05 Nov How to Raise Ninja Daughters
Some of you know that I’m a new father of twin girls (just now turning 6 months old). And while I’m not an experienced dad yet, I want to share some of the thoughts I’ve been having where it comes to raising daughters. Between the rhetoric flying around in this election cycle, and the general state of the world, I think any new dad would be rightfully concerned about how to bring daughters into the world.
I don’t want to pretend to be some kind of parenting expert; I’m really new at this, and my wife is already totally kicking my ass in the parenting department. But I do think I have a few things in my background that I think might be applicable, and worth sharing.
First, I have my own parents, and I’ve seen how they raised me and my sister, for better and for worse. I learned about double-standards from them (though to be honest, their own views have changed over the years…it’s just that they weren’t very fair to us, and favoring their son over their daughter didn’t make me happier at all; it did make me resentful and think of them as arbitrary and unfair). So call this lesson one. It’s not that everything needs to be uniform, but if you present opportunities to one child while withholding them from another (especially on the basis of gender), you’re not really doing either of them any favors.
Second, I have a sister who is an absolute badass, and I’ve learned more from her (and also her husband) about parenting in general than just about anyone else. But I’ve also learned a bit about the challenges women face from talking to her and listening to her, and the different skill sets that women develop compared to men for their professional and personal lives. They have to do so consciously, while men have the luxury of not being conscious of our own development a lot of the time. I’ve always marveled at my sister’s diplomacy skills, but I only recently considered why she had them in the first place, and why I didn’t. That should be fairly obvious: it was a lot harder for her to just demand her way, or for her to get her way passively. She learned early on how to mediate and negotiate, how to find middle ground. I’m still developing this skill, on the other hand.
Also, I’m a teacher. I love to teach. I teach Parkour, and I teach boys primarily (because there’s a large gender bias in Parkour), but when I’m lucky, I also get to teach girls and women. I say “when I’m lucky” very deliberately because it is so much easier to teach girls than boys. Girls how to rpay attention, girls generally don’t put their ego at stake when they’re learning, and girls have no problem helping their peers instead of competing with them. They usually are less interested in being the best than in learning what’s being taught to them.
And I want to make my daughters some promises which I’m going to do my utmost to keep, no matter what. I want you–my daughters–to understand what I think of as right and wrong, and I hope some of that sticks with you and serves you.
- I will not lower my expectations of you for any reason; absolutely never because of your gender. And I’m not going to let you do it, either. I see this all the time. “Girls can’t do this because…” and then rationalization via an article, a pseudo-scientific study, a parable, a sexist joke, or just a general misunderstanding of how male attitudes turn women away. No. NO NO NO. I refuse to accept any of this. It’s not “if a boy can do it, a girl can do it,” because that sets up a competition that also makes it okay to lose: “look, the boy can already do it!” So for me, it’s going to always be “You can do it, and no one can tell you otherwise. If they try to tell you that you can’t, just block them out and get to work.” I will never care whether someone else can do it better than you. I promise only to care about how hard you try, and whether you keep trying.
- Always always always punch up. As Finley Peter Dunne put it, “Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” I say this knowing that the latter category might include me from time to time. When you become young adults, your instinct is going to be to overturn the status quo, and I wish you well in that task. But make sure you know who you’re going after. Superficial judgements are not useful here. The poor don’t need to work harder; if they had time away from working and making ends meet, they’d be able to defend themselves (and maybe they’d write blog posts about it). Your worth as a human being in this country is increased incalculably thanks to black people and people of color who came before you, who marched, bled, and died for you to stand on equal footing with others. The obese don’t need to be mocked, gay people don’t need to be persecuted, etc. In fact, do the opposite. Defend and protect the people who other people think are easy targets. You’ll never regret it for a moment, I promise you.
- You may be smart, you may be beautiful, (I already think you’re both beautiful), you may be popular…but that’s not important. It’s important to other people, sure, and that can be great or it can be total bullshit. But to me, your dad, what’s important is that you work hard and DO NOT QUIT.
- Your body is yours, and you should love it regardless of the opinions of others. Create boundaries for it, and for you, and then enforce them yourself. Fathers are not supposed to be the jealous hoarders and control-freak dominators of their daughters’ sexuality. I want to give you room to love yourselves for who you are. And I want you to be able to find your own way sexually, with confidence, and definitely without fear.
- Just don’t take it too far, though.
- Your dating life is eventually your own space, but I want you to be prepared physically, mentally, and in any other ways for anything that can happen, because putting total n00bs into a space and expecting excellence, or even decency, is a mistake. You’re all going to be new at this. Go easy on each other, but also don’t spend any extra time on anyone who gives you a bad vibe. And never let your physical attraction to a person mask that bad vibe. In fact, even if it’s not about you, that bad vibe is important.
- I want you to be able to defend yourselves, but not in just one dimension. I want you to be sharp-witted, sharp-tongued, tough, strong, capable, and generally a little threatening. If that puts people off, that also means you have more room to exercise your will freely. You can be sharp and scary only in the name of self-defense, though. You don’t get to be a bully or a mean girl. See the rule about “punching up” above.
- I will promise to listen to what you have to say, even if I disagree with it. I will always try to disagree respectfully to encourage you to do the same with me. I know what it feels like to be constantly overruled based on something arbitrary even when I demonstrably know better; I don’t want you to have to deal with that if I can help it. It shouldn’t come from me, at any rate.
I’m writing these down for you, but also for me. I want to be able to see them in writing, so I always know what I promised you, and can measure myself by it to understand if I’m doing things right or not. I am already in love with the two of you entirely and utterly, and find myself amazed that it’s only been six months since you’ve arrived in our life, yet things have been totally transformed.