December 18, 2014 — I almost made a huge mistake.
My friend’s daughter Stella is about to turn 11. On a recent visit with her family, I chatted with this delightful kid about school, what she’s been reading, and what she’s into lately. She talked with excitement about her friends, swimming, and an anatomy unit at school that she just loved.
Fast forward a few days to my five-year-old daughter offering ideas for Stella’s birthday gift. “What about an Elsa doll? Or Rainbow Dash?”
Distractedly I replied, “I don’t know if she’s still into those toys, honey. Let’s see, how about some jewelry?”
What did I just say?? Jewelry??? Just because she’s a girl??
I should know better. I do know better. I work at Catalyst. I am hyper-aware of gender biases throughout the world and at work.
In my own house, I introduced my daughter to an Hour of Code and Science Friday’s Observe Everything. When she pleaded for a Barbie dream house, we built a prototype out of heavy cardboard and screws (next time we’ll get that elevator right). And even though I lost the battle to outlaw princesses a few years ago, I’ll be damned if I let a viewing of The Little Mermaid go by without pointing out how foolish it was for Ariel to give up her voice for a man she didn’t even know.
And yet, my first thought was to buy a girly present that in no way recognized or celebrated the complex and interesting person Stella is.
We talk a lot at Catalyst about intentionality. It is critical for those in power to be deliberate and conscious about decisions like who to recruit and who to assign highly visible and career-accelerating projects to. When we are not intentional, it’s all too easy to just hire and promote the same sorts of people. When we’re not intentional, it’s all too easy to buy presents, especially for children, that reinforce ideas about how boys and girls “should” behave and what they’re allowed to be passionate about.
With the holidays around the corner, I want to challenge all of us to be intentional about our gift-giving this year. Resist the predictable pink and blue aisles. What about telescopes, microscopes, or kits to make kaleidoscopes? How about a Carnivorous Creations Dome Terrarium Kit—I want that!
With a little effort, it’s nearly as easy—and far more satisfying—to broaden children’s worlds instead of narrowing them.
In case you’re wondering, I have two human body posters in the mail to Stella right now—one of the muscular system and one of the skeletal system. It doesn’t mean she wouldn’t have liked a necklace. But I’m certain she’ll like these far more.