top of page

Raising a Daughter in the Trump Era: One Queer Mother’s Manifesto

This article first appeared in NewNowNext on February 15, 2019.

Instead of watching the 2019 State of the Union, I drove an hour and a half to work and back to get my laptop because I needed stay home unexpectedly to take care of my daughter. It was icy out and I drove carefully, filled to the brim with planning for the next day, mentally juggling calls and edits and writing and snack time and screen-time and me-time.

It was only after I got back home, tense and sore from controlling the steering wheel on slippery roads, that I remembered the speech. The past two years have been marked by those little lapses in memory, punctuated by a jolt into reality: Oh my fucking god, we have a manipulative, racist misogynist as a president—and he’s doing everything he can to tear down protections for women, queer people, people of color, and immigrants. Oh yeah. I opened Twitter on my phone and was struck by how silent my wall was. We were tired. We weren’t surprised by anything Trump was saying, nor how he said it in his sneering, self-congratulatory smugness.

So instead of watching the last few minutes of the address, I finished planning the next day. Instead of focusing on the hate spewing from the floor of the House of Representatives, I focused on the love warming our little home.

I think a lot about my daughter growing up under the Trump administration. And I think about my wishes for her, as a girl growing up to be a woman in all likelihood, in a period of intense change around America’s notions of sex, gender, and sexual orientation. With a leader at the helm who glorifies sexual violence, has bragged about sexual violence, and who expects and rewards sexual violence among his flock.

I worry for her safety. I’m not sure that I know one woman, non-binary person, or queer man who has not experienced sexual violence. And in fact, I know many who have faced devastating violence from family or friends or partners, most at the hands of men. My own experiences of sexual violence, as a bisexual, queer, white, mostly cisgender woman, have ranged from the brutal to the subtle, from physical danger in the hands of someone I trusted to subtle, devastating whispers from strangers on the street.

I find myself slipping as I watch my daughter grow, slipping into thoughts that have infected my very psyche, as I myself grew into American womanhood. Thoughts taught to me by the patriarchy to keep me afraid, keep my docile, keep me subservient, keep me down. Thoughts I fight every second of my waking life, thoughts that remind me: Oh, don’t do that—it’ll attract the wrong attention.

To fight my slipping thoughts, my winces and grimaces when I see my daughter exploding into life as the gorgeous rainbow supernova of confidence and anxiety and unicorns that she is, I have created a mantra for myself. One to stop my intrusive thoughts about my daughter’s behavior, appearance, hobbies, interests, eating, clothing, anything: I shall not wish my daughter to be closer to the patriarchy.

I shall not wish her to wear clothes that match, or “flatter” her in ways that the patriarchy wishes. Nor shall I let the patriarchy tell her that certain clothes are inappropriate. I shall not wish for her to comb her hair. Nor shall I quail when she scrapes it back into a high ponytail with a huge rainbow bow. When we say her body is her body, it truly is.

I shall not wish my daughter to be closer to the patriarchy.

I shall not wish her to be polite in the face of rudeness, forgiving in the face of cruelty. I shall not wish her to sit straight, walk calmly, or quiet down. Nor shall I despair when she’s quiet, thoughtful, or withdrawn. When we say that her feelings are valid, they truly are.

I shall not wish my daughter to be closer to the patriarchy.

I shall not wish her to eat less, eat more healthily. I shall not wish her to even know that eating less is a thing. But neither shall I worry when she tells me she’s full. When we say that she knows herself, we are sincere.

Feminist writer Samantha Field says when you tell a girl to drink less or dress differently, you’re really asking her to make sure the other girl gets raped, not her. That has stuck with me. That’s telling a girl she has to obey the patriarchy’s rules for her conduct, or else risk being punished.

I shall not wish my daughter to be closer to the patriarchy.

All parents try to protect their children from sexual violence. And we teach our daughters specific things and give them specific weapons and skills against the near-inevitable sexual violence.

Some parents give their daughters physical armor, make sure their skirts aren’t too short, their shirts aren’t too low. Some parents give their daughters martial arts training, teach them not to walk alone or at night. Some parents give their daughters the weapon of rhetoric, instruct them to “just say no.”

Are any of us wrong to give our daughters the weapons that we choose? When I ponder this, my mantra comes to mind again: I shall not wish my daughter to be closer to the patriarchy.

By insisting that sexual violence is the fault of the patriarchy, and never the fault of the victim, am I leaving my daughter defenseless?

Say it with me: I shall not wish my daughter to be closer to the patriarchy.

I know that this is but one of the lessons, one of the weapons, my daughter will pick up as she grows. I know that I am only one of her many teachers.

And I hope that coming from me, one of her mothers, this lesson gives her strength, confidence, and conviction to know when to use the other weapons and to see them plainly for what they are: requirements of the patriarchy to avoid its cruel punishments.

bottom of page