“Last week was the end of year Parent’s Day at pre-school. The teachers playfully interviewed each four year old with a few questions including: “What does your Mommy do while you are at school?” and “What does your Daddy do while you are at school?” I had a work event so my husband attended for both of us and he called me when it was over. He was disturbed.
He reported that the answers for what the dads do were almost unanimously: “Goes to work” and the answers for what the moms do during school were: “Goes to yoga. Meets her friend for lunch. Shops.”
One day later my oldest daughter’s Kindergarten yearbook arrived in the mail. It is a beautiful book with a page devoted to each child with their photos and their answer to: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I opened it to my daughter’s page first and she had written: “I want to be a builder because it is fun to build houses.” That’s my girl! I thought.
Over dinner we read aloud the other yearbook pages:
10% of the boys wanted to be President. None of the girls did. Concerned about the congressional gender gap? Start here.
50% of the girls wanted to be artists. None of the boys did. Concerned about the wage gap? Start here.
5% of the boys wanted to be engineers. None of the girls did. My daughter asked me what an engineer is. Shame on me. Concerned about the math and science gap? Start here.
And then just this week, a Seattle librarian posted an alarming gender disparity in a children’s book series. The How to Survive Anything book for boys includes chapters such as how to “Survive in a Forest” and “Survive in a Swarm of Bees.” The girl version of this book includes “Survive a Breakout” and “Survive a BFF Fight.” And who was behind it? Scholastic, the world’ largest publisher of children’s books.
When we talk about adult incarceration rates, the discussion often ends up on risk factors in childhood. As a society, we are in agreement that these problems start early on. Those fighting crime, obesity and other long term problems know to look to childhood – when it all begins.
Though my Pre-K and Kindergarten survey was admittedly informal, the data looks grim. So isn’t it time to acknowledge that the success gap, the wage gap, the science and math gap, the ambition gap, start in childhood too? From birth our daughters are praised for looking dainty and our sons for being strong. When do our kindergarten girls go from aspiring to be princesses to aspiring to be strong, committed, passionate leaders (I.e. Superheros)?
There are some uplifting statistics and we can credit the baby boomers for many of them- 53% of new entrants in the workforce are women and women own eight million United States businesses. In this regard, the Boomers did a heck of a job.
Now it is time to do your part. Eradicating the wage gap, the ambition gap, and the science gap starts at home. The next time you walk into a toy store and are asked whether the gift is for a boy or a girl, say it doesn’t matter and buy the girl a science kit. She will enjoy it just as much as any boy will.”