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4 Things I want my daughter to know about being ‘feminist’



Jola Szymanska - published on 04/03/17

And they have nothing to do with faith.

One night, I had a dream: A dream which effectively exposed the previously hidden corners of my totally stereotypical Catholic imagination. But it wasn’t the typical kind of dream full of hopes and wants. It was a personal nightmare. Because in that dream, I was an unmarried mother. And it felt so completely real.

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The plot of the dream all happened on a raft on the water, floating in the large company of friends and family. Everyone on board all seemed to be aware of the situation, except for me. Suddenly a girl, about 10 years old, let me know that I meant nothing to her. She had auburn hair, and she was my daughter.

Fortunately and unfortunately, it was only a dream. But aside from the fact that it made me realize my strange fears and the ticking of my biological clock, it allowed me for the first time to put myself in the role of the older and wiser in the mom-daughter duo.

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I let the fantasy, or rather memories, take me away. I remembered going to the hairdresser with my mom in 5th grade, and asking for a cut “like mom.” I remembered a particular Vogue-style fashion magazine with a glossy cover, sky-high clothing prices and snippets of information about the latest exclusive parties. I also remember my first coffee outing, which mom invited me to one Sunday during my high school years. She always had coffee after church. I preferred to read books, or I had to practice an instrument (had to, for music school), but since that day, I always did it while enjoying a small cup of black coffee. And who can forget The Gilmore Girls, which was always on TV alongside shows like Ally McBeal? Who can tell today which of those two had a greater impact on me?

giphy (34)

And then I began to feel sad that I am not an unmarried mother. After that, I thought that I very, very much want to pass on to my daughter a few things that taught me to enjoy being a woman, even though they seem totally independent of faith.

1. Don’t read poorly written books

Of course, everyone has their own preferences. But beyond the list of the spiritual must-reads, you shouldn’t be guided by the set of values presented by an author. A much better indication of a worthy book is quality—of the language, the syntax, and the plot. After all, reading of Gone Girl does not interfere with the reading of the Scriptures and reciting the Rosary.

Therefore, if my daughter comes to me asking for suggestions, I will suggest to her Zadie Smith and Virgina Woolf, because if you are going to read, you should only read the best of the best. 

giphy (35)

2. Girly means awesome

As a teen, I spent several years reading political journals. Instead of titles like Vogue and Allure, at 15 years old I bought Wprost, a Polish sociopolitical weekly magazine, and also a popular Catholic weekly. Unbelievable.

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Don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with any of these women’s fashion and lifestyle publications. I respect their work. But I would be proud if my daughter looked through Vogue knowing that it is not any less ambitious than reading political texts.

“You could be like me,” I would say to my daughter. “But you could also discover that brocade and tulle guarantee good fun long before I did. And that will not be any worse because girly means great. But girly also means yours, and it doesn’t have to be pastel.”

3. Don’t focus on modesty

I know that for more religious people this won’t sound so good, but I am afraid of the word modesty. I have heard it in the wrong context too many times. It’s still often distorted. I would like my daughter to respect other people and to know that she is just as—no more and no less—valuable as anyone else because we are all equal.

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But I don’t want her to ever discover that she shouldn’t say something, or shouldn’t try more than someone else because that is not modest and there is not enough humility in such behavior.

I would rather she hear: “Do what you want and remember that every goal is achievable. All you need is to work hard, be consistent, and sometimes be stubborn and self-reliant. Don’t talk about yourself too much and use the fact that you prefer to be in the shadow. Leave the treasures to really important people. Be patient and speak loudly about what is important to you.”

4. Don’t be confused about the definition of feminism

I read an article recently about the metamorphosis of Alicia Keys. It begins with a quote: “Any girl who is not a feminist is just crazy.” A few days later, Molly Daley, who promotes natural family planning methods, spoke with For Her (that conversation is available here). Maybe I’m all mixed up, but as far as I’m concerned, they both talk about the same thing: self-respect, self-esteem, and about enjoying who and what you are.


Call it what you will, but that is what feminism means to me. Inner independence, personal responsibility for the risks you take, and a conscious choice of your path. For Christians, Jesus will be the source of everything; for atheists, it’s the belief in themselves that will guide them. Each one breaks different molds.

I hope that my “someday” daughter will one day be strong enough to be herself, on her own, not by elevating herself, and not needing flattery; that she will do what makes her happy guided by what is most important. And I hope that she dreams.

After all, you never know where a single surprising dream will take you.

This article was originally published in the Polish edition of Aleteia.

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