“Be brave, be fearless”: an open letter to my daughter as Donald Trump becomes President

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Ask A Feminist is our regular column tackling issues on sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st century context. Here, New Statesman writer, Sarah Ditum, writes an open letter to her daughter, as Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States.

Dear girl,

You are ten. When Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination and said “one of you is next”, she was speaking to you.

Not, of course, that you were literally on your way to becoming President of the USA – but her victory spoke of possibility for girls and women everywhere. When the ruling party of the biggest democracy in the world selects a female candidate as its presidential candidate, it matters. When that candidate is the woman who said “women’s rights are human rights”, it really matters.

Between late July and last night, we lived in a swallow-flight moment of hope. It was beautiful as it darted through the sky, and it is gone. Back in the summer, you teased me about this election: “Mummy, Hillary Clinton’s not going to win, is she? Because no one you like ever wins, do they?” And you made me laugh, which felt like a rare thing in that grim summer after Jo Cox was murdered and the UK voted to leave the EU.

But you were right, too. I felt it then, and I know it now: the things that I think make sense about the world, the faith in a bedrock of fairness and generosity that I have built into my calculations so far, do not seem to be there.

It’s not fair to see the election of Trump as a damning comment on humans generally or even on America: it was a very close vote, and an awful lot of people didn’t support him. But too many people did.

There will be a lot of discussion about why they did. Certainly, he engaged voters who previously felt ignored, and many commentators will tell us we need to “understand” or “reach out” to that angry white mass.

Between late July and last night, we lived in a swallow-flight moment of hope.

There will be a lot of encouragement to avoid calling them racist. Well, they voted for a racist candidate. They heard Trump say he was going to build his “beautiful wall” to keep out Mexicans, and ban Muslims, and saw him tweet anti-Semitic memes, and they chose him.

If there is to be hope in politics, the Democrats must give those same people something to vote with other than their racism. The same must happen here, too: there are better answers to fear than hate. Still, this time they did vote with their racism. And they voted with their sexism too, which is what will hurt the most for me when I have to explain this to you.

I hope that you will always remember Clinton, in her suffragette-white suit, accepting the nomination she deserved so much.

I hope you will remember how hard she fought this, and how she absorbed blow after blow without a flicker ever crossing her face, without ever forgetting the work that she was there to do.

As Leslie Knope said of her in Parks and Recreation, which I might never be able to watch with you again: “She’s the strongest, smartest punching bag in the world.” That’s a skill that you will need to learn. It shouldn’t be, but it is.

Because the world wasn’t ready for Clinton.

Her vast, impressive experience didn’t matter. Her detailed, principled policy slate didn’t matter. Her absolute commitment to fighting injustice, right back to the 1970s when she went door-to-door to collect stories about school discrimination against children with disabilities, didn’t matter. None of this was enough, and looking back, I should have known it wouldn’t be when the Democrats came so close to choosing Sanders.

One of the more unpleasant phrases of this election was “voting with their vaginas” – as in, women were told they shouldn’t do this. It implied there was something indecent about us going for one of our own, even though men, of course, have been voting with their penises for as long as voting has been a thing.

An accident of chromosomes has put you on the girls team, daughter, and it’s OK to put your team first when history has been putting you down for as long as we have records.

We’ll need that team now more than ever, because Trump isn’t just any politician with a penis. He’s the one who bragged about “grabbing women by the pussy”, and the one whose ex-wife accused him of rape. He’s the one who said women who have abortions should be punished, and he’s the one who called for his female opponent to be imprisoned and even assassinated.

It’s OK to put your team first when history has been putting you down for so long

He called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman”, and I thought it was a slur we could reclaim. Nasty and proud. But all the women who made the name a badge of honour couldn’t take away the hate that it expressed.

There is hate for women, and women in America are going to have to confront this head-on: whoever Trump choses for the Supreme Court can only mean terrible things. You don’t have to live with that, at least. You only have to watch it happening to millions of people who share with you that one fundamental fact of femaleness.

I’ve told you to learn to take punches. But you – me, we, all of us – need to learn to fight too.

This is a time to be brave. It’s a time to be angry. It’s a time to be fearless, because the one thing hate cannot survive is fearlessness.

Do not allow terror to govern you. Never forget that women’s rights are human rights, and you and every other girl deserve your share. I was with Clinton when she campaigned, and am with her in defeat, because her team is your team and I never will give up on that.

With all my love from

your mum,