After Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won (not on election night but a few days later, when it seemed clear that the victory was real) my oldest daughter, now a teenager, emerged from her bedroom and started to dance wildly in our living room, without music even, legs kicking high, arms swirling, dancing as if she didn’t care who saw her joy and freedom.
This from the same girl who breathed a sigh of relief when her school went remote in March, because she did not have to be seen anymore. She could turn off her camera. She could wear pajamas. No one would see a breakout of acne and make meaning of the messages in her hormones. Hidden alone in her bedroom, my daughter could be anything she wanted.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the expression “I feel seen.” People use it to mean something positive — “I feel understood.” But for a teenage girl, in this climate, being seen can be traumatic. We’ve made what is visible into what is valuable.
Ms. Fleites says that she once believed that she was “not worth anything anymore because everybody has already seen my body.” I want to tell her, I want to tell my daughters, that the value in their bodies has nothing to do with being seen. The value in their bodies is in how they will use their legs and lungs to carry them out into the world, and their hearts and brains to think and feel.
Vice President Harris matters so much. How, America, did it take us more than two centuries to lift a woman up into the executive branch? In the book “Sisters in Spirit,” Sally Roesch Wagner wrote that the suffragists “believed women’s liberation was possible because they knew liberated women, women who possessed rights beyond their wildest imagination: Haudenosaunee women.” The women of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy lived in a matrilineal society. They nominated and removed their chiefs. Matriarchy is in the history of this land.
When my daughter’s dance was done, she said, “Mom, we can hang the flag again!” We live very rurally, and of late, the flag here has been used as a battering ram. Young men purchase huge flags and affix them to the back of their trucks, arguably in violation of the U.S. Flag Code, yet these young men consider themselves patriots. They race their trucks right up onto the bumpers of other cars, as if they might drive over other Americans. While it might be youthful exuberance and love of country that compels them, it’s menacing for the rest of us.
After my daughter’s dance, I looked for our flag. I know how to love something that is imperfect. I love teenage girls, and I love America, but I’m done with the word “patriot.” It’s time for America to make room for her matriots, a word my spell-checker tells me doesn’t even exist. We tell schoolchildren that our flag was made by a woman, a matriot. While I’m not there yet, I’m trying to look at it and imagine a motherland.