‘When you grow up and start dating, never let anyone put their hands on you,” I told my daughter after seeing a television show about domestic violence. “Never let anyone hit you — you are worth more than gold.”
She looked at me and said, “Mom, I’m only 7.”
As a mother and college professor, I have taken every opportunity to be on the lookout for lessons for my 16-year-old Angel. (That’s her nickname.) I’m not just talking about platitudes such as “girls are as good as boys” at sports or in school. I’m talking about raising an intelligent, strong, self-reliant daughter by attempting to be a living example. I don’t want my daughter to have to rely on anyone for her self-worth — and certainly not a man.
But what do I do when my daughter does something so strong and independent that it makes me uncomfortable?
That’s what happened last month when Angel revealed that she wanted to attend her junior prom with another girl. Not a girlfriend — a girl who is a friend. She proudly informed me of her plans six weeks before the event, saying she didn’t want to wait on a boy to ask her.
My mind was stuck in neutral. I should have affirmed her — saying, perhaps, “Yes, love, you are absolutely right” — but I felt disappointed. I held my tongue, trying not to express what was actually going through my mind: “A girl? Really?”
Though I believe in and teach others about the power of independent women, I still wanted my daughter to attend prom with a boy.
As the day approached, I couldn’t help but wonder whether she and her friend would be the only same-sex couple at prom that did not identify as lesbians. I assumed there would be other same-sex couples at the dance; her high school is largely accepting of gay students.
Over the past two years, Angel has often complained that boys are full of themselves or don’t seem to understand girls. As a woman who’s made clear what girls can do on their own, I should have been elated by her decision.
So why wasn’t I? Because I had to delay the speech I’d written years ago to the young man she would attend prom with — “Young man, you must treat her with respect, keep your hands to yourself and bring her home by midnight”? Or was it because, for all my feminist ideals, I still wanted to see a boy arrive nervously at the door and pin a corsage on Angel’s dress, walking out of the house arm-in-arm with my daughter?
I think it’s the latter. Perhaps in all the talking I’ve done over the years about not depending on a man, I’ve been trying to convince myself of something I don’t completely believe.
The day after prom, Angel shared the details of the event. She thought the DJ was “horrible” and the venue nice, but way too small, and she talked about how most of the other girls wore long dresses. She also said, “Mom, next year I want to go to the prom with a boy.” I want to say I had a feminist epiphany and, free of the clutches of the patriarchy, told her she could attend prom with whomever she wanted, male or female. But I can’t.
Without a doubt, I was ecstatic to hear those words. Next year, I can see Angel walk out of the door on the way to prom, holding hands with a boy. I can give my speech. I can see my daughter live out a tradition. And I can watch her put into practice all of the lessons I’ve taught her over the years.
Maybe Angel is a better feminist than Mom.Terri M. Adams is an associate professor of criminology and gender studies at Howard University. She wrote this for the Washington Post.