Recently, my daughter Alex turned 8 years old.
For some reason, this fact has really caught me off guard. I find myself muttering all the usual clichés—"They grow up so fast," and "I remember when she was just a tiny baby in my arms" and, of course, the time-honored "Before you know it, she’ll be out of the house"—and then I realized that the last one is true: Before I know it, she will be out of the house.
And then I decided it was time to get serious.
So I sat down, intending to come up with the top 10 things that I want my daughter to know before she becomes a real-life, bona fide adult. However, while I was creating this list, I realized that even though I address these words to Alex, this is advice I'd give to any young person in my life if they were to ask for it, regardless of gender. And so I share them here with you—because, rightly or wrongly, it turns out these are things that I deeply believe.
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1. Your ability or inability to accomplish something should never be defined by your gender. Ever. Some people will try to argue that simply by virtue of your gender, you are biologically incapable of doing something, but unless that something directly involves certain very specific contributions to the creation of a new human life, then frankly, they are misinformed.
2. You may discover, at some point in your life, that you were denied an opportunity to do something or have something because of your gender. This is admittedly absolutely unfair and completely unacceptable. But this is not the time to hold bitterness. You need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and renew your intention to keep on keeping on. Simply because someone is too narrow-minded to see past your gender to your talents and skills is no reason to allow that person to crush your spirit.
Do not give them that power. (And for heaven's sake, demand equal pay and equal treatment for equal work. You are owed at least this.)
3. No one—not your parents, not your partners, not friends, not authority figures, not strangers—has any right to touch you in a way that you do not want to be touched. Ever.
You should be proud of your gender (and for that matter, your race, your religion or belief system or your sexuality)—it is all part of what makes you, you.
4. Debate and disagreement are parts of life—and sometimes even an educational part of life. Always speak your mind in as respectful a way as you can. But remember: The moment someone tries to bolster their argument by denigrating your gender, your race, your religion or your sexuality, they have officially informed you that they are no longer interested in having a civil discussion with you.
You are, therefore, free to officially inform them that you are no longer interested in what they have to say, or give any weight to their argument.
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5. You should be proud of your gender (and for that matter, your race, your religion or belief system or your sexuality)—it is all part of what makes you, you. But remember the expression of your pride should never be at the expense or denigration of another's gender (or race, religion or belief system or sexuality). Because that expression invariably risks being sexist or otherwise bigoted. And bigoted expressions should be avoided at all costs.
If you have the capacity, always do what you can to fight for people who are unable to fight for themselves, regardless of what gender you are, or what gender they are.
6. As you get older, people younger than you will be looking to you as an example of acceptable behavior—regardless of whether you signed up to be a role model. This is something to keep in mind: You, simply by your actions, have the power to affect the decisions and perceptions of those who come after you. Use this power wisely, for good, not evil.
7. And speaking of this, note that we live in times when we're all, potentially, the media: not just television, radio, newspapers and other news outlets, but also Facebook, Twitter and all the other online presences that we are each capable of having and controlling. Remember there is power in having access to the media. What you write or say about people can have sweeping implications (and this goes for things you say about someone even without mentioning his or her name, particularly if he or she is able to identify herself or himself in your words). Be sure to consider those implications before you publish, and whether or not you decide to publish, remember to use this power wisely, once again for good and not evil.
8. There will be times when someone of the opposite gender will completely baffle you. Regardless of how this might feel, this is not the time or opportunity to generalize, or make the assumption that all people of the opposite gender are therefore irredeemably flawed. It's that whole one-bad-apple-doesn't-spoil-the-whole-bushel thing. And sweeping generalizations are always dangerous paths to follow (see denigration and bigotry, No. 5, above).
9. If you have the capacity, always do what you can to fight for people who are unable to fight for themselves, regardless of what gender you are, or what gender they are. It is, ultimately, the decent thing to do.
10. Don't call people names. Just don't.