Caroline Vander Ark
The night I found out we were having a baby girl, I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night panicked. Not because I wasn't excited for a girl but because I feared she wouldn't grow up knowing she can be and do anything that she wants. Would she know based on this world that she could be a pilot like her dad, a surgeon or firefighter like her great-grandfathers, a lawyer, a chemist or a chef? Would she grow up with a sense of options available and mentors that would guide her down a path of her choosing. Would the toys and outfits we selected for her from a young age form a positive self image? Would the school choices we make with and for her provide her with an education that is personalized for her needs?
One quick trip to a baby mega store will show you that in 2015 our society still reinforces gender stereotypes that start to tell children what they should be good at and be passionate about. Girl's onesies already have sayings about looks, shopping and being a diva. Boys onesies are all about transportation, sports and being tough. When you walk to the toy aisle most the legos and maker toys are clearly advertised for boys and the kitchen sets and art supplies are bursting with pink aimed at a female audience. How toys are packaged and marketed for even toddlers already have a strong bias for one gender over another. We plan to have full range of options for our daughter including legos, puzzles, child's power tools, dolls, mini kitchen set and any ball or sporting equipment she finds interest in. I want her to grow up with options and exposure so she can decide what she is passionate about.
When we called family to tell them we were having a girl, many of them immediately asked if I'd let her wear pink. Its been clear from a young age that I was not what society would call a "girly girl". I very rarely would wear dresses growing up, and would much rather be outside getting muddy than having a tea party. When I joined Girl Scouts I refused to wear the signature brown dress for meetings and asked what alternatives were available. My parents accepted this choice and always made me feel like as long as I was respectful of other children's choices I could be "different" than what society and even family had encouraged me to be. When it came time for internships and joining the working world I was fortunate enough to meet a mentor at a local TV station that taught me everything there was to know about producing the nightly sports report and interviewing athletes. I was the only female in the department but never felt out of place. My early career in sports journalism led to a successful career in sports management. In a male dominated career field, I was confident in my abilities and respected for my work.
I feel like our job as parents is to give children all the tools needed to figure out what they were meant to be. We should ignite passions, teach children to always be learning and help them see the world of choices available. Kids crave being around people that nurture their passions and help them learn who they are. By modeling the way in our house, splitting the household chores and both contributing equally to family discussions my husband and I hope to provide a family life that encourages creativity and options. It may not seem like a bright pink onesie with a silly saying is that serious, but to me choices we make as parents before our children are even born will shape who they are and what they think of themselves. So yes, our daughter may end up wearing pink, but she'll know that blue, orange, yellow and green are options too. She'll know her parents support her and want her to always learn and grow and be respectful of everyone she meets.
Caroline is COO at Getting Smart. Follow her @cvanderark.