How Boys Learn Girls Wear Bows, High Heels and Help the Guys

“Minnie and Daisy are girls. They wear bows and high heels and help the guys.”

The two children squeezed together in the seat next to me at the gate in the airport were beyond giddy. All it took was a smile from me, and they took it as a sign for permission to speak. I travel so much these days that I tend to avoid conversations in the airport or on the plane – it’s precious time to reconnect with everyone and dig through the dark abyss I call my email inbox. Chit chat is a luxury for people on vacation and the rare trip; business travelers learn that sitting time is working time.

 

imageBut this time I couldn’t resist. Within minutes, the two had shared the exciting news that they were leaving the below zero temperatures of Chicago for Orlando, Florida – and not just Florida but to take a Disney Cruise. As they shared their excitement, I recalled the wonderful memories of my husband and I taking our own children to Disneyland – precious, happy memories. Well, most of them. My son had a few issues with The Beast getting very close. I smiled as the young girl showed me her workbooks with word searches of Disney words, and I listened patiently as her younger brother pulled out his collection of little plastic Disney character figurines and told me who each of them were. He named each of this toys – Pluto, Captain Hook, Donald Duck, and Mickey Mouse. He saved his last two figurines, holding them separate from the rest. “These ones, they’re, they’re … girls,” he said.

“Really?” I asked, half glancing at my inbox which was still as full as when I’d sat down.

“Yes,” he said. “Minnie and Daisy are girls. See? They wear bows and high heels.” He turned the figurines over to point out their fancy purple and pink heels. “And they help the guys.”

Just as he was ready to launch into more of his description of his girl characters, his mother called him over, and the moment passed. I went back to my inbox, but now I couldn’t focus on any of the messages needing my attention. His words kept ringing in my ears – this well-behaved, sweet little boy – and what he already understood in his own mind about what girls were for.

Please don’t get me wrong – I am not a Disney-hater, and I absolutely love that my daughter loved her Cinderella constume I hand-sewed for her one year. I’ve even pushed back against the idea that we shouldn’t call our daughters princess. I think it’s just as wrong to prevent our daughters from exploring the whimsical, fanciful side of feminity as it is to put them in a stereotype box and keep them there.

But as I listened to this tiny little man with stereotypes about girls already firmly in place, I cringed. But how could he conclude anything else from his toys? When the girl characters have their hands folded under their chin in a helpless, hopeful pose and boy characters have their arms stretched wide in powerful poses, what else is a little lad to conclude? And what little boy doesn’t fancy himself the rescuer, the powerful, brave man who wins the girl’s heart by saving the day for her? And isn’t some of that good? Don’t we want our sons to hold our daughters precious, to protect their hearts, reputations, and values? Don’t we want a bit of chivalry, the part that causes a young man to put forth the effort to treat his young date like she is the most precious gem in the world?

So how do we foster both of these very conflicting attitudes – the need to allow our children to explore fictional, larger-tha-life stereotypes and the need to foster respect for equal rights and support for women?

I started this same morning in our nation’s capitol visiting with Congresswoman Michelle Grisham of New Mexico. We talked about the challenges of empowering women in our state to take on larger roles in building corporations capable of changing economies, of holding up powerful role models to inspire women to explore new roles, of our desires for our daughters to have more opportunites and better support to not have to choose to either raise a family or contribute to the brain trust of our state. When we leave women no palatable options for balancing their professional careers and raising a young family, most women will choose to sacrifice their careers to focus on their family – and while this is a completely valid option, it cheats our state out of years of their contributions to the growth of businesses, industries, laws, and inventions. What if more women had access to on-site daycare and better options for flexible work schedules that would allow them to balance both without being so exhausted and burned out? I left her office inspired and hopeful for the young women in our state – that with enough of us banding together to evoke change, we might lift our own state’s economy and opportunities.

imageI spent the next hour touring the Capitol Building Visitor’s Center – with a few behind-the-scenes opportunities – and I marvelled at the women honored throughout the buildings – women who changed our history, who changed attitudes, who changed the course of history. It left me both in awe of their courage and willingness to walk a much more difficult path because of their own convictions. It also left me a little weary that we are still talking about this issue at all.

But as long as little boys grow up believing girls are for wearing bows and high heels and helping the guys, we’re likely going to have this conversation for quite some time to come, because I, for one, am not willing for that to be the stereotype perpetuated into yet another generation.

Resisting the Seduction of Inadequacy

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For a week now, I have fretted over an answer I gave recently during a taped interview for our local PBS television station. I was invited to join a roundtable discussion that would air during Women’s History Month (March), and the other women invited carried impressive resumes and careers; all seemed so much more eloquent, poised and lovely than me. When I was asked whether what I was doing now was something I had always dreamed of doing, I answered honestly. And ever since, I’ve been kicking myself for not being more eloquent, for not having a better answer, for not saying something that might inspire a new generation of girls to pursue tech.

I don’t know. Maybe my answer could have been better; it probably could have been more poised. In fact, I’m sure of that.

But after listening to an amazing speech by the lovely actress Lupita Nyong’o (shared in its entirety at the end of this post), I am reminded that even at my age, I am still doing exactly what she describes – giving in to the seduction of inadequacy. There is great temptation in focusing on our inadequacies, in tearing ourselves apart over the things we want to change about ourselves. We can’t possibly challenge ourselves to move forward, to face our fears, to try even scarier things if we can convince ourselves that we couldn’t even handle the challenges we’ve already faced. We can fall into complacency with the “truth” that we tried but just weren’t good enough, and then who can blame us for not changing the world if we can’t even change one little thing about ourselves?

NMTCWIT Honorees Roundtable Interview on KNME PBS.

NMTCWIT Honorees Roundtable Interview on KNME PBS.

Who knows – maybe I could have found a more polished answer, but the truth still has value in its unvarnished form. The truth is that I never once dreamed of living the life I am. I never thought it was possible. I wanted to be a mom. It is all I ever wanted, and I embraced motherhood wholeheartedly. I have absolutely no regrets for the time I spent raising my children. It was time well spent. So, no, this new journey I’m on is not one I dreamed of. I didn’t think girls who weren’t really smart (I didn’t think I was), who couldn’t do math in my head (unless it’s calculating the discount on a dress I want to buy, I still can’t), and who didn’t get started on a career until their forties – I never, ever thought my journey was even possible for a girl like me.

That does not mean I am not pursuing passionately and whole-heartedly this new journey. I’ve stretched myself so far since I launched APPCityLife in 2009 that I could give Gumby a run for his money. I’ve learned (and learned and learned some more) every time I find something else I need to understand to meet a new challenge or obstacle. There are still times I wake up at 3 AM and wonder what kind of a crazy person launches out into a new industry with the goal of changing the way cities communicate with the people who live there, but then I get up and go look in the mirror to affirm that this is the kind of crazy person who does that – who actually does that. We have already started to change the way cities interact with the people who live there, and I couldn’t be more excited for the future of our team at APPCityLife.

So when you listen to my answer on the upcoming PBS interview with a few of the New Mexico Technology Council’s Women In Tech 2014 honorees, I may not be the most polished. But I’m ok with that. I was invited to have a seat at the table with some pretty amazing women, and for a girl who thought this kind of opportunity could never come in her lifetime – who still has to resist the seduction of inadequacy, that’s enough for me.

Note: the PBS In Focus interview will air on KNME at 7 PM MST, March 6, 2014. View Details and link for online video

When Did Princess Become a Bad Word?

I’ve seen the following advice recently shared on a few of the sites that focus on women’s issues, and my reaction is the same every time, “Why? Why can’t I call my daughter a princess? When did princess become a bad word?”

My opinion is probably not going to be all that popular and is likely going to sit wrong with some of the folks with whom I usually agree. But if it takes me not calling my daughter a princess in order for her to be a successful woman in life, well, there’s a lot riding on that one word, don’t you think?

I was recently invited to sit on a panel at the National Association of Business Women of New Mexico. The topic was how women succeed in male-dominated fields, and my two companions on the panel were Susan Zubiate Grace, who owns a local running store, and Jessica Eaves Mathews, a lawyer and serial entrepreneur. Jessica is also the author of a soon-to-be-released book, Wonder Women: How Western Women Will Save The World. One topic that took up a great portion of the time during our panel discussion was the idea that up until now, women have been expected to and have had to be willing to leave a good portion of themselves at the door of their office every morning in order to succeed and have an equal playing field with their male counterparts – no blatant femininity, no conversations about worrying about sick children or about changing diapers, no mention of dieting or an appointment to visit a colorist or manicurist.

This is the reason many women choose to be entrepreneurs and start their own businesses – that desire to be themselves – all of themselves, the parts beyond businesswoman – the mother, the wife, the girly-girl, the tomboy, the artist, the baker, the gardener. And if we, as women are ever going to get to the place where we create a new environment, a new way to build an economy that embraces the totality of being a woman, it seems rather counter-intuitive to begin saying that we can’t call our daughters princesses. In fact, I think the biggest thing we can do to inhibit confidence and the willingness to embrace male-dominated fields like math and science and engineering is to teach a young girl that if she is going to be good at those things, she’d better put her imagination, her whimsy away.

ballerina princessI believe that because of the experience I’ve had raising my own daughter, Rachel. I called her princess. A lot. For the longest time when she was little, she was so completely enamored with all of the Disney princesses (as well as Mickey Mouse) that it was all she wanted to talk about or pretend to be. She wanted the books read to her again and again. And when we went away with friends on a skiing vacation, they brought along the videotape (yes, I’m dating myself) of the new movie, Beauty and the Beast, and our poor friends were forced to watch that movie over and over for three solid days. Rachel cried every time when the Beast died. And then wanted to watch it again.

I didn’t just call her princess. I sewed her a Cinderella dress for Halloween one year. It was silky powder blue with white lace and took me a ridiculous number of hours to put together. But it was worth it, because she wore that dress for Halloween and to the grocery store, to the doctor’s office, to Grandma and Grandpa’s. Between her Cinderella dress and a ballerina set I found at a garage sale, Rachel spent a great deal of her time in that fantastic world of princesses, castles and dancers complete with all the whimsy and drama that goes along with it.

IMG_0216 IMG_0049And, then just as soon as her deep fascination with princesses started, it ended. She discovered rock climbing at the age of nine and begged to join the climbing team along with her brother who was two years younger. It was an unconventional sport, and she took to it with enthusiasm and a fierce drive to be the best. She not only joined the team but competed with climbers her age from across several states to earn a bid to nationals that first year she started climbing.

She went on to compete at a national level all the way through high school, earning a rank as high as sixth in the nation. She was fierce, fearless, tough, competitive, and an amazing athlete. Sponsors for several climbing gear companies approached her about sponsoring her competitions and climbing gear and trips. She definitely grew out of the princess phase, but she never lost her whimsy, she imagination, her belief in a world where better things were possible.36951_1518430328064_1453700448_31335349_6117802_n

She’s currently a senior in college earning an art degree and already supports herself as a graphic artist. She painted the art that hangs on the walls of our office, and she worked at one time for me, creating digital images for the mobile apps we were developing. It never occurred to Rachel that she might not be good enough at math or science to enter one of those fields. Instead, she did what we’d always encouraged her to do – follow her passion, and work hard.

If I remember correctly, most of those princess stories have the ladies facing down evil, running through forests, climbing towers, and they manage to do it all in a dress.

What is it actually that we want to teach our daughters? For me it is this: be brave enough to embrace and develop your entire self. Until we are okay teaching our daughters that, we’ll perpetuate women having to leave a large portion of their true selves at the door every day at the office.