We pause for this political message, which I hope is not political.
My daughter has always had an interest in the election process. She learned to read by sounding out the Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers in the preschool parking lot. She has accompanied us to the polls. Of course she’s aware of laws, and wars, and her parents’ occasional invocation of the former and abiding aversion for the latter. Her reaction sweetly mirrored our despair when she said in 2004, “Have we ever voted for anyone who won?”
This season I am not particularly attracted to any candidate and repelled by only a few. You can see how I’m teetering on the knife’s edge of an opinion. I am inspired, however, by my daughter, because she is purely, gleefully, hopelessly, and totally for the girl.
Perhaps this is the state of mind when you’re a girl in the state of 8. She and her friends are totally, unabashedly, fearlessly girls. And by that I don’t mean anything in particular, but that they are completely free and unafraid to love themselves. They love themselves and they love each other. They adore one another. They hug and kiss each other endlessly. They have not yet acquired any reason to withhold themselves, to judge themselves as too this or too that, to hide any part of their hearts or minds. Of course they notice the boys, they like them too, in silly ways that you can tell will soon be too much.
“The boys all love me but I only love Amy,” she said last year in first grade.
This year she has new crushes and allegiances, and one of them is Hillary. “Because she would be the first lady president!” she says while jumping up and down. In her unbiased and uninformed view I see something I no longer see in myself and hardly anywhere else.
I see a place that I fled, through pain, cynicism and calculation, many, many years ago. I see the place that my daughter herself may abandon as she feels the weight and strictures of the world we live in. I see the Girl’s Team, and I wonder if I shouldn’t glance back over with an open mind.
I don’t call myself a feminist. I try not to call myself anything. And believe it or not, to be a Buddhist is to work your whole life on getting rid of the -ist. And so I read with unexpected awe this eye-opening essay by Gloria Steinem earlier this week, “Women are Never Front-Runners.” Oh, I know what the arguments are, the feelings, the hunches, the dislikes, the gossip, the distaste. But when I see the brutal lash of cynicism, the extraordinary criticism, the arrogant, all-knowing, analytical, dismissive discounting of what and who this woman is, I flinch. I flinch because we are so much harder on her than the boys. Have I been this hard on myself, just for being a girl? Am I sending my daughter into this cruelty, where she will never again jump up and down for the girl?
In short, when my girl speaks, I listen because there is a message in it for me. There’s a message in everything that comes our way.
The other night I told my daughter that the girl might not even be a candidate for president, and I told her who it might be.
“Would he be the first African-American president?” she asked.
“Cool!” she said, her eyes once again twinkling with the possibilities.