My Daughter Is Dying For Professional Female Role Models
We were driving home from gymnastics class when my daughter and I pulled up alongside a firetruck. She immediately plastered herself against the window with excitement, smiling and waving at the firefighters while we sat at a red light. The gracious men waved back at my little girl, and the driver even honked the horn, causing her to squeal with delight. In that moment, she felt super cool informing me that she was just greeted by what she calls, “real-life superheroes.” I like to think of them as role models. However, a couple minutes later she was quiet and upset about the encounter. When I asked what was wrong, she said, “I wish girls could do that.”
The feminist heart in me broke to pieces. I immediately started assuring her that of course women could be firefighters. Women can be anything they want to be. Women can be strong and capable and brave.
My daughter looked at me and said, “Mom, those were all boys. I’ve never seen a girl fireman.” And so began my hunt for a female firefighter to introduce to my daughter.
I asked friends and family members. There were plenty of connections to pull from, but we all knew male firefighters. That is not what my daughter was looking for. After a couple of months, through a connection at my mom’s school, we finally found a female firefighter to convince my daughter that girls get to be real-life superheroes too.
Then I realized that firefighters were just the beginning. My daughter has become obsessed with making sure that girls can do things. And unfortunately, she sees plenty of examples for a more male-dominated view of many different industries.
My daughter’s pediatrician is a man, as are the other doctors in his practice. Brenna decided that only boys could be doctors until I finally called my OB-GYN and asked her to meet my little girl for a brief minute. When I explained my plight, that my daughter wanted to make sure girls could be doctors, she was all too happy to introduce herself.
Then there was the police officer deal. My sister-in-law’s brother is a police officer. The first time Brenna saw him in a uniform she asked me, “Mom can girls be police officers?” Knowing physical evidence would be needed, I arranged for her to meet a female detective who graciously took the time to discuss being a police officer and catching bad guys with my excited daughter. “More superheroes, Mom!”
It seemed like every time I showed Brenna just how must girls could do, she seemed to worry about the gender differences more. She was excited to meet these professionals and role models, but she was still convinced that it was different. A motorcycle would drive by us and she would ask me whether girls could ride motorcycles. We watched the Olympics and she wanted to make sure that every sport could be performed by girls as well. Recruitment ad for the Army? She wanted to know if girls could join too. She needed to see these examples everywhere.
In fact, my little girl has gotten so concerned with gender parity, she’s begun to call out the “token female” in many of her favorite television shows. There’s a new Ultimate Spiderman cartoon that she’s always found pretty funny. Suddenly she doesn’t want to watch it. When I asked why, she explained, “There are five different boys. All kinds of boys. There’s only one girl.” When she stopped watching The Avengers cartoon, the complaint was, “It’s never about the girls. They aren’t even in the song.” (She’s referring to the opening credits of the show.) Thundercats? Just Cheetara and a bunch of boys. Superhero Squad? To be fair, the Scarlet Witch is kind of lame. Green Lantern? Only one girl and she’s technically a computer.
Yes, I realize there’s a pattern in my little girl’s favorite television shows. The only one she’s still happy with is Young Justice, which features just as many female heroes as male, and lets them all be featured in different episodes.
I am amazed that at such a young age, my daughter is vocalizing an issue that feminists have been worried about for years. Young girls need to see examples. They need those role models to show them what girls can do. And they’re looking, desperately, to figure out just where females fit in our culture. I’m hoping that I can demonstrate that my daughter’s options are limitless. But I have to admit that the amount of work that it’s taking is a little disappointing.