How can I not feel a tinge of hypocrisy when she tells me she has been coached to yell “fire” before “help” because it is a more effective way to get people to respond? All I can truly assure her is that I will listen…
There is little solace to be found in tragedies like this: the death of six people and injury of 13 others at the hands of a deranged man with a vendetta against women… Except maybe it will help to uncover the depth of damage being done to men and women by the misogynistic layer of our culture. And maybe if it can be seen it can be changed for all of our daughters - and sons.
I hope that this letter has found you and yours in good spirits and good health. Until I write again…