Dear young women and girls:
I’m going to tell it to you straight.
You know you deserve that, right? You deserve people talking to you from their hearts, telling you the truth, listening with their entire being, and standing next to you. You deserve to trust adults — women and men, and you deserve to trust your peers — boys and girls. You deserve to have adults who value you enough to tell you about the shit that goes down in this world, and you deserve to have people strong enough to help you in naming the bullshit. This is your birthright. Do not forget this.
So I’m going to tell it to you straight: the whole system is fucked.
This probably comes as no surprise to you, but I think it’s good to hear a supposed adult say it. See, no one ever told me that the system was fucked. I never heard that sexism still existed and that I would experience its impacts. I was never told that rape culture is a thing or that my experiences were real. If anyone had told me that my experiences of being catcalled, of having men comment on my body, of being shamed for my body type (and on and on) were wrong, I can’t imagine how different my life might have been. So I’m telling you: you aren’t making it up. Your gut doesn’t lie. If it feels wrong, it probably is. Tell the story. Your voice is essential. If people don’t listen, tell it again. There is value in being a pain-in-the-ass and your voice is strong.
As an older Millennial (Millenials = those of us born between 1981 and 1997), I recently learned that women in my generation are less likely to hold high-paying STEM jobs than women in our mothers’ generation. We are more likely to commit suicide (increase of 43% over the past decade), be incarcerated, and live in poverty. We are far more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than women in the prior generation (and than women in any other developed country), and black women specifically are far more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. Overall well-being for women of my generation has stalled and declined slightly as compared to our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations. (HuffPost summary of this here, original source here).
We are living in times when we have a raging misogynist in the White House (no citations needed). (White) men are making decisions about women’s health care, and choices are being taken away. So-called “Trumpcare” will unfairly disenfranchise women, particularly poor women and, due to cuts to Medicaid and Planned Parenthood, there will be no alternatives. The Trump administration is undoing progress that was made in increasing the transparency of colleges and universities being investigated for sexual assault related violations under Title IV. Bill Cosby got off on a mistrial and is stating he’s going to go out and educate young people about how to avoid rape charges (ahem….I mean educate about sexual assault…ahem…I mean now apparently he’s saying he’s going to tour to “restore his legacy,” per Rolling Stone). To say that things seem overwhelmingly bleak some days is an understatement.
But of course, you know this. All you have to do is open up your social media and you are flooded with headlines like – Trumpcare is the Perfect Document of the GOP: Pro-Birth, Anti-Woman, Anti-Child are flooding my screen, along with The Logic of Trump’s Sexist Attacks and Crossing the Line: How Donald Trump Behaved with Women in Private – Interviews reveal unwelcome advances, a shrewd reliance on ambition, and unsettling workplace conduct over decades. Turn on the TV or the radio and you hear all about the president’s latest sexist and misogynistic tweets about who is bleeding from where and everyone’s analysis of his comments. Thank god you have Teen Vogue where you can balance reading about Trump’s tweets and This is What Life Was REALLY Like Before Abortion was Legal with 11 Things You Need to Do After you Get Accepted to College and something about Lady Gaga’s new blorange hair (yes, really).
And – this is in addition to everything we have always faced: the unrealistic and constant societal pressures of beauty and clothing industries that fuck with our minds and our sizes, and advertising industries that Photoshop organs and life and blood out of frames, and…
Dear young women and girls: I don’t have answers to solve this shitshow of a world.
I don’t write this to make you lose heart. I don’t write this to place the burden of fixing all that is fucked up on your shoulders. I love you too much to do any of that.
I write this because I am worried about you. Because I want you to grow up in a world where you know you are smart and valued and strong. Where you can be healthy and safe. Where you see yourself represented and respected and beautiful and strong regardless of your skin color, size, ability, or sexual orientation. Regardless of whether you were born biologically female or have known yourself to be female or came to know yourself to be female.
I write this because the only way we own our power is by looking straight into the fucked-up mess and naming it. We own our power by coming together. There is so much power in us. We have so much power to transform this thing together.
I write this because I want you to know that when you speak, you will be heard. I want you to know that you will be believed. I want you to know that you have people who are with you in the fight. I want you to know that your body, your mind, your spirit, your learning, your choices are all worth fighting for.
And I also want you to know that this fight, however you choose to engage it, is yours. It is yours, just as it is mine, just as it is your best friend’s – we need all of us to do this thing. I do not doubt your bravery, your ingenuity, your intelligence, your voice, or your talent. I am here as an ally, as a woman, and as a fellow warrior who knows your worth and is willing to stand with you if you’ll let me.
You probably don’t want to hear advice from me – some random 31-year-old you don’t even know – so I won’t give you any. Instead, I will tell you three things in case you need to hear them. I tell you these things because I need to tell them. Because I need to hear them. Because I need you to hear them. Okay?
(1) I believe you. I believe you now, and I will keep believing you. I promise.
(2) I will stand with you. Or next to you. Or behind you, or in front of you, or across the room, or wherever the fuck you want me to stand. I will stand with you, and I will keep standing until you tell me to sit, or go, or run, or jump up and down on one leg. I swear to god.
(3) You are worth-full. I know that’s not a word, and I don’t care. The word “worthy” indicates that there is also an “unworthy,” and there is never a time, or a place, or a situation in which you are not full of worth. You are worth-full because you exist, because you are a person, because you are a girl. Because it is your goddamn birthright to exist as a person who is full of worth. You can know, without explanation or hesitation, that you are always and forever full of worth.
Find a mirror. Look into it, straight into your eyes. Keep looking. Say, “I matter.”
If you can’t find a mirror, if you avoid your gaze, if mirrors make you cry, if your eyes make you cry, picture this: I am 5’4. I have green eyes and I’m wearing a tank top exposing my shoulders. I am holding your face in my hands like a blessing, looking deeply into your eyes, and I am telling you: “you matter.”
This world needs your brain, your body, your heart, your spirit. You are worth-full, and you matter. We need you. I need you. All of you.
You are precious (definition: a resource of great value; valuable; beloved).
Do not forget this.
*Featured image by By Another Believer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55218482*