What it means to be female

Shannon Drury

Since last fall, I’ve been forced to have hard conversations with my daughter about what it means to be female in America in the 21st century – talks I hoped to postpone until she was older than eleven. Last year’s presidential election made that impossible.

Assigned to watch the debates for school, Miriam was shocked by the frank discussion of sexual harassment and assault. When the male candidate leaned into his microphone and dismissed an experienced and accomplished public servant as “such a nasty woman,” she couldn’t believe it. “How could he say that?” she asked.

“People fear strong women,” I said. I defined the word “patriarchy.” She looked ill.

Don’t misunderstand – Miriam is no stranger to feminism or activism. She attended her first public rally while still in utero, at a Planned Parenthood event; she bulged from beneath my overalls while I held a sign that read “Pregnant Mom for Abortion Rights.” I rolled her in a stroller to the state capitol for rallies and bill hearings.

Still, there was much I didn’t tell her. Her feminism was positive and upbeat: more Spice Girls than Margaret Atwood. During the last presidential campaign, that changed.

It was even worse on November 9, 2016. “Why did people vote for him?” Miriam asked me, and I stopped crying long enough to repeat, “people fear strong women.” Then I went to bed.

In January, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the Women’s March. When I returned, Miriam asked why my head covering was called a “pussyhat.” I explained that it was in response to the new president’s belief that his fame and power allowed him unfettered access to women’s bodies, and that the hat was a symbol of resistance against his sexism, racism, and myriad other -isms. We talked about bodily autonomy, degrading terms for women’s bodies, and the use of humor in public protest. It wasn’t “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but it wasn’t a simple cheer of “girl power” either. She’s only eleven, but she got it.

Last February, Planned Parenthood called for supporters to counter a nationwide defunding protest. I told Miriam I was going to the St. Paul protest, and since she was too old to be strapped in a stroller against her will, I invited her to join me. “Why?” she asked.

I detailed the many services Planned Parenthood clinics provide to uninsured and underinsured people. “I went there in my twenties,” I said, “because I needed a Pap smear and birth control and I wasn’t insured.”

“Why would anyone want to shut those clinics down?” she asked.

“Because they provide abortions,” I said. “And abortions are part of women’s health care, too.”

Miriam knows what abortion is – a procedure undertaken by pregnant women who don’t want to be. I never feel it necessary to debate any of the talking points about abortion, not with adults, tweens or toddlers, because to me, no talking point matters more than the pregnant woman who does not want to be. “Many of the protesters oppose birth control, too,” I added.

“But birth control prevents people from getting pregnant in the first place!” she exclaimed. She got it, again!

In the end, Miriam joined me in an enormous crowd of pink-clad supporters of women’s health. We outnumbered the protesters ten to one. She wore my pink pussyhat with pride.

How did she feel about participating? “Good,” she said. “It’s a really important thing to do.”

My daughter is a strong feminist at a younger age than I was, but I see that as a good thing. Her generation has more time to push past fear and embrace diversity and strength. That hope will keep me going until 2040, when Miriam is old enough to run for President herself.

Shannon Drury lives in Minneapolis and is the author of a political memoir, “The Radical Housewife: Redefining Family Values for the 21st Century.”