A letter to my daughter

I originally posted this letter as part of Rachel Held Evans’ “Week of Mutuality,” a weeklong discussion of the egalitarian view of gender. This happens to be the view I hold after several years of, well, not seeing it this way. Some of the inspiration for this letter came from Micky DeWitt’s excellent post, “Fathers and Daughters.”  


Dear Elizabeth Lacey,

You are just over 21 months old, and you are overflowing with life. You’re just beginning to assert your independence—which is why your rain boots so often end up on the wrong feet, but heck if you don’t get them on anyway. (It’s also why you currently don’t want to hold my hand when crossing the street, but we’ll talk about that later.)

Your personality is starting to flourish, and can I just say… I love who you’re becoming. From chasing the dog around the living room to enthusiastically greeting everyone who walks by—which, let’s face it, is a trait you probably got from your mother.

You won’t read this letter for several more years, but a day will come when you and I will sit down, pull up this old blog (assuming they haven’t replaced the Internet with something else by then), and read.

For there will come a time, I’m sorry to say, when you’ll meet certain people who will try to steal your sense of boundless opportunity.

They will tell you that some roles in life aren’t for you, simply because you’re a woman. That your gender means you have to take a backseat. That you are forever consigned to be in the audience and not on the stage. Always a follower and never a leader.

They will tell you this is so because God—the same God we read about at bedtime—made it so. They will tell you that God made you inferior, subordinate, second-class.

Oh, not that they’ll use these exact words. (Well, they might use “subordinate.”) Instead, they’ll talk about it in cloaked language like “complementarity” and “submission.” But what they really mean is, your path to God runs through a man.

No matter how much you have to share, no matter how much wisdom and natural leadership God gave you, they will politely insist you can never serve in a position of authority over men. You can never be the one who points others to God because, well, that’s a man’s job.

I wish I didn’t have to prepare you this—and I wish even more that no one would ever try to tell you these things. But I want you to hear it from me before you hear it from them. Because there’s something else you need to know:

They are wrong.

They’re the only ones, not God, insisting on a world where only men can lead.

Pay no attention to them.

Remember, you’re a daughter of Eve, who was created from Adam’s side and not his feet. Eve may have been  Adam’s “helper,” but then all great leaders are those who serve. Besides, the Bible uses the exact same word—helper—to  describe God.

Our faith would not exist if it weren’t for women—noble, brave, strong women like Ruth. Deborah. Huldah. Esther. Mary. Anna. Priscilla. It wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the women who followed Jesus to the end—who showed more faith and courage than Jesus’ male disciples. It wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the women who led house churches and became apostles.

Our faith wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the women who went to the tomb while the disciples hid, who witnessed the resurrection first—and became the first to proclaim the good news. That’s right: women were apostles to the apostles.

So if anyone tries to tell you there are certain things you can’t do because of your gender, don’t listen. The sad truth is, they’ve forgotten God is in the business of overturning manmade hierarchies and power structures. They’ve forgotten that we worship a God who gave away power—who invites us to follow his example.

I’m not going to say you can do anything you want simply because you want to do it. There’s more to it than simple desire. After all, lots of little girls dream of becoming the first female president, but there can only be one.

You see, each of us has different gifts. Each of us is made for different opportunities. Time will tell what your unique gifts and opportunities are.

But know this: your gender does not determine what you’re capable of. There is nothing in this world that’s off-limits to you because you’re a woman. “Male and female” doesn’t count when it comes to membership, service, and leadership in the kingdom of God.

Whatever may come, I will always cheer you on as you embrace your unique gifts.


Dad (otherwise known as “Dada” and, on occasion,”not Mama”)

16 thoughts on “A letter to my daughter

  1. This made me cry, Ben. Beautiful. “They are wrong. Pay no attention to them.” A beautiful affirmation that many women needed to hear from their own fathers. You are doing good work here.


  2. Ben, as a now single father of a little girl not so much older than yours, and as I spend much time worrying how I will bring her up to be strong and independent and Godly, I LOOOOOVE this letter. As I read it and envisioned my own daughter’s potential and the struggles she’ll likely face against people who mean well and those that don’t, I pray for wisdom on how to bring her up to see herself as God created her to be, not as the world would have her see herself.

    And yes, like Sarah, I actually cried reading this. Someone must be cutting onions somewhere nearby…


  3. Beautiful…I ache for my daughters to believe this in their bones. I fight to believe it in my life so they will know. She is so blessed to have a father who knows it, she will do great things.


  4. In elementary school I was so put out by all of the girls who said, “I want to be a third grade (or whatever grade we were in) teacher, just like you!” Well, not me. My intention was to be the president. Thanks for showing more than just your daughter how to dream big!


  5. This is beautiful, thanks for sharing it.
    My dad tried to tell me the same thing when I was younger, but I listened to the wrong people and am just now finding out he was right all along.


  6. Discovered this post through the 29 Things the Poor Really Do post on Huffington. Love this post. I hope I gave this attitude to my daughters. Will be sharing this post and now following your blog.


  7. Pingback: We need feminism because my daughter thinks most TV shows are for boys | Ben Irwin

  8. Pingback: Where are all the women? What my bookshelf says about the lingering effect of patriarchy | Ben Irwin

  9. Ben–Your list of women writers led me to this lovely, thoughtful post. I hope your daughter finds a world much more open to ALL of her gifts as she grows.

    I’ve stolen your book list and saved it to my computer; several of those books are on my shelves, waiting…and my commitment thsi year is to read all those waiting books. Boy, I hate to do this, but may I suggest one more writer? Nora Gallagher’s exploration of her vocation in Things Seen and Unseen was a really moving and enlightening story of a woman who feels called…

    I look forward to your thoughts as you read through your list; I hope you’ll keep us updated.




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