I am writing this on International Women’s Day, and as I sit here on my laptop, turning various ideas for a blog post over in my head, I can hear my daughters and the noise of their activities floating up from the living room. One of them is on her headphones, chatting with a good friend while the two girls play Minecraft together. There is talk of creating cat fountains and attacking zombies. Swords are in the mix, as is the design of architectural wonders. My other daughter is having a video chat with a friend and walking her through a basic coding website so that they can create a game together. She’s explaining how to attach actions to the W-A-S-D keys to create directional motion to the character in the game.
This is not the world I grew up in. But it is the world we created. And I love it.
I remember, as a kid, being told that girls could do anything. I was told this over and over again. But when I walked into shop class or a computer class in junior high and high school, I was generally the only girl there. I was allowed to take those classes, but it felt so awkward and uncomfortable to see all those eyes turn toward me, clearly wondering, “What is SHE doing here?” It made me wonder the same thing.
My husband and I teach an after-school coding class together. There are eight kids in the club right now. Seven of them are girls. I hope the sole boy we have there doesn’t feel unwelcome or awkward. But I am so thrilled that we have so many girls interested and eager to play with coding. This never would have happened when I was a kid. And not just because I’m a dinosaur who was born before the Internet was invented. Despite being told so many times that girls were equal, we only had to look around us to see that this wasn’t yet true. We weren’t being given an accurate reflection of the world we were in. We were being given a goal. A hope of the adults around us for the world that could be.
I also teach STEM classes to fourth graders right now as a traveling museum educator. Schools are starting to bring STEM programming into their school day in a fully incorporated way. It’s not an optional class, so all kids are being exposed to the concepts and tools we bring in. It’s amazing. I see girls and boys working individually and in teams to create circuits, to design and build earthquake-resistant towers, and to make vehicles that can adapt to multiple environments. Do I sometimes need to remind girls to speak up and hold their own in the team challenges? Sure. Do I sometimes need to remind boys not to grab all the components and take over the project? I do. Kids have started to absorb the gender roles that are modeled to them by the time they reach elementary school. But many of them also still have this glorious impulsivity and strength of personality that overrides those imposed social limits when they get really excited about what they’re doing. So my role is to get them really excited, and then just make sure that everyone’s getting a fair shot at the supplies.
I know that we still have a long way to go to achieve equal rights across the board, across the gender spectrum. Around the world, and in our own country, we are not done. Women still face challenges in the workplace, in the voting booth, in the ob-gyn’s office, and in schools. I am not blind to this. But it’s important to recognize the achievements we have made, and the steps we have taken on this journey toward a better future where everyone has a fair shot at this life in this world of ours. From my great-grandmothers winning the right to vote, to my grandmothers winning the right to work outside the home, to my mother winning the right to control her fertility, to my winning the right to enter what has been a typically male-dominated field, we have come a long damn way. My hope is to see that rolling ball pick up more and more speed, as we show our children, across the whole gender rainbow, how to treat each other with respect and kindness. We can show them how gender does not dictate our skills or interests, or our intelligence. As we continue to demand equal rights, we change the world that they are in, so that instead of us telling them they are all equal, we can show them that they are.