When I went in for my 20 week anatomy scan with my second child, I was excited. Of course I was. It was the big reveal! Would Xander have a baby brother or baby sister? John held my hand as the ultrasound wand moved over my belly.
“It’s a girl!”
I was so happy. A little girl. A daughter.
I was also scared.
Because being a little girl, being a woman, is hard.
Saturday was International Woman’s Day. Until a few years ago, I had no idea that there was such a thing. A few years ago, I probably would have thought it was a silly thing. Who needs a Woman’s Day? We can vote, we can work, we can speak our minds.
These are the facts, though. Many of them surprised me.
- In the US, women earn $.77 to the dollar that men make
- 71 countries in the world have had women presidents or prime ministers, but not the US
- Women make up 51% of the US population, but only 20% of congress
- There have been over 2300 male governors; there have been 35 female ones
- There were 13 female protagonists in animated films between 1937-2005
- 1 in 4 girls experience teen dating violence
There are, of course, many, many more statistics like those. Is it any surprise, then, that I was scared?
What kind of world am I sending my children into? What kind of messages am I sending them? What are they getting from the TV? What are they noticing in their surroundings? Will Luna, my baby, grow up thinking that she shouldn’t even bother trying to be a leader, because she sees so few women leaders? Will she find her self worth in what she looks like, by comparing herself to photoshopped models in magazines? And what about Xander? He’s getting older and can certainly pick up on these things. What does it do to him that his favorite movies are all about boys? When he starts to read the T-shirts for boys (“Daddy’s Tough Guy”) versus the ones for girls (“Future Princess”)?
I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that we can do our best to change it, though. When I talk about going to the gym, I don’t talk about losing weight or looking skinny, even if I might be thinking it. I tell my son that I like to exercise because it makes my body feel good and strong. When he watches me put on makeup before work, I say that wearing makeup makes me feel happy. And while, yes, I do often exclaim over how cute the baby is, I say the same to my son. And I am sure to also compliment both of them on their humor, their strength, their hard work. John and I read and tell stories that have boy and girl heroes, in equal numbers. When we talk about his TV shows and his books, we talk about what the characters do, not what they wear or look like. And we have always, since day one, done a lot of talking about how everyone is different, but everyone is important and has feelings.
I grew up knowing that I was loved, and happy in my role as a girl, a daughter, a sister. But I also grew up hearing jokes about First Daughters being called dogs, and knowing that girls in movies were there to make jokes or fall in love with. I knew that Disney princesses wore crop tops and had tiny waists. I cried in seventh grade when my mom wouldn’t buy me the “right” outfits to wear to school, but not when a classmate told me that “girls just aren’t good at math.”
Sometimes I get caught up in my role as mom – the cook, the diaper changer, the story teller, the mediator – and I forget that I still have a role as a woman. And my job, really, is to integrate those things, those people, so that my children (and myself, and everyone else) knows that it’s all equally important.
That we are all equally important.