Tim and I spent some time at his grandfather’s birthday party this weekend. It was really fun to see all of his extended family, especially his 8-year-old cousin, Katie. She is awesome, and if I ever have a daughter, I want her to be just like Katie. Totally strong-willed, outgoing, independent, hilarious, and can definitely hold her own. She has two older brothers, so she had to learn all this pretty quick but, from what I hear, she was pretty much just born this way.
My father-in-law, Mike, was giving Katie a hard time about something, and she was arguing back. He said, “Katie, you’d make a great politician.” She paused, thought for a second, and said, “I don’t even know what that is.” He tried to explain to her about being elected and running for office and, in the case of many Illinois politicians, going to jail. She just sort of frowned at him, so I said, “Katie, you could be president!”
“Um, not really,” she told me. “Girls can’t be president.”
“What? Who told you that??” I wanted to know.
“No one,” she said, “but I’ve never seen a girl president.”
“Well, you’re right, but just because there hasn’t been a girl president doesn’t mean you can’t. It means you could be the very first one!”
“That’s right,” echoed my father-in-law. “You can do whatever you set your mind to!”
“Oh. OK. Cool!” she said, and ran off to play with the other kids.
I don’t usually get to have conversations like this with kids. I’m so used to working with high school students that I sometimes forget that kids tend to believe what they see, and they use that as a frame of reference. No one had to tell Katie that girls couldn’t be president; she just hadn’t ever seen one and assumed that was the case. And, to an 8-year-old, that makes perfect sense. If girls can be president, why aren’t there any? Embedded sexism in our society doesn’t matter to her. If you can do it, you do. If you can’t, you don’t.
I know most of you don’t need another reminder to constantly tell our girls that they can do and be anything, but I wanted to share this story because it did serve as a reminder to me. By the time I get my students, most of the girls have been told this already, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to them. But Katie, one of the most empowered, driven young girls I know, thought women couldn’t be president because she hadn’t ever seen one. No one told her this or put down her dreams, she just knows what she sees and makes her own assumptions.
So, be sure to tell your little girls that they can, in fact, be president, or anything else for that matter! Just because they can’t see it doesn’t mean they can’t dream it and do it.