Yesterday I saw Toy Story 4 with my daughter. Toward the end of the movie, a scene occurs that made me stop and catch my breath. In the scene, a group of toys encounter a little girl, lost at a carnival, crying, because she is separated from her parents. The toys decide to comfort the girl, and help her, in whatever way they can, to be reunited with her parents. The reason the scene felt so meaningful to me: in the overwhelmingly white world of the Toy Story universe, the lost little girl, terrified and separated from her parents, was a child of color.
I thought about the photo of Valeria Martínez Ramírez and her father Oscar, lying dead on the banks of the Rio Grande, after they drowned in the river while trying to get to the United States. I thought of all the children separated from their parents by the present administration. The ugly, careless, nastiness of the policy. A policy designed to communicate to Trump’s base that he is serious about doing something to stem the flow of Latinx immigrants into the U.S. I thought about the reports of poor conditions in the detention centers holding these children, the inadequacies of their meals, the lack of clean clothing, the concrete floors they sleep on, clutching BoPet blankets. I thought about their vulnerability to sexual violence. I thought about their constant terror. I thought about how, whatever we do from this point forward, their lives will be darkened by this trauma.
I thought about the corporations profiting from this. I thought about Trump voters cheering these policies.
I thought about Little Eva in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, saved from death in a river by Uncle Tom. I thought about all of the times images of little girls in peril have pricked our consciences. The photo of Kim Phuc, terrified and in terrible pain after a Napalm attack in Vietnam. The photos of Bana Alabed, the little girl from Aleppo who penned an open letter to the President to try to squeeze a drop of sympathy for Syrian refugees from Trump. I thought about Alan Kurdi, the 3 year old Syrian refugee who drowned while trying to reach Greece. Alan was a little boy, of course, but the image of his tiny body is often misremembered as a photo of a small girl.
I thought about how, after decades of horror in the shadow of failed states, our sense of Africa’s suffering was given form by Boko Haram’s kidnapping of young girls in the Nigerian town of Chibok. I thought about Hadiya Pendelton, the teenage girl whose death put a face on the toll of gun violence in Chicago.
I thought about Anne Frank, whose diary is the way millions of children around the world are first introduced to the incomprehensible horror of the Holocaust.
I thought about how our deeply anchored impulse to protect little girls is the surest path to our conscience and revulsion when terrible things happen. This impulse, so hard-wired in most of us, it seems, means we raise our hands to volunteer and to donate to help at-risk populations, even when those populations don’t look like us, or are thousands of miles away.
Of course, Donald Trump isn’t wired that way. He has, famously, bragged about how lucky he is to have owned teen beauty pageants, allowing him access to backstage dressing rooms where he could peep at teenage girls in various stages of undress.
And I thought about my own daughter. And how deeply, deeply I love her. When she was born, many people said: “It’s so nice she’ll have a big brother to watch out for her.” My response, then (and now) was this: “I don’t want her to live in a world where her brother has to watch out for her.” And: “I want her to be brave and confident and self-reliant. I want her to be able to take care of herself.”
And I think she can. But I forget that sometimes. My daughter has short hair and wears boys’ clothes. And sometimes someone will hassle her when she uses a public bathroom. I want to grab those people and scream at them. Rage at their ignorance and small-mindedness. But I don’t. She needs to navigate through this world, and she has developed the tools to do so. My daughter plays basketball. She is a tough, gritty, under-sized shooting guard, and she gets thrown to the floor time and time again by bigger players. I always want the opposing player reprimanded. Sent to the bench. Ejected. Usually, though, the official doesn’t even call a foul.
My daughter pops up and keeps playing.
Valeria Martínez Ramírez can’t pop back up. She’s gone.
It is clearly time to set aside the belief that only male strength can save women from murder and rape and all manner of horrible things. It is all too obvious that men are the greatest peril women face. Women aren’t expecting men to save them anymore.
Before we extinguish this outdated impulse, perhaps we can organize, march, and transform our politics so no other little girls have to die at our border, or in our custody.