Jenn Mcleod, a fellow Simon & Schuster author, recently invited me to participate in a letter writing series she is publishing on her website,www.jennjmcleod.com. Here’s the letter I wrote to my seven-year-old self. It’s not what I thought I would write, but I’ve often wished I could go back and have this conversation with a younger version of myself.
Recently, you announced to your bewildered mother, “Mum, I’m never going to walk behind any man. I’ll walk beside him, or in front of him, but never behind him. No woman should ever have to walk behind a man.”
Those aren’t words anyone expects to hear from a shy and diminutive seven-year-old. Especially one growing up in a two-parent heterosexual household where both parents have assumed traditional gender roles: Dad working full-time and earning most of the family’s income; Mum working part-time and taking care of all the cooking, cleaning and child-rearing. All the other grown-ups you know have similar lives to your parents, and no-one seems concerned about it other than women making the odd joke about how men can’t use a washing machine, or groaning about how much praise their husbands demand for cooking sausages on a barbecue.
So where did this feminist proclamation come from, and what does it mean?
You, my dear, have an inherent sense of self-worth that will never be tied to a man. Even as a seven-year-old you can sense the compromise that many women make when they decide to become a wife and a mother, and you don’t want that for yourself. Some people will tell you that this attitude is selfish, and perhaps they’re right, but always remember that it’s okay to live a life that is different to most of the people around you.
The reason I’m telling you this is because you’re not always going to feel confident that you’ve made the right decisions. By the time you reach thirty it will feel like everyone around you is engaged, married or pregnant. Sometimes they’ll treat you with pity or suspicion because you’re still single; sometimes that will upset you and you’ll wonder if you should want what they have. Don’t let it bother you, because there are exciting things in store for you, too. But they don’t wear onesies and idolise the Wiggles. Your babies are small and rectangular, with about 400 pages, and they make you feel happier and more fulfilled than you ever thought possible.
You’re on the right track – keep questioning things, keep reading, and be brave enough to become the person you’re meant to be.
With love and admiration,
Your 34-year-old self