By Monika Johnson Hostler, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault
See the Triumph Guest Blogger
I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was a beautiful May morning, the day the doctor would confirm it was a girl. The moment I knew I was pregnant I also knew it was a girl. When the doctor confirmed it, one tear slipped from the corner of my eye.
I knew that single tear held multiple emotions. I felt sheer joy and elation to be able to give what my mother gave me: the power to be an individual, a strong women. I also realized I was going to give birth to a daughter in a violent world. A world that is not only violent, but silently accepts the violence.
However in the same 60 seconds I also realized I had spent the last ten years dedicated to ending violence again women, girls and our most vulnerable. So yes, I was capable of raising a daughter, and yes, she too could survive and thrive because I still have hope. Hope that we are laying the foundation, building the infrastructure needed for a world of peace, love, and all that good stuff.
As it turns out that was the first of many moments of conflicting emotions about my role as a parent and as a womanist and they still persist today, nine years later. The internal conflict begin as we thought about names, bought clothes, chose paint, you know all the stuff most new parents enjoy. Now, I am not saying I didn't enjoy it, but I am saying doing this work makes most of us hypervigilant about everything.
This experience was sobering in so many ways because all the research I had touted about raising girls and boys with equity and equality included ideologies like: use neutral colors, neutral language and let them choose their own path. That went out the window the first time I saw an adorable pink, ruffled dress that my princess had to have. To most people, this doesn't seem strange but my sisters in the work will understand that pink and blue are gender-prescriptive stereotypes that contribute to beliefs that girls are less than boys and perpetuate violence against girls. I bought the dress and many more like it, but not without the struggle.
In the months to follow that I spent on bed rest, I didn't read any parenting books. Instead, I spent the time in my head. I needed to reconcile what was going on for me, as an advocate who was soon to be a mother. I concluded that as humans, we are complex and multidimensional and can hold many ideologies and beliefs. Being rigid in my beliefs worked when I was only responsible for myself but parenting made it clear to me that I would learn to be flexible. I also recognized there are many roads that lead to ending violence against women and children; not all roads are one-way. The pink dresses were not a one-way road to condoning violence.
Eight and a half years later, I can see the self-evaluation and reconciliation were worth it. I am still a strong passionate advocate that believe we will end violence against women and children. Most importantly, I remember the key is prevention, and that means investing in children. Violence prevention is about culture and norm changes. Making sure ALL children are safe, healthy and loved is an investment in a future without violence.
The moral of the story isn't about my daughter being a princess in pink, but it is about the reality of being a parent. Parenting is challenging and requires constant self-assessment. I still don't have an answer on how we raise children in a world full of messages that perpetuate patriarchy and violence. But, below are a few things that help me in holding both roles while maintaining my sanity.
I can only hope that my daughter will see my decisions as an investment and that she too will be a change agent. Parenting and ending violence against women and children is everyone's responsibility and it begins with PINK: Protecting, Investing and Nurturing ALL Kids.
About the Author: Monika Johnson-Hostler is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Prior to coming to NCCASA, Monika worked at the local rape crisis center in Scotland County as the Crisis Intervention Coordinator. Monika has been an activist in the social justice movement for over 15 years. In that time, she has presented on the issue of sexual violence to numerous communities including the Joint Task for the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Military Academy subcommittee. Johnson-Hostler serves as the board chair of the National Alliance Ending Sexual Violence (NAESV), one of the policy entities responsible for the passing of the Violence Against Women Act and securing over $420 million for violence against women work across the country. Monika was appointed by the Obama administration to serve on the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women.