But Girls Can’t Be President!

Katie being silly on the train to Chicago, 2008.

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.

4 thoughts on “But Girls Can’t Be President!

  1. Melissa on

    Great reminder, thank you!

    Of course, it’s not enough to just tell girls they can be anything they want. As you said, girls – and boys – will believe what they see. (And adults too!) So if we want our daughters, or sisters, or mothers to believe they can be president, then we also need to focus on getting more women elected so they see those examples.

    It just seems like sometimes people get all into “just dream it and you can be it” and then conveniently ignore the systemic barriers to doing so.

    Not that you’re doing that, I just wanted put it out there 🙂

    • Ashley on

      Melissa, you are absolutely right. People do fall into the “just dream it and you can be it” camp, and I’m guilty of this in this post! I did it because I wanted a nice, happy conclusion, but you are absolutely correct; we need to be setting examples by running for office, or being doctors and firefighters and engineers, to show girls it really is possible! Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

  2. Laura on

    I have a 7 year old daughter who is intelligent, well spoken, ambitious, fearless. For a while she was convinced that girls couldn’t be world leaders. I wanted to cry when she told me that because I have tried my hardest to teach her that females can do anything. I’ve told her just because it hasn’t happened yet, maybe by the time she is old enough to vote our country will have had few amazing females running it. Her response was “maybe by then mommy I will be ready to run the world.”

  3. Gabrielle on

    Love this post. Laura, talk to your daughter about Golda Meier, Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto and other women who have been leaders in other countries. Talk to her about women who are senators, congresswomen and judges in America. They may not be American presidents, but it’s a start.

    http://www.terra.es/personal2/monolith/00women3.htm

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