I told my daughter she can do anything. She didn’t believe me.

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Tonight before bed, my 6-year-old daughter was telling me about a boys-vs-girls competition at school today, which the girls won. I responded by saying, “Yay, girls rule!”

She cheerfully joined in at first, but then she stopped. Her expression grew more serious, and she said, “But not now, because Donald Trump rules.”

I told her Donald Trump doesn’t rule over everything, and he certainly doesn’t rule over her, and that someday a girl WILL be president.

She didn’t believe me.

She looked at me with an expression I have never seen from her before: a lack of faith.

I’m sure it can change. I’ll do everything I can to see that it does. I hope it’s enough. But right now, my daughter doesn’t believe girls rule. She doesn’t believe a girl can be president. She doesn’t believe women can do anything.

I told her there is nothing a boy can do that a girl can’t.

But she didn’t believe me.

To be clear: we haven’t talked about the election since I first broke the news to her that Donald Trump won. Our family has carried on as we normally do. And most of the time, my daughter is her same, normal, free-spirited self.

But it is there—the pain of being told that girls don’t measure up. That girls are second-class, less than, subordinate. And not just because of Tuesday’s election. I wish that’s all it were. But really, that’s just the latest thing.

My daughter is only six years old, and she’s already been told by the world around her that there are some things she can’t do, simply because she’s a girl. That she must take a backseat to the boys in her world.

This seed was planted long before a p*ssy-grabbing misogynist named Donald Trump received 60 million votes. But the lie dug itself a little deeper into my daughter’s heart this week, and it kills me.

So I did the only thing I could think of. I told her that I believe in her. That I am for her. That I will always be on her side. And that I think she’d make a wonderful president someday.

I’m with her.

Image: Charlotte Cooper / CC BY 2.0

What I told my daughter the morning after election night

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Yesterday I took my daughter with me to vote. She held my hand as we colored the circle by Hillary Clinton’s name together. As bedtime approached, I promised to wake her up so she could watch if Clinton won.

This morning I got out of bed at 5:30 and wondered what on earth I would say to her when she woke up.

She came downstairs a couple hours later. We told her about the election results; then we all stared blankly at the TV for a bit. (Cartoons, not the news. Anything but the news.) As we went back upstairs to get ready for school, I told her, “I’m sorry Hillary didn’t win.”

Then I asked if she understood what this meant. She said just two words.

“Bully president.”

I asked if she knew what else it meant that Trump had won, and she said, “He’s going to destroy the world?”

I didn’t know what to say.

To the best of my knowledge, she didn’t hear this kind of thing from my wife or me. Either she picked it up somewhere else, or she came to it entirely on her own.  Either way, my 6-year-old is now afraid for the future of the world.

Thanks for that, America.

I didn’t have the heart to tell my daughter that Clinton appears to have won the popular vote by a narrow margin, but that we have this inane, anachronistic system called the Electoral College which has thwarted democracy now for the second time in a still-young century.

I can only expose my daughter to one cruel, absurd injustice at a time.

So instead, we sat down on her bed, and I tried to explain how not everyone who voted for Trump is a bully or a racist. How some people voted for him because they were scared or angry about the way they thought the country was going.

But because Donald Trump bullies women, minorities, gays, and immigrants—there are some people now, I told her, who will think it’s OK for them to do the same. And that’s why it’s more important than ever for us to stand up to bullies, to stand up for those who are being bullied, to speak out when we see someone being mistreated.

I told her that Donald Trump has a lot of power now—a lot more than I’d ever want a man like him to have. But he doesn’t have absolute power. We still have the power to choose how we respond.

I said this partly to encourage her, partly in the hopes of convincing myself.

Then I held her, while wondering out how the hell to get on with pretending this is an ordinary day. Normally at this point, I’d be getting her school uniform ready while coaxing her out of bed. Today, I couldn’t move.

After a few moments of just sitting together, holding onto each other, she quietly got up, went to her closet, and picked out her uniform.

Our country is not worthy of her.

What I learned about male privilege the night I talked to my daughter about the election

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I thought I was prepared the other night, when I talked to my first-grade daughter about this year’s presidential election.

I was ready for her questions about Donald Trump—“the mean one,” as she describes him. At just six years old, she’s already discerned what has somehow eluded 40-45 percent of the American electorate: Donald Trump is a bully.

I was ready to talk about Hillary Clinton—how, if elected, she will be the first woman to serve as our president. “Yeah, yeah! Go girls!” my daughter shouted at one point in our conversation.

I was prepared to talk about what a big deal this year’s election is. I was prepared to talk about shattering the glass ceiling—because even at six years old, my daughter has already encountered the twisted, perverse notion that there are some things girls cannot do, simply because they are girls.

But I wasn’t prepared for her reaction when she asked me who I was going to vote for. I wasn’t prepared for the apprehension in her voice. I wasn’t prepared for the relief that swept across her face when I told her that, yes, I was going to vote for a woman to be our next president.

It was as if the world had already planted in her heart the idea that boys will only ever vote for boys.

I wonder where on earth she got that idea.

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I wasn’t ready for it to come up again later that evening, as we were saying goodnight. Still not fully convinced, she asked me, “Daddy, have you ever voted for a girl before?”

Thanks in part to Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan, I at least had a decent answer to my daughter’s question.

But I still wasn’t ready for what she was about to teach me.

Next, my daughter asked what it means to be president or governor—what it means to be “in charge” of an entire country or state. (As far as bedtime stalling questions go, that was a pretty good one.)

So I began to explain, using the best 6-year-old language I could think of. And without even realizing it—without meaning to—I defaulted to masculine language.

He decides what laws will be passed.

He makes sure we have good roads and schools and things like that.

He works with the leaders of other countries, to make sure we get along.

It didn’t go unnoticed. After a few seconds, my daughter corrected me:

“Or SHE, daddy.”

(For those of you who think so-called “generic masculine” language is harmless.)

There it was. My white male privilege, on full display in front of my beloved 6-year-old daughter.

I believe the term is “busted.”

Me, a supposedly enlightened “progressive.”

Me, using language that centered myself and my gender. Language that automatically assumes people in power will look exactly like I do.

My daughter noticed. And it spoke volumes to her.

White male privilege is insidious.

This sort of language—the language I used with my daughter the other night—is an essential part of how we’ve kept marginalized groups—women, blacks, the LGBTQ community—from gaining more than a few token seats at the table, if that.

If I say “he” every time I talk about our elected officials, my daughter will grow up believing leadership is a masculine trait.

If she doesn’t see women leading our churches, running our businesses, serving in the highest offices—in other words, women being “assertive” and “ambitious” and all the other things women are told they aren’t supposed to be—then nothing, NOTHING, will ever change.

To put it another way, one female president isn’t nearly enough. Our job isn’t even close to being done until the day when there is nothing remarkable about women, people of color, or members of the LGBTQ community serving as commander-in-chief. Or running a business. Or standing in a pulpit.

Why have we made so little progress advancing the cause of women and other marginalized groups? Maybe it’s because people like me are clinging to a narrative that keeps us at the center.

When I cast my ballot tomorrow, I will take one small step toward changing that. But it won’t be the last.

Top image: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0