This spoken assurance left me both elated and strangely frightened. As the day went on, I had an unexplainable hollow feeling in my gut. I would have to raise a daughter. This should be an easy task for a woman to do, shouldn’t it? Then why am I so afraid of failing at this?
As I contemplated these thoughts and feelings I was experiencing, I came to realize quite simply: the world is a dangerous place for a girl.
Personally, I have never been physically violated or attacked because of my sex, but I have surrounded myself with enough strong-willed women to not be ignorant of the victimization of women in our society. How can I possibly protect my child from her seemingly inevitable future reality?
If I dissect each day, I have been exposed or included in a form of sexism daily. From catcalls starting in elementary school as I walked to Tim Hortons in between dance classes, to feeling the need to justify my identity as a woman by dancing a certain way with a nameless man in a club, I have been shaped to believe I am predominantly a sexual being.
These constant experiences can explain one of my uncertainties that is involved with motherhood: breastfeeding.
I am dedicated to doing all I can to breastfeed my child, as I feel strongly about the benefits it has for an infant. But why is this natural act something I feel shame over doing, especially in public? I have come up with solutions to my “problem” of feeling insecure about breastfeeding, mainly resorting to the idea of having to pump to feed my child in public.
I talk my way around the deeper social norms by explaining that I simply do not feel comfortable exposing myself in public. It is about me, not those around me. But is that the real reason? Or have I been conditioned to believe that I am a sexual object that should hide myself away to give sustenance to my child? I was told in school to cover up, to make sure my kilt was at a certain length. Are these simple rules now placing me in a position of fear to do something I was created to do: naturally feed my child?
My deepest fear lies in what social norms have been ingrained in me that I will inherently pass on to my daughter. We need to recognize and think critically about our own actions and not just place blame on others’ reactions. How can I personally make a change?
I had a powerfully vivid image that came to me recently: my daughter, grown into a young woman, riding horseback in this open meadow with the radiant sun beating down on her. Her hair is blowing carelessly in the wind and she is smiling as wide as can be. She is free.
This image makes me stop and realize that this freedom I see her having will not come to her freely. It must be taught, shaped out of the unfair world she will live in. I must take responsibility to instill this belief of deserved freedom in her, by way of demonstration. That responsibility falls on me now, and others to continue to make improvements in what we teach young girls is appropriate or inappropriate to do with their bodies.
I can start shouldering this responsibility by feeding my child where, when and how I choose, as it is my God-given gift to do.