On Raising My Daughter in a Sexist World

When my daughter was born, my wife and I decided to raise her to be proud of who and what she is.  She’s beautiful–and this isn’t just parental opinion–and she’s smart, and we began, from a very early age, praising her intelligence as much, if not more than, her beauty.  We want her to know she’s smart, and we want her to know she’s beautiful, but we want her to prize the smarts more.

When she was four, I asked for a kiss.  She said no.  Like a lot of dads, I pressed the issue.  She got angry, and I realized what I was doing and, horrified at myself, put her down.  She thought she’d done something wrong.  I explained to her that, no, she has every right to say “no,” and nobody, not me, not her mom, not her grandparents or aunts or cousins or even the President–she was fixated on Obama at the time–had the right to make her do anything she didn’t want to.  Ever since then, I’ve respected her boundaries.  If she says no, that’s it.

I do this because I don’t want to have a child who feels pressured, ever, to show affection in any way.  I want her to be herself, and I want her to be strong.  Since she was four, we’ve let her choose her clothing (most of the time).  We let her decide what’s in her daily snack pack, and if she wants a home lunch instead of what her school provides, we do it.*

I worry probably more than I should about the mixed messages our society is going to send her.  We try very hard to make sure she doesn’t grow up thinking she has to be some kind of chaste sex goddess, and we’re honest with her–as much as is wise with someone so young–about the world she’s going to be dealing with.

At the same time, we’re doing what we can to make the world better for her.  My wife models what being a strong woman is.  I model respecting that woman, and all others.  And we make sure she sees other models of womanhood, from housewives to career-oriented women, from families with more kids than we have to families who’ve chosen to have no children.  We’ve placed choosing her clothes in her control, with only occasional parental overrides if she chooses something inappropriate (and my wife and I have to sometimes negotiate, because sometimes our standards differ–and we let her see how that works).

In short, we try to model for her a marriage based on respect.  When we argue, we try not to do it in front of her, but if we must, we’re honest about it, and work very hard to keep her from taking any sides.

Though it’s not entirely because of my child, my novel includes not one but two strong, intelligent female characters at least partly because I want her to see these things in fiction.

She loves superheroes, and I proudly guide her to the best–her favorites are Black Widow and Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel.  She’s happy as hell that when the Captain Marvel movie comes out she’ll be old enough to see it without me having to see it first to judge its suitability.  She’s very upset that there’s still no Black Widow movie, but hopeful there will be one when she’s older.

But at the end of the day, I worry.  I worry none of this will be enough, and she’ll be hit so hard by advertising and the idiotic expectations of others that she’ll be hurt beyond my ability to see or help.  I read stories like this one and I cringe, because it could happen to my baby, too.

We do what we can, I guess.  Bottom line, I will support her, no matter what.

<small>* If you’re drawing breath to tell me how awful it is she eats school lunch: she goes to a private school that serves healthy food.  So don’t go there. </small>

How I Got Into Kayaking

A few years ago, after watching a video of someone kayaking down the Russian River, I remembered I had wanted to try it for a long time.  So I made up my mind that the next time I went to my favorite camping place, I’d take advantage of the nearby kayak rental and try it out.  Mind you, I’d never taken a class, and didn’t really have a clue what I was doing.

But, I drove to Gualala, and the next morning, my equipment was delivered to my campsite.  The guy who delivered it gave me a quick primer on the equipment, then left.  I carried the kayak down to the water and climbed in.  I spent that whole day paddling upriver, looking over the side (the water in the Gualala is very clear, allowing one to see down about 15 feet (which is the bottom at the deepest parts I’ve seen).  I got close in to the shore, under the trees that grow close to the water, and watched tiny fish maneuver around the roots.  I saw a hawk snatch a fish from the lake.

I loved it.  When I first climbed aboard, I nearly tipped right over, but managed to compensate and stay upright–and that was the last time I’ve ever come even close to tipping on accident.

I say “on accident,” because the next year, I took a course on kayaking, and that required me to tip myself over and climb back on.  Those are the only times I’ve actually fallen overboard.  As to the class itself, I have to say I didn’t learn a lot from it beyond what I’d already figured out by trial and error on my own, though I did learn a couple of useful things.

The big thing is that you don’t steer with your arms–in fact, kayaking is in general a whole-body workout. Steering is done by planting your paddle into the water and moving the boat with your legs–it sounds weird, but once you start doing it, you get used to it pretty quickly.

I won’t be riding any rapids anytime soon, and I’m not ready yet for ocean kayaking (though I look forward to it someday), but for exploring a river or lake, there’s little as amazing as a kayak for exploring wildlife spaces.