I know a lot of little girls. Way more little girls than little boys. I am the mother of two daughters, the aunt to two nieces, and as my circle of friends started having all girl babies, we wondered if there was something in the water.
I love seeing them grow and change. I love that they can share hand-me-downs and I’ve got plenty of commiseration about the timing of ear piercing or the best ways to mitigate that phase-shifting shriek that crops up when they’re together and super excited. I love seeing the activities they’re engaged with – there’s ice skating and martial arts and dance and art and mushroom hunting and scouting and baseball. And I love the opportunity I have to model something important. That “something” is not an affinity for technology or an expertise in coding.
I came of age to the tune of “We girls / can do anything / right Barbie?” My youth wasn’t void of strong women doing amazing things, but I never saw them struggle with their work. It all looked easy, practiced, natural. But being anything you want is not as easy as donning a new outfit and having the right accessories, and I happily abandoned the hobbies and tasks that didn’t come naturally to me. I was good at a lot of things, and I stuck with them, to good success. I’m doing this to set an example of effort, of struggle, of failure and learning.
Great strides have been made in the realm of equalizing educational outcomes for girls and boys with regard to STEM fields. Girls today are fortunate to have more examples* of successful women in STEM, and more exposure to technology and making than we did as kids. (Enough that, when asked to draw a self portrait at preschool, my daughter drew an invention instead, and it made sense to us.) But as someone who was naturally drawn to the liberal arts, my goal is not to show girls that STEM is the right choice for everyone. It’s not. We need artists and social workers and shopkeepers and welders and grant writers and librarians too.
My goal is to show them that even when we choose what is easy for us, what is right for us, the effort needed to expand and move forward is worth it. My goal is to show them that there can be fun and growth in trying something new, something hard. My goal is to show them that this is hard for me. But it’s also good for me. I want them to see that I’m still learning about myself and the world around me. I want them to know that dressing the part is the smallest part. That maybe astronaut Barbie does yoga and is learning to paint on the weekend but having trouble with facial proportions, and learned all the math she needed to learn only after she fell in love with the stories of the stars.
*More, but not enough, especially in some fields. One of my memorable Robot Test Kitchen programs began with a 6th grade girl walking in, seeing a room full of boys, throwing her arms up and shouting, “Why I am always the only girl that comes to this stuff?!”