My daughter loves live music. We are lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with an active music scene, so she gets her live music fix at least once a week. One afternoon, while rocking out to local Houston group Giant Kitty Band, my daughter turned to me and said, "I didn't know girls could be drummers."
I literally gasped out loud. Excuse me?! My daughter turned back around and kept jamming, but I was in total shock. We talk all the time about how she can do anything — girls can do anything! We read books with strong female protagonists, and she has so many wonderful female role models in her life who show her what amazing things women can do. How was it possible that my 6-year-old daughter thought only boys could be drummers, that only boys could be anything?
I tried to casually bring it up on the way home. She just shrugged and said, "Well, I've never seen one." Again, I was shocked. Really? Never? We've seen so many female artists together, and yet she had never witnessed a girl playing the drums? And, despite all that we try to do at home to teach our daughter that she can do anything she wants, the lack of female representation behind the drum kit on stage clearly had an impact on what she imagined to be possible.
Here is the uncomfortable truth: what my daughter saw with her own eyes had a bigger influence on her perception of reality than what I said. Even though I have said it over and over again.
Turns out, representation matters. And it matters a lot.
I learned that Mom and Dad can talk until we are blue in the face, but at the end of the day, my girl dreamed about what she could do largely based on what she saw people she identified with doing. She perceived her potential based on the examples around her. Feminism has made amazing strides, and I think it is safe to say that female representation in the media and the workforce is better than it was when I was a kid. However, the disparity is still real, and it actively influences our young girls.
While there may be more female representation compared to past generations, children today are consuming significantly more media. From popular television programs right on down to Little Golden Books, males are represented more than females, and even when female characters are represented, they are more likely to be portrayed as weaker and more vulnerable than their male counterparts. In short, boy characters are doing stuff. Girl characters are still getting rescued.
That's not the message I'm trying to send my young daughter.
This is something parents need to be aware of from day one. A new study in Journal of Adolescent Health recently showed that gender roles are well-established by the time a child is 10 or 11 years old. Children feel pressure to conform to their established ideas of gender expectations before they finish their first decade of life. I believe that as parents, we have to be proactive about what our daughters see and experience. We have to buy better books, chose better media content, and introduce our daughters to more women who are doing different things. We have to really work to bridge the gap that the media disparity has created for our young girls.
One thing does give me hope: my daughter just needed to see that one girl pounding on the drums to change her mind. Once she saw it was a possibility, she knew she could do it too, if she wanted. So I'm going to double my effort to show her everything she can do. I'll recruit other mothers, aunts, teachers, and friends to show her what they do, so she sees it all. And I'll actively point it out when I see women accomplishing things.
Because seeing is believing, and we all want our daughters to dream big with the confidence that comes from knowing it is possible to achieve their goals.