Dear Alice Kathryn,
Hey there, Alley Cat (I know, your mom doesn’t really like that name, so it’ll just be our little thing). You know, even before I met your mother I had dreams about you. Your mom and I would be laying on a couch in the living room, looking outside into the snow where you were laughing and playing with the dog. The dreams never fill in a lot of the details though, and I spend so many waking hours wondering about them: how funny you would be, how kind, how intelligent. What kind of people would you like? What do you want to be when you grow up?
I’ve told your mom about those dreams. She was there, too. People have doubts and feel insecure sometimes, but any time she asked me why I knew I wanted to marry her or if I regretted it, I would remind her of those dreams. “You were always my wife; I just hadn’t met you yet.”
You’ve always been with me, Alley Cat, and always will be. We may never meet though and I wanted you to know why. The short answer is that I love you too much for the state of things. Family, friends, and colleagues confide in me their insecurities, and there is universality to them. It breaks your dad’s heart to watch amazing people struggle with these things; it breaks my heart to imagine you having to deal with them. I imagine holding you, teary-eyed some evenings while you tell me about what you experienced, thinking back to that day you played, so happy in the snow. Life should be simple, but it isn’t.
I want happiness and freedom for you, Alley Cat. Right now, we feel like we could not provide those things. The world doesn’t deserve you yet.
BECAUSE, your mom and dad are not as ready financially as we want to be. Things are hardly austere for us, but we are always one bit of bad news away from it. We are millennials and in danger of becoming the new Lost Generation. We spend too much on avocados and not enough at Applebee’s. We are arrogant hedonists in constant need of validation and participation trophies, financially irresponsible and disloyal to our employers, politically correct to a fault, and disrespectful of authority.
Because, your parents were never loyal enough to the organisations for which we worked. Our parents knew that you gave your company your absolute best. Of course, we watched those companies terminate our parents to save money – these people who had worked so many years for one company doing things a certain way. Now they were less than ten years from retirement and unemployed, forced to compete with young, tech-savvy degree holders. It felt smarter to develop skills and progress our careers through horizontal and vertical moves across companies because no one could trust a single organisation to support our entire professional life.
Because, we had spent so much on those degrees that we had to pay two mortgages – only one was called “rent” and the other “student loans”. We did not have the money available for a down payment on a house saved away and needed the mobility to pick up and move to wherever the opportunity was anyway. Thankfully your grandparents loved us and were in a good enough place to let us live with them until we married and moved. Many of our friends did not have that option.
Because, we were never willing to accept an internship to develop ourselves and find better jobs. I mean, we were willing to accept one. We both looked into them actually. Either they did not pay enough to cover rent and student loans and groceries and insurance and healthcare and the car, or the people running the internship said our background made us overqualified for it. We found that suspicious though, because those same companies found us underqualified for full positions. We did not have the experience they wanted.
Because, we lacked savings and did not invest in the stock market. Your mother and I were among the few our age who did have savings, but that was mostly from the time before we lived together – much easier to save while living at home. After that, we simply didn’t earn enough to save much after spending on the necessities. As for the stock market, well, we both had our 401K plans but played it safe there. Like their corporate loyalty, they told your grandparents to invest. Then, right as they approached retirement age, the economy tanked and those savings evaporated along with many of their pension plans. Your mom and I did not trust the market enough to gamble like that. It was already bad enough looking at 30 or 40 years of living after retirement with high healthcare costs and the possibility of having no social security income.
BECAUSE, most people are incapable of solving these problems. Everything is a dichotomy, Us versus Them. We cannot discuss or debate important matters because the moment one even hints at siding with Them it becomes about personal attacks, appeals to belief, appeals to tradition, or so many other fallacious excuses.
Because, some people who read this will ignore appeals to very real problems that require attention and continue to invent reasons why those who struggle simply are not trying hard enough. Some of them will miss the point of this entirely and already decided these reasons are stupid, that there is a counterpoint to every one of them individually rather than considering how hard the world of tomorrow might be for our children if we do not address them. It is such a problem that I have had to abandon the guise of writing a letter to you and hit the point explicitly. Some of them will still skip it and tell me about their children, or about how selfish your parents are for choosing not to have you yet.
Because, things have become so politically correct that people will extol beliefs that they do not actually maintain because it would be social suicide to speak out against them. Yes, honey, even those who push for progress and greater freedom will sometimes lose sight and silence dissenting voices rather than engage with them in a meaningful way.
BECAUSE, the biggest problem of all is you would be a girl becoming a woman in all of this.
Because, I did not want to be one of the men who “gets it now that I have a daughter”, as though having you was the thing that finally made me realise women were people and not objects. Nor did I want to be one of those people who turned a blind eye towards inequality until it happened to my wife or sister or daughter.
Because, it has already happened to many of the women I know, and I’m still coming to terms with how I was ignorant to it for so long.
Because, I did not want you to grow up amid the chorus of “not all men” whenever a woman attempts to share her story of harassment or assault, as though the idea that some men manage to avoid harassing or assaulting women somehow means we do not need to examine men’s behaviour.
Because, if you ever did experience harassment or assault, I wouldn’t want you to have to wait 40 years until the climate allowed you to come forward about it without fear of further reprisals or feeling shamed.
Because, I didn’t want people telling you what to wear or where you could go or who you could go with because it might arouse and encourage an attacker. Because I didn’t want people reminding you never to leave your drink unattended. Because I didn’t want you to carry your keys in your fingers on your way to the car. Because I didn’t want you to need a rape whistle, can of mace, and personal escort to get to an evening class.
Because, I didn’t want you to grow up in a world where it was always what you did or didn’t do as the victim that made you a victim – never about what he did.
Because, I never wanted you to experience vulgarities or bullying or threats from the guy who was so nice right up to the moment you said you were not interested. On the other hand, maybe he was never particularly nice about it – some of them simply feel entitled to women because they see them only as sexual objects.
Because, I didn’t want you to earn $0.78 or $0.85 or even $0.97 for the same job a man was earning $1.00 for, simply because you were a woman who “failed to negotiate”.
Because, I never wanted them to assume you weren’t interested or lacked the skills for a position because you were a woman, or accuse you of being mean or bitchy or bossy because you asserted yourself to get it. Because I never wanted you to “become a man” to get ahead.
Because, I never wanted someone to ask my beautiful little girl if “everything was all right” or if she was “feeling well” because she didn’t spend two hours putting on makeup that morning, and then telling her that they prefer the “natural look” a few days later.
Because, I never wanted them focused on what you wore or how you looked while doing it, just that you did it.
Because, any boyfriend you might have can get condoms or Viagra with little problem, but we have to fight legal battles over the most basic feminine care. Because the very existence of Planned Parenthood is under constant threat, even though they provide myriad services that are essential to your health and well-being.
Because, female sexuality is a taboo subject unless it directly involves the man in the conversation, and once you reach a certain age it will be altogether taboo. Your guy friends will be encouraged to brag about their conquests though.
Because, too many men are not yet capable of seeing our privilege. Because we’re still comfortable reaping the advantages of being a cis male in this system even as they create challenges for our fellow people. Every time we choose privilege over equality, we institutionalise the sexism that much more.
Because, even some of the “woke” men aren’t actually feminists. They see it as a clandestine way to ingratiate with women or find it socially important to be seen as feminist. When a woman rejects him, the charade falls. When someone points out a sexist thing they said or did, protecting his ego becomes more important than championing equal rights. I might fear this group the most, honey, because they can make it difficult to trust anyone.
Because, boys will be boys and we lack the courage to stand up against that when it occurs. Because you will only hear “boys will be boys” when they have done something awful and no one wants to discourage their masculine behaviour. They are under enormous pressure themselves to conform to gender roles – the difference is that those roles have victims.
Because, even the men that agree, “rape is never okay” then fail to understand that specific scenarios are rape. Because some men cannot accept that marriage does not entitle a man sexually to his wife whenever he wants. Because “no means no” at all times, and “yes means yes” only occasionally – forced or coerced or otherwise compromised yeses are not consent, and too many people still don’t seem to get that.
Because, everything I said assumes you’re a straight white cis female. If any part of that weren’t true, your mother and I would love you every bit as much, but so many of the reasons on this list get even worse.
Because, some people refuse to identify as feminist, even when the alternative is being sexist. Feminism was never about staking femininity’s claim as the dominant sex or putting womanhood on a pedestal. It was, is, and will always be about equality.
Because, a vocal resistance to civil rights progress in general still exists. Some days it feels very hard to have faith in human nature when I see people actively trying to deny an entire group of people basic human rights.
Who knows? Maybe we will meet one day and I will watch you play in the snow. You should see these women today, honey. I thought women were strong before – they are doing amazing things. More and more men are coming around, too, starting to see these things. With these brave women at the vanguard, I am seeing tremendous strides made towards equal rights. The oppressed groups are making their push and we may finally see the benefit of diversity in addressing the other issues.
Maybe the day is coming when someone other than the wealthy will decide fiscal policies. Maybe the day is coming when someone other than the industrialists will decide on the environment. Maybe the day is coming when we will be able to identify a common set of facts and know whom to trust – maybe, just maybe in that diverse world we will be able to trust easily.
Because, Alley Cat, I love you and your world should be that simple. Even if we never get to meet, you are always with me and I will keep working towards that world. I have a lot of people willing to help me.