Why are we still teaching our children that DOCTOR = MALE in 2014? There’s no good reason.
A guest post by reader Julie Danahy Hebeisen
My friend Julie is a non-profit event planner in the Boston area and a married first-time mother to 2-year-old Vivian, and a regular reader of this blog. When she told me that pulled an infuriating “art project” out of her daughter’s preschool backpack, I invited her to write about her experience. Here’s Julie’s story.
I have a couple of friends who are medical doctors. Those friends are female. Their strength and intellect has always impressed me, not because they are female, but because the work they do is awe inspiring.
At 2.7 years old, my daughter began the transition into preschool. She is a sponge, eyes wide open.
When she was born, they plopped her on my chest (ready, set, LIFE!) and she quite literally locked eyes with me in a penetrating stare, as if to say, “Ok Mom, it’s on!” I was not the only one that noticed; the nurses had a laugh. That moment was a not-so-quiet indicator of the kind of child she would grow to be: wildly observant, challenging, and completely open to learning from the world around her.
Yesterday, as I do three days per week, I opened her knapsack to reap the treasures of the day. Sometimes a notice, a dirty shirt, a half-eaten something, but also ART! The art projects are my favorite–a little window into what she is learning, and how her mind embraces it creatively. Most days, I smooth out the wrinkles and find a spot for it on the fridge or the on the door to her play cave.
Today was different.
Today, I pulled out a mystery.
I knew the lesson for the week was about going to visit the doctor, but it puzzled me. The objective appeared to be take a white lab coat, and adhere the doctor’s tools of the trade; stethoscope, pen in pocket, name tag (Doctor Vivian), and then, drumroll please…a neck tie!
A neck tie?
The project took a nose dive for me, fast. There was her little name, next to a boldly male indicator. The message was this: your male classmates will be doctors, but this exercise for you is one of fantasy. She was being taught that being a doctor is a male profession. Her school environment is typically pretty progressive, but I worry about small messages like this one piling up in the early learning years and becoming reinforced truths.
I can reassure myself and remember: She has seen Doc McStuffins on television, so some of her playtime includes routine check-ups of myself and her father. Her own pediatrician is female, so she knows in reality, women are medical doctors.
But there is a little extra credibility in the lessons that happen at school. She will happily correct the way we do things at home in favor of adopting her school’s way. “Sit on your bottom please, Vivian.” And she will happily tell me, “Tell me to sit Criss Cross Applesauce, that is the right way!”
I wondered what she had taken away from doctor art project, so I had a casual conversation about it with her. It went like this:
Me: Wow, today you were a doctor!
V: That’s not me, Mama!
Me: Are you sure? I see a nametag that reads, “Vivian.”
V: That is a boy doctor!
She had worked hard to place the tools appropriately on the cut-out, so I left the moment and congratulated her on a nice piece of artwork… a nice piece that would not make it to our posted hall of fame. It went straight in the trash.
I am not one to over analyze every moment. I don’t need a name for every social ill, or a constant cause to rally against, but I care pretty seriously that my daughter sees her world as approachable. I want her to feel she can stand shoulder to shoulder with her peers, male or female. I want her to feel, at a base minimum, that all professions are there for her choosing. Same way I want her to feel that all clothes, toys and play are safe for her to try on and enjoy.
My daughter is smarter than I am, so I am not terrified that this moment changed her. But it stopped me in my tracks. It was the cold water in the face I needed to remind me to stay closer to the ground and catch the messages from her level. I am privileged to be able to counter the negative messages she receives with my own messages about fairness and opportunity.
As I obsess, kindly fast forward 25 years, and listen to the faint echo in the hallway, “Paging Dr. Vivian.” Sounds about right.
Note: I asked Julie if she could share a photo of Vivian’s art project, and she said: “GONE! Sorry, I never even thought to keep it. I was very pleased with its new home in the can!” Ha, I completely understand.
Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be kind in your comments. It takes bravery to publicly publish a personal story. Remember that she isn’t a professional writer, and as a parent, she is developing a critical conscience on these issues without a clear guidebook or any obvious answers. Therefore, unnecessarily harsh comments attacking the author of this reader story will be removed or edited.
Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a media studies professor at Salem State University and the author of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, a book meant to help parents raise empowered, media-literate daughters.