Letter to My Daughter

Editor's Note: Underneath the greeting card/flowery industry hype of Mothers' Day and the media buzz about the "mommy wars," is a real conversation between mothers and daughters about what it means to be a a woman, a feminist, and a mother. Here, Jere Martin and her daughter, Courtney, tell each other what drives them crazy and what they most admire about the other.

You say words such as "cheesy," "hooker boots," and "like" too often. You own polyester tops and plaid skirts exactly like the ones I rejected in the late '50s as totally uncool. You drink "40's," email obsessively and love your writers' group. You roll your eyes at me a lot, a whole lot, especially when I nod to the beat of the latest rap song on the radio but don't realize that the words are misogynistic or violent.

Similarly, I love the beat of your feminism, your generation's spunk and confidence, but I don't always understand the message. It seems vague and undefined. It trickles out in bits and pieces instead of bursting out in decisive shouts like ours did. Sometimes I wonder if you get the bigger picture of how the power structure in this country (mostly older, white and male) is still gridlocked, letting only the few token women actually come to the table no matter what their education or experience.

But I do believe that we need more women leaders, and I think they'll make different decisions that I expect might serve us better. They'll change the conversation, maybe not in the beginning, but definitely once there's a critical mass of a variety of women of different colors, ages, experiences and beliefs. Men and women are different in ways crucial to the way that businesses are run and social infrastructure is put into place. I think women will govern in a more collaborative way and take the effects of their decisions on women and children more into account than men do presently. Perhaps when men have had years of experience with hands-on parenting, more permission to experience their own feelings and a chance to expand their focus beyond the quickest way to get up the corporate ladder, then I'll revise my assessment, and these differences won't exist in quite the same way if they exist at all.

My generation of feminists loves thinking big picture, because we were forced to focus on minutia for so much of our lives. We wanted the next generation to expect vast equality and opportunity. I appreciate your Mother's Day thank you, but honestly, it was my pleasure watching you play basketball and observing that you demanded to be heard and paid fairly (well, as fairly as writers and teachers can expect in 2006). In some ways, it actually gives me joy that you take the right to choose for granted. It is the water you have swum in. Notwithstanding the epidemic of eating disorders and egregious focus on looks, I think your generation is more in control over your own bodies than any before it. I just hope you can mobilize one another to protect that power.

I have always wanted you to have choices. I wanted you to be able to be yourself in the world without dumbing down, settling for less or being afraid speak your mind. I tried to be a model, but I have to admit that sometimes I talked a good game without playing it particularly well. I did most of the management of the household and relationships with extended family, and cut down on my paid work to handle the majority of parenting, despite the promises my husband and I made each other when we got engaged at 19. Although I was pretty good about speaking my truth, I often quietly gave in so no one would suffer my "selfishness."

Some things take time. I was born in the Midwest to traditional, Episcopalian parents, so being "nice" and a "good wife and mother" are part of the blood that runs through my veins. Let's appreciate each other's gains and struggles. I am proud of my continuing work to resist the "nice and good" lessons of my upbringing. I love that these requirements seem to have been bred out of you. I love it that you're sassy, empowered and outspoken. I love that you do a better job of addressing class and race in the mix than we did, and the way you've taken networking to a whole new level with blogs and organizing online.

I don't want you to be superhuman. No wise second-waver does. Instead, our dream is that you each have the opportunity to be happy in the fullest expression of your true nature. There's still a lot of work to be done in order to support you, to support women less privileged than you to realize that dream.

I'm just not sure I understand how you are organized as a group to fight on the issues still before you, and I do think you're going to have to fight and fight harder. No one is going to just hand you anything just because it's fair. That's not the way power operates.

But we can all lighten up and have more fun along the way. It feels like the older I get the less serious I feel I have to be. I'm having a lot of fun in my 50s as the mother of a grown-up daughter and as my own grown-up, independent, feminist self. I can't wait to see how much fun I'll have as a grandmother.

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