When I dropped my daughter at school a couple weeks ago, I saw that she had said that she wanted to be a doctor for adults when she grew up. It seemed pretty likely to me that she had said that because they were doing a unit on doctors but I was also relieved that she felt that it was a viable option. Why wouldn’t it be? In this day and age, shouldn’t every young girl have the expectations that she could be whatever she wants to be when she grows up, regardless of her gender? Of course. We generally teach that to both my daughter and my son. But it is, surprisingly, hard to make sure that they see it in their worlds.
Role models are one important factor. In reality, Hillary Clinton may be the most pivotal high-profile woman that reaches my nearly five year old daughter’s awareness. Both of my children know that she is running for president and that she would be the first woman president. A few others trickle in for my seven year old son, mostly because he is older and because he went through a biographies phase in reading: Sally Ride, Michelle Obama, Margaret Meade, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marie Curie, Helen Keller, Sacagawea and Queen Elizabeth. He learned of their bravery, leadership and contributions to society. He also learned that they sometimes struggled because they were women and were treated differently, denied certain education or rights.
Beyond the famous world, my children’s role models for women are in their daily lives: their teachers, their family, and, yes, their pediatricians. Our female friends have a plethora of fascinating jobs as well that our kids can relate to: zookeeper, musician, actor, director, programmer, architect, playwright, nurse, doctor, professor, author, filmmaker and dancer. Each one affords my daughter the opportunity to think “Maybe that’s something I want to be when I grow up”.
While my husband and I take great pains to point out strong women we see in our worlds, we also make sure that we are affording the same opportunities to each of our children. My husband, who is in tech, makes sure that he is teaching both of our children the basic principles of programming and coding, either on the computer or through games. My son has been attending an afterschool program where he does baseball and ice skating. My daughter has expressed interest in doing the same next year when she is old enough and we have agreed to send her. Simultaneously, we are honoring her other interests in dance and swim.
These activities and role models contribute to a larger perception of how girls grow into women, how they are successful and what they are capable of doing. I want the glass ceilings that women are trying to shatter now to be something that my children look back on as “the old days” when they’re reading history books. I want them to know that women can learn the same skills, hold the same jobs for the same pay and stand up for themselves. And I want my daughter to know that, if she wants to be a doctor for adults when she grows up, that I will stand behind her and I will be proud that she is a role model for the new generation.
Elana Gartner is a freelance writer and an award-winning playwright. Other articles of hers can be found at Kveller.com, A Child Grows in Brooklyn, Mom365.com, Park Slope Stoop and other publications. She founded the EMG Playwriting Workshop which fosters a supportive community for NYC playwrights. More about her playwriting is available at: http://www.elanagartner.com. Elana lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, son and daughter.