I have been avoiding writing you this letter. And I’m not sure it’s really a letter to you—more like a journal entry for myself that you may happen upon at some point when I forget to close my computer screen down.
There’s a smell in our world these days. It’s not smelly like freshly popped popcorn or apple cider. Those are smells we all like. It’s smelly the way it gets when Daddy makes grilled cheese and forgets to put the kitchen fan on, or when someone farts under the covers (also something we can blame on Daddy). Who am I kidding, the smell is way worse than an under the covers fart. It’s more like dog poo in the car, vomit residue you can’t get off your fingers, car exhaust, really really burnt toast. These are the smells of something called oppression. We’ve never talked about this word, mostly because I am not sure how soon you need to know about the darker parts of this world that make me need to sit down in the shower and breathe deeply.
Why am I telling you all this? Partly because I process externally (mostly that) and partly because I’m telling you that as a woman you often have to examine your feelings and reactions and decide what they all mean. You don’t get to be passive and hands-off in this life. That’s what evenings with wine are for.
So right… oppression. Oppression is basically something that pushes some people down while raising others up. And unfortunately some of the people that have been pushed down, dear daughters, are women. You and me, Auntie Natalie and Grandma, Marie-Claire and Aunt Emily—these are the important women in your life and we have all experienced this oppression. Because we are not Black or Indigenous or labeled in some other way we haven’t had to grapple with so many other weighty layers of oppression. Not to mention that we have always had enough money, which means again we haven’t had to deal with the day-to-day oppressions of being poor. But as women we have experienced our “fair” share.
Because it’s not fair is it? It’s not fair that just because the three of us were born with two X chromosomes that life should be harder. It makes me mad and then very very worried, which in turn makes me edgy. You may have noticed. In fact, I know you’ve noticed. I yell when I could say it nicely. I feel anxious about you both getting good at things like French and piano and dancing and any extra skill that will give you an edge. Because girls need an edge, which also isn’t fair. Even in this moment, Violet, you are pulling up my shirt and trying to kiss my belly and listen to my stomach gurgling. And I could see it as beautiful, but I am trying to write you this damn letter and you’re all in my space. So yeah, I’m edgy.
I’m sorry that the conversations that are being had in the media affect how I feel about myself and then in turn the attitude with which I mother. I wish I was more immune and could go inside my bubble and we could bake cookies and sing songs with smiles on our faces. And we can do those things and we do. (Actually, mostly we leave the serenading to you, Violet. Thanks for keeping things light, baby girl.)
But then we have to beat our breasts and go down trails in our heads remembering all the experiences we might have to rename as sexual abuse. Actually, this part is only for me, but it affects you, because I’m edgy. Yeah, I said that already. Sorry. I am sorry it has to be heavy. I am so so sorry.
And then I’m not. I’m not sorry… because I want you two to grow up to be fighters of this oppression, to be fighters for yourselves and for others, and you can’t do that if you’re in a bubble can you? The answer is no. Violet, I’m pretty sure I lost you a while back. Quick, tell me that knock knock joke that ends in us saying ‘pooey poo’ many times over, and then we’ll pull out Christmas decorations and you’ll exclaim ‘oh my goooshh, that is spectacular—the most spectacular thing I have sawt’ every time.
Good, we have our energy back. Thanks, Violet, for holding on to your wonder and making me laugh. Thanks, Elsie, for telling me when I have kale in my teeth. We have each other’s backs. We need to as women, which will make it all the more confusing when the woman in your creative writing class is exploring the voices of white teenage boys in her story. Because you will wonder if those voices really need exploring. Does she have my back? Might the voices of teenage girls need more exploring? What’s her duty as a storyteller? What’s mine?
Also, my neighbours put up their Christmas lights before me and I decided it was a competition and I lost. It’s hard to lose. And that hard reality is something to be looked at deeply, right in the face, for sometimes women are the losers in this world—actually a lot. It feels gross that I brought you into a world like that. I feel gross for all of us. Could I find a better word than gross? I could. But gross also sums it up. Gross is the behavior that we are often up against. Gross is the behavior of men like Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. and Donald Trump.
The mood in here is getting pretty low in here again. How do we change our attitudes? Remember the other day, Violet, when we were both imploring each other to change our attitudes. It was emotional and I’m sure the neighbours heard, which never ceases to piss me off that I can’t be angry and frustrated without someone overhearing. But perhaps it’s good to have accountability (imagine if Weinstein had had a little of that!), because maybe I would do things I might regret, like throw out everyone’s drawings because I’ve lost my ability to cope in our sea of toys and paper.
I want to end this letter by telling you that I probably won’t stop grilling you, Elsie, on a regular basis about whether or not you’re feeling as capable as the boys who sit next to you in class. And it won’t be long, Violet, before I’m asking you the same questions. So far you both seem to see yourselves as equals to boys. Good. Perfect. You are. But after I’ve wrangled you both into bed, and I collapse into ours, I worry about how long that will last. I wonder when some man will look at you in a certain way when you’re walking alone on the street, and you’ll be confused and start to feel a certain kind of small. You will have seen something in that man’s eyes that makes you realize you have a certain kind of power over him, but not as much as he has over you.
In those moments, I find a lot of comfort in praying for you, daughters and remembering all the lovely men that do exist, and I have high hopes that you will be friends with many. Your beloved cousin will be a man. Your uncles and Grandpa and Papa and Daddy are all doing well as men. So it’s hopeful. And when I was halfway across the world a couple weeks ago in the formidable city of Rio de Janeiro I met a taxi driver named Junior who I was quite taken with. He was gentle and quiet. Sometimes we asked him things and he simply said in his broken English: “I don’t know.” Did we expect him to know everything? Marie-Claire and I have been in lots of meetings where men pretend to know everything and forget to ask us what we might know, so it felt unusual for us to be accepting each other’s not-knowing-ness.
So yes, beautiful moments will still happen in this world where oppression exists.
You are amazing daughters. You are truly amazing. You have spectacular hearts. You love people. You love me. And I love you. I love how we will conquer the world together. We will be brought low and then we will rise and carry our sisters along with us. We will be the supporters and strive not to be the oppressors. This is our challenge.
Love love Mama