Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reflections: Words of Encouragement

Earlier this week I came across a poster on Etsy that I thought would be great for Gates' nursery which I immediately pinned to My Dream Nursery board. It wasn't until later when I was reflecting on Audrey Penven's recent On Gender, idealism, and endless Twitter Fights post that I realized it could imply limitations.

Source: via Eden on Pinterest

Like Audrey, my parents raised me without saying "Girls can do anything." It wouldn't be until second grade when my teacher, a helpful Catholic sister, would introduce the limitation of gender, specifically telling me my brain would go to waste because I wasn't a boy. I had been the first to correctly complete a math quiz. While I was given the prize for coming in first, I was basically told because I was a girl it would never matter. From that moment on, I set out to prove despite my gender I wouldn't be stuck in second place.

The teacher's influence would stick with me for years and would shape my after school activities as well as the jobs I took. Whenever anyone made a comment about a profession being more appropriate for men, I dove in. I didn't look at whether I was even interested in the subject or the tasks at hand. All I cared about was proving I wasn't somehow less for being a woman.

My grandfather would use this to steer me to a more rigorous college program. (In my junior year, a female high school guidance counselor was trying to steer me away from engineering and towards liberal arts. Prior to high school I had excelled in liberal arts as well as in math and science. By junior year, my math skills were weaker than my counterparts at the boys' high school. They were offered advanced math classes whereas those subjects weren't available at the girls' high school.) He told me that my cousin who I routinely competed against had applied to and been denied admission to the Engineering Program at Santa Clara University. My guidance counselor had convinced me that I'd never be accepted. I still remember how shocked I was junior year to receive early acceptance over holiday break. Years later I would find out my cousin had never applied to Santa Clara. When I found out about my grandfather's deception, I wasn't mad, I was grateful.

Until Audrey's post, I'd thought of raising Gates to believe girls can do anything. My reasoning was I'd introduce the concept that some members of society believed there were differences between boys and girls. I didn't want Gates to grow up thinking inequality didn't exist. I didn't want her to have a teacher or other role model tell her she was second best and introduce self doubt.

I don't know how we're going to introduce gender differences. Like Audrey, I wish we had a gender neutral world now. Like Audrey, I'm not the right person to champion the cause, it's too emotional a topic for me. Gates is lucky that she's going to grow up in San Francisco, in our community. She'll be surrounded by strong men and women who don't categorize people by their gender.

For the time being, I'm going to avoid pink washing and girl power statements. I'm going to let Gates chose whether or not she wants to wear pink. In the meantime, I'll be choosing gender neutral colors, images, and statements for her. Which means, the poster I pinned for Gates' nursery should be revised to eliminate gender:

I believed I could so I did.

Ciao Bella!