“I promise that I will always protect and defend you from any and all aggressors.”* – Father to Daughter
*Unless of course that aggressor happens to be male and I agree that he should use aggression to set you straight. But you don’t need to know this right now because the only time you’ll need to know this is when you need to be set straight. Fortunately for you, I’ve raised the perfect submissive daughter so your aggressor will never have to become your aggressor. Thus the promise remains.
It’s funny how promises work. They’re always offered as a perfect olive branch to any and all problems no matter the size or the gravity of the problem. Unfortunately, no one ever really stops to analyze the undertones of a promise because they’re usually too vulnerable to accept anything other than a flimsy promise.
I learned early in my life that a promise’s worth is dependent solely on the value that the granter of the promise is willing to extend upon that promise. For this reason, I promised myself – funny how these things work – that I would never, ever make any promises to anyone. Why? Because the way I saw it, if I had the time to shroud my actions in a promise then surely I could use that time to simply act on my promise; and if I didn’t want to do something I’d simply say no and avoid the trouble of breaking my promise at a later time. Quite frankly the whole process saves everyone time, embarrassment, and pain.
Most people don’t understand this and they definitely don’t understand my refusal to utter the despicable phrase “I promise.” It’s not about standing on higher moral ground, or about proving a point and making a political, feminist statement. It’s nothing more than a choice about how I engage with others – it’s similar to decision to avoid certain foods. Avoidance doesn’t make you better than others; it simply means that you refrain from eating things that others have no problem eating.
Despite my strong resolve to avoid making promises, and my belief that I can spot a faulty promise from miles away, the fact of the matter is that I am no less vulnerable to promises than you or anyone else. That truth became blatantly obvious the day I discovered that the one person who had promised to protect me from all evil, was the same person who was willing to offer me as a sacrifice to the greatest evil of all: men. I walked this earth for years untold with the false security that my father would stop any blow and injury from reaching me for the sake of giving his daughter an opportunity to thrive in an artificially safe world. No one can hurt you unless you give them that power; and if you do, and they do, I will be there to protect you. I guess I gave him the power that he warned me so much about.
The signs of this holey promise became evident the first time he accused me of being at fault for my brother’s actions. We were children but even then I knew that I was not responsible for my brother’s actions. Later my transgressions became more flagrant and thus more condemnable because the best punishment he could conjure was banning me from engaging with boys; not because he didn’t trust them but because he didn’t trust me. How silly of me to forget that I was not a boy. The most hurtful blow came the day he angrily spat that feminism was an abomination dreamt up by the stupid women who could not see their place in the world. I believe in gender equality; does that then make me one of the stupid women who do not know their place in this world? For him it did, but I clung to my childish belief that perhaps I was the exception, the asterisk, to his wounding words.
Despite the nagging voice in the back of my mind that begged and pleaded with me to see this promise for what it was, I ignored it. I ignored it not because I was incapable of analyzing the fine print; but because I already knew the answer and did not have the strength to face the truth head on. Of course, Fate never allows us such easy escapes so it wasn’t long before the full potency of his promise came to light.
That day came when he barred my sister from his home for the rest of her time. How could he do that when he had raised us with the ingrained belief that family was always our safe haven no matter how much we deviated from our path? Although it wasn’t I who was barred, I felt the blow deeply and unerringly in the center of my soul. By barring her, he was barring us by extension. Not us as a collective, but us as in the daughters who did not obey his patriarchy. What would that mean for us if we decided to leave his kingdom unwed in order to claim our independence as educated, self-sufficient women? Unsurprisingly that answer came much too quickly.
It wasn’t long before my sister called us to tell us that her partner had pushed her around and locked her out of their apartment. This wasn’t the first time; it was simply the first time she genuinely feared for her safety. Not surprisingly she came home, and not surprisingly, that home was barred. At least he’s accomplishing what I couldn’t do when you were home. He’s taming you.
Pardon? Are we wild horses that must be tamed with crops and whips? My mother didn’t think so. I didn’t think so. And even though my brother claimed that he didn’t think so either, he still failed to stand up for her. Why? Because he knows his place in this world. He knows that a man cannot defend an errant woman especially when that errant woman was taught early on the path she must follow in order to become the perfect, meek, submissive queen of her patriarch’s domain. The perfect woman.
In a rare display of glorious rage, my mother stood up against my father and banned him from barring her daughter. Their daughter, but more so hers because she was a girl and not a boy – boys belong to a father before ever belonging to their mother. Sadly my sister was not there to witness this battle – because war it was not – because she had already retreated to her cave. What’s worse is that no matter how many times we tell her that she is worth more than what these men give her credit for, all she ever heard and will continue to hear, is that she’s the asterisk to that phantom promise. She, who should be commended for her bravery in exploring unchartered land, will be forever punished for her bravery for no other reason than her bravery is not a quality meant to be fostered in women who are raised as obedient, submissive daughters ready to take on the responsibilities of an obedient, submissive wife.
— — —
“The Asterisk” by Azul Serena