For My Daughter on Women's Day

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(Okay, so I’m a day late, but my head hurt so badly yesterday that I couldn’t look at a screen.)

I was afraid to have a girl until I picked out her name.

That might be strange to say, but it’s true. I’d been a “boy mom” (whatever that is) for five years, and the idea of a daughter was equal parts wonderful and abstract. I joked that I wouldn’t know what to do with a girl—I’d just treat her like I did her brother and hope for the best.

But there was some truth to that tongue in cheek quip. I know firsthand that the world is not the same place for women that it is for men—we begin drawing arbitrary, often hurtful distinctions between girls and boys before they’ve even exited the womb, and I feared that for my daughter, in a way.

We didn’t find out we were having a girl until the end of July, but I knew it deep in my gut the week before the ultrasound. I knew it because I found the name Jemma, and it fit with the kind of rightness that soothed all of my fears.

I don’t usually have much time to binge watch, but binge watching is how Jemma got her name. Up until June of last year, I not only worked full time, but I was also putting myself through grad school, coordinating 10-20 hours of therapy per week for Declan, and freelancing when I could. When I resigned my position to student teach, I intentionally left myself a month or so of breathing room. During one of Declan’s ABA sessions, I put on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D (that’s seriously a pain in the ass to type), and I knew almost immediately that the child in my belly was a girl, and it didn’t scare me because I knew her name.

Jemma Simmons is one of several strong female characters on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She is equal parts kind and brave—she is logical, intelligent, and a brilliant scientist. I learned at an early age to pretend to be less intelligent than I am. I learned that offering up my opinions in class made me a know-it-all—that I surprised people by being logical. That girls today can rally behind pop culture portrayals of women as smart and strong—of women with agency and autonomy—moves me deeply. Watching Jemma Simmons nonchalantly embody the traits I was discouraged from in girlhood inspired hope for my daughter—for my Jemma.

Darling girl of mine, you are so small, still, but we are carving out enough room for you to grow as big as you want to be. Happy Women’s Day, Jemma Jane.