My sister and I both have babies the same age (only six weeks between them). They are similar in most ways; same age, growing up in the same city, similar parents, both first borns, white, middle class, able-bodied and privileged.
The only major difference between them is that one is a boy (my sister's) and one is a girl (mine). It is therefore like an interesting little social experiment to see, even as tiny babies, how they are perceived, gendered, reacted to and socialised.
Recently, my sister and I were having one of those late night conversations that can only happen between best friends over a bottle of wine in a quiet nook. We were discussing all things mothering; our thoughts, feelings and struggles about being new moms.
I put forth that I see my greatest challenge as a mother is to build my daughter up to such an extent that no amount of negative messages from society can pierce her sense of self worth. Messages about how she isn't 'enough'; thin enough, pretty enough, timid enough, or 'too much'; too bossy, too clever, too assertive. It hurts me deeply to think that, even in 2017, she will grow up in a world that will tell her on a daily basis she is not worth the same as a man.
It is something that as soon as I found out I was having a little girl, when she was still only the size of a peach in my tummy, I asked myself; how can I help this girl to have such a strong sense of self that I can buffer the effects of the whole goddamn world.
To my surprise, such a thought had never even crossed my sister's mind regarding her son. It had never even occurred to her that her son needed protecting from the world. In fact, quite the opposite was true. My sister was struggling with another idea. The idea that her son, being male and white and privileged, would grow up with a sense of entitlement that she, as his mother, would need to reign in.
I was astounded. It just goes to show how deeply entrenched the inequality between men and women in our society goes. It is there from day one. It pervades everything. It feels inescapable, heavy, impossible.
I cannot single-handedly undo the effects of thousands of years of inequality. I can however, try to build her up. Question every suggestion that she must act, dress, be a certain way because she's a girl. I can encourage her to use her voice. Allow her to be bold and messy and loud. Dress her so she can move her body and be comfortable. And then I somehow have to learn to let go. Allow her out into the world and trust that she will have enough resilience to weather the storm.