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14 Nov

To Emilia, On Her Eleventh Birthday


Dear Emilia,

Today, you turn eleven years old.

Ten years, ago, I wrote you a letter for your first birthday. It was a letter that I imagined you might read many years from that date, perhaps when you were eighteen. I wrote then that I didn’t know – couldn’t know – what joys and triumphs, what pains and tragedies, what stories good and bad, terrible and wonderful, might unfold in the years between your babyhood and your womanhood, and beyond. I wrote then that all I could know was that I would love you no matter what. That I would believe in you, no matter what. That I would fight for you, no matter what.

And here we are now, in the middle, or thereabouts, and I find myself needing to revisit those promises. Because where we are now is a wildly different place from where we were ten years ago. We are – literally, and figuratively – miles away from where we were. We have crossed borders. We have traded landscapes, and cultures, and we have been changed by those. And although the substance of my promises has not changed – I will always love you, believe in you, fight for you, no matter what border we cross, no matter what landscape surrounds us – the action that those promises demand most definitely has.

It is no longer enough for me to simply say that I love you and that I believe in you. You are every inch the extraordinary, brilliant, bloody-minded, fearless girl that you were promising to be ten years ago, and I have no doubt that ten years from now you will be those things to the nth power and more. In a fair world you’d be set to conquer, but this is not a fair world. We saw last week that we live in a world – in a country – where extraordinary, brilliant, bloody-minded, fearless girls and women are feared – by men, and by other women. By those that we counted as neighbors, and as friends. We saw that we live among people who would rather see as President an unqualified man preaching hate and fear than a qualified woman preaching compassion and hope. We saw a monster crawl out from under the bed and it’s a monster that is going to stand in the way between you and your dreams. No matter how hard you work for them. No matter how much you deserve them.

So, no. It’s not enough for me to believe in you. It’s not enough for you to believe in you. No amount of belief and faith and confidence and esteem are enough to fight the monster. Even if you – extraordinary, exceptional you – can slip by it unnoticed, climb the ladder, bang your sword against his glass ceiling and see it crack, just a little, just for you – that’s not enough. Not by a long shot. Because the monster will still be there, and there will still be scores upon scores of girls trapped behind it or pulled back by it and although one or two or a few will also slip through and you might tell yourself that maybe, maybe, the monster isn’t that monstrous – you got through, after all! – you cannot let yourself be fooled. As long as the monster is there, there will only ever be a few that get through and that’s just not good enough. Not because the next girl who doesn’t get through might be your daughter, or your daughter’s daughter, but because so long as there are only ever a few, the monster wins and the monster grows larger and the monster continues to cause endless frustration and hurt and prevent girls and women from really, meaningfully chasing their dreams and changing the world.

This, my love, is why it’s not enough for me to fight only for you. This is why my old promise to fight for you needs to become a promise to fight for all girls. Because it is not enough for you to be extraordinary. It is not enough for just you to succeed. One exceptional girl does not change the world. Only an army of brilliant, bloody-minded, fearless girls – and women, and allies – changes the world. We only slay the monster together. We only break his ceiling together. We only break new ground together.

We must fight together. And because we must fight together, my promise to love you and believe in you must become a promise to not fight for you, but with you, and with others.

And so it is. I promise to hold your hand and to help you wield your sword and to fight alongside you in this great, awakening army of a new generation of rebel girls.

Happy birthday, baby. Here’s to victory.