Women’s History Month: Now That I’m Raising a Woman

I never took much mind to “women’s firsts” (first U.S. female astronaut, first female-owned Indy 500 team, those sorts of things), even though they all happened in my lifetime. I never took much mind, that is, until I became the parent of a girl. Then, as newscasters announced, “Katie Couric is the first woman to anchor the national evening news”, I started to take notice.

It never occurred to me that my daughter would face gender barriers or glass ceilings. Wasn’t that all taken care of in the ’60s and ’70s? Why no, no it wasn’t. Now that it’s my daughter we’re talking about, I am suddenly more interested in making sure that women are educated the same, treated the same, and paid the same as their male counterparts.

I also have a desire to support women in a way that wasn’t as concrete as before. When we moved to this area, we signed up for a doctor, dentist and optometrist (thank you, husband’s job that provides killer insurance). Our doctor is male, but his physician’s assistant is female, as are the rest of the members of his staff. Our dentist is female, and she works alongside a male dentist, and hygienists of both genders. Our optometrist is female, and she employs both male and female opticians in her office. We know female business owners, female educators, and female editors. Knowing women in a variety of fields was never something I strived for, until I had a daughter. Now I’m conscious of mentioning their careers to my daughter, so she can see that women can do anything.

I am hopeful that as she comes of age, women will advance in government on a federal level, past the position of Secretary of State and straight into the Oval Office. That women in Congress will come even more common. That there are more than two or three women in professional racing (we live in Indy, so she is a HUGE fan of Danica Patrick; I wish she had more women to choose from). That she really does grow up choosing a career based on her interests, not on gender stereotypes.

Ok — women — what were the messages you received growing up? What are the messages you’re sending to your daughters, nieces, and  young friends?


9 replies on “Women’s History Month: Now That I’m Raising a Woman”

Thank you for your post! I’ve started noticing the exact thing since my daughter started kindergarten.

I don’t feel like my parents made a conscious decision to make sure I knew girls could do anything, but that’s how I was raised. Our society has changed so much since then. Technology has given our girls access to so many poor role models. I’m determined to make sure I set a good example for my daughter. After all, I’m her most important role model right now.

While many of the people in strong positions were men, (doctors, principals, etc) my family let me know I could grow up and be anything. In fact, my dad has always rooted for me to be a doctor. Even when I started saying at the age of seven that I wanted to be a writer. So my family gave me very different signals that society did.

I had terrible models growing up. The women in my family were very sexist, even misogynistic in their views. Still are.

I’ve always been a rebel and despite adopting many of their wrong views–in the name of filial piety–there was always a side of me that was antiestablishment. Or that’s how I was labelled. I was taught to root for Bobby Riggs over Billie Jean King, that’s what my training was like.

Then I was sent to a woman’s college because my parents thought it was sort of a finishing school HA, a 7 Sisters college is a bastion of “horrible harpyness”.

I’ve gone back and forth about feminism. Having started college in the early 80’s I caught the tale end of the second wave. Many issues had not been resolved and the views were sometimes too extreme for me.

But after becoming a mother I’ve came back to the fold, have given myself a crash course to catch up with the “young’uns”.

My father is very interested in science and astronomy. When I was a kid he taught me about Dr. Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman in space. I was in complete awe of her accomplishments and I had a poster of her in my room for a while. It was clear that my dad also really admired her. She is definitely a great example of a strong woman. Also, I grew up two and a half hours north of her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, so it helped me see that a kid from Northern Ontario can do anything with their life!

I am struggling with this right now with my sister that lives with us. When I try to talk to her about defining herself as a feminist, I kind of get the “ha ha sister, you’re so funny” thing from her. I don’t know how to make her understand how important it is. I wore my “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt on Tuesday, and when she did the “haha I support you” thing, I kind of lashed out and said “Do you understand that I am doing this for you? All the things they are trying to take away from women now are things I don’t really need anymore (PP, Abortion, job opportunities, etc.) based on where I am in my life. I am fighting this fight for you.” She was kind of taken aback because I don’t think she had really thought about that before. How do I get through to her????

That’s an excellent question. I think women my age (near 40) are old enough to see some of this gender evolution. The further we get away from all the firsts women have accomplished, the harder it is to appreciate.

A real wake up for me was when I realized the women in the country have had the right to vote for less than 100 yrs. To know that my great-grandmother couldn’t vote as an adult was something that resonated with me.

ANYWAY as far as your sister goes — maybe our many articles on Women’s History this month will strike a chord? I think everyone ends up having an “ah ha” moment about this- I hope she will in time too!

I remember being blown away when I realized my grandmother had been born before women had the right to vote. Not very far before, but still. Some woman I could touch and hug and talk to was born when women still couldn’t vote. Its so humbling.

One thing I find a lot of younger people aren’t aware of — the gender segregation of the help wanted ads in major newspapers. That went on until the late 80s. I recall sitting in my grandparent’s kitchen reading through the help wanted ads (I always got the comics last because I was the youngest) and you could read about jobs for men (important!) and jobs for women (secretarial!).

I was amazed when I rented a house wayyyy out in the country one winter from a very progressive couple whom I split heat with 50/50. They used an oil company I was not familiar with whose offices were about 30 miles away.

“It’s the only company at all with any type of female presence in its ownership,” my new landlord explained. “Isn’t that ridiculous?”

Growing up we had a woman dentist. Thus, to me, even as an adult I always thought of dentists as a “she”. As in, if someone said they were going to the dentist I would ask if she was nice/good/painful etc. It didn’t occur to me until I was an adult, and this was an out loud ‘aha moment’ that there are male dentists as well.

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