Dad Job #1: Ensuring Our Little Girls Don’t Grow Up to be ‘Little Girls’
Sometime after Najwa was born, I was in a conundrum. Life moves extraordinarily fast in those first few years, first few days; and your thoughts and plans for the future and concerns about giving the proper guidance as a parent move even faster. We had to buy her stuff. Clothes, baby toys, and all those contraptions that come with having a baby like linen for her crib, a walker, swing, and so on. We had to paint her room, hang a mobile, find appropriate TV shows to watch and so forth.
And somehow, somewhere in the dizzying array of decision-making, I had to balance between raising a little girl or raising a little child.
It was never lost on me that, though only a few months or few years old, one day she would be a grown adult with a career and goals in life. I wanted to make sure from the earliest age possible that she wasn’t limited or pigeon-holed into only a handful of options. Meaning, I didn’t want Najwa to have to select a life stereotyped as one suitable for a female.
Much to Nduku’s chagrin, I virtually banned all forms of dolls from the house. And Disney was treated as if it were porn; we will not flood her mind with images of distressed damsels waiting for a man to come save them. Pink colors were acceptable — as a trim color; purple would be the dominate color.
Then to balance the lack of girly stuff, I made sure we filled the void with educational stuff. With an intense focus on science and math. Her ceiling was splashed with glow in the dark stars and planets. Building blocks became her dolls with educational toys from Melissa and Doug. Fortunately, Nduku tolerated my obsession and condoned the direction I was hoping to set. We got Najwa a bookcase and stuffed it with books, lots of books. We got her a subscription to NatGeo for Kids and ZooBooks.
We bought Najwa board games like Sum Swamp and Connect Four. We watched countless hours of Team Umizoomi, Super Why and Little Einsteins. I got her a microscope and stethoscope and science kits and kinetic sand and Marble Drop and anything that encouraged applying the imagination to solving puzzles rather than pretending to be a princess.
Now, eventually the little girl in her needed to be satisfied. Disney’s Frozen didn’t help either. She now has dolls and wants mommy to apply makeup and get her hair done right. She reads books with stereotypical female characters and watches a ton of girly stuff on YouTube.
But when asked what she wants to be when she grows up and where she wants to go to school, she says she wants to be an engineer and attend MIT. One day in school when the students were asked what their talents were, she said her talent was math. She wins a bunch of math awards, but more importantly, she wants to learn more than what she’s being taught in school. Because math isn’t for boys. If you ask her, it’s easy.
I’ve spoken to many parents with little girls and utterly confused on how little their girls seem to think about things like this. One of Najwa’s friends said she was going to be a housewife. Another a musician. Listen, there’s nothing wrong with any of those. Or a nurse or stewardess or cosmetologist or any profession at all. I’m not one to judge one’s choice of career. My confusion comes from the lack of choices their little girls seem to realize are at their choosing.
Maybe Najwa grows up and becomes an administrative assistant at a small company. So be it. As long as she chose that path after being exposed to all paths. She wants to teach elementary school children? I got her back; we can grade papers together if that brings her more joy than engineering. As long as she knows she could be an engineer if she chose.
What I want to say to those parents, especially the daddies with little girls, is that it is our duty to provide for our daughters all the encouragement we would provide to a son.
The impact of a dad’s encouragement to a little girl can be both magical and devastating. It is not only our responsibility to ensure our little girls are not handicapped in life because we failed to introduce them to all the career choices open to them, but it is our purpose to make sure they have every opportunity in front of them when it’s time for them to decide what to be when they grow up.
All I’m saying is that we need to ask ourselves: are we’re doing our jobs as dads if we don’t expose our little girls to every possible thing that life has to offer as opposed to surrounding them with images and activities that reinforces the concept of a women’s life being inferior to a man’s? That science is for boys and hair is for girls? That math is for boys and violins are for girls? That a man’s job is to provide while a women’s job is to nurture?
It reminds me of a Verizon commercial I saw a few years ago.