For Hillary Clinton, who was never allowed to forget
I hope you forget.
I hope that a woman in the highest office in the land seems like a truly normal occurrence to you, that you watch inaugurations and State of the Union addresses and have complex thoughts and feelings about her policies and leadership capacities, but think nothing of her sex.
I hope that you wonder if you, too, might one day have a huge amount of power and responsibility in some capacity — not as the president of the United States, necessarily, but in any role that calls to you and scares you a little bit. (If the president of the United States, so be it. Your dad will be there in his embarrassing flag sweater with the biggest camera in existence.) I hope that any fear you feel is more about your own capacity to rise to the occasion — a very human, very ethical fear — than any sense that the challenges of the job will only be made harder because you are a woman.
I hope that the idea that a woman would be scrutinized differently by the society she serves, simply because she is a woman, will seem not only wrong, but truly odd to you — like the wrongness is hard to even wrap your head around because you’re so confused by the rationale of a differential critique in the first place. You might ask me, your face twisted up in an amused grin,
“Like she would be unfit to lead because she menstruates once a month? That’s beyond silly.”
And you’ll go back to planting that tomato or shooting that basketball or working out that physics problem, shaking your head at the weird old days. Your father and I, meanwhile, will thrill silently and exchange teary smiles.)
I hope that if you write, as I have, or do anything else in a public way, you won’t grow accustomed to being critiqued for your appearance rather than your ideas (as I so often have). I hope that you never have to pretend you don’t care, while carrying around a knapsack of the most common cuts — hateful little phrases that you pull out on occasion when you are looking in the mirror, and for a moment, wonder if these perfect strangers might be right about your chin, your eyebrows, your face.
I hope that you will labor over the usefulness and originality of your concepts, and the clarity and beauty of your language, but not over your make-up or your outfits. If you find joy in that, have at it! Delight in color, take deep pleasure in playing with your appearance, be creative and fearless and have fun. But I hope you never spend copious amounts of energy trying to protect yourself from society’s critique — a sort of defensive maintenance that so many women of my generation and previous ones felt obligated to do. Imagine what else we might have done with that time and money…
I hope that your voice doesn’t feel like a liability in a world that mostly hears power as baritone, that you don’t cringe when you hear its recorded sound and wonder what you could do differently. I hope you know how to breathe deeply, of course, and access the full range of sound that’s contained within your body, but I hope that it’s not a practice you develop out of some twisted sense of shame about how your voice naturally emerges. I hope, like your guy friends and cousins, you simply have a voice and feel free to use it out in the world, taking for granted that you will be heard as worthy.
I hope that you don’t crave male leaders because they make you feel safe, a daddy figure in the political wilds. I hope that you know safety is mostly illusory, and only present at all — whether in the personal or political spheres — in the context of real relationships, equity, love (things women have long been skilled at cultivating).
I hope that your identity as an auntie or a mother or a grandmother will never be thought of as contradictory or competing with your capacity to lead. Being your mother has made me infinitely more expansive, humble, thoughtful, patient, creative, efficient, and ethically motivated. I can assure you that.
I hope, most fundamentally, that power is disentangled from sex in a way that frees you up to see your own gifts, and the gifts of other women, without the scales of sexism that have so long obscured all of our vision.
Which is why I might never even show you this letter, because, after all, I hope you forget. That would be the biggest gift to me, to your grandmothers, to all the women who have dealt with the indignities and exhaustion of navigating the challenges of having power and being female in our “weird old days.”
Love, your unapologetically powerful and hopeful momma,