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More Than a Princess – Also a Brain

I grew up with a math professor and married an engineer. Entered college loving math, accounting, statistics, but hating science.

More Than a Princess Also a Brain

What I didn’t realize was that I really hated was the dull, pointless science classes I was forced to take in junior high and high school. And the experiments the teachers thought were cool, but related to nothing we were learning — and that they couldn’t explain anyway. And the endless parade or memorizing stuff just long enough to ace the test. (The one exception would be Mr. Nozowa’s physics class where we argued about whether or not there was a google of anything (I say, yes) and made alka selzer cars.)

Suffice it to say that being a girl who liked math was beyond weird.

But there is hope with women like Debbie Sterling around. Women who understand the situation and set about to solve it.

If I had know about this Kickstarter before it closed (after raising of over 190% of its goal!) I would have so been part of it. And if this were still age-approopriate, it would be on my Christmas shopping list. (Watch out, future granddaughters!)

Beyond awesome!

In the discussion following the video on YouTube, I found this conversation:

Streambeta said:

 The problem is not having girl specific toys so that girls will become interesting in engineering/technology or science. The problem is and always has been with the parents. Stop drowning girls in all this fantasy girly BS, give her the same stuff that boys are given to play with, drown her in stuff that will actually promote thought and creativeness within her brain.

The only reason pink is for girls and blue is for boys is because that is what kids are grown up around. Stop being sexist.

I understand the sentiment, but I disagree. Aside from the idea that we should “drown” or kids in anything, I’d bet money the woman doesn’t have much experience raising girls. 

When Jessica, our oldest child, was born, I was determined that she be raised in a somewhat gender-neutral environment. That didn’t mean anything very extreme — she wore dresses sometimes and had bows in her hair and has a distinctly feminine name.

After reading Math Stinks, I knew what to do. There were to be no dolls and particularly no aweful, hideous, sexist Barbies! Instead we had Legos (not the girlie ones!) and other building materials, art supplies, musical instruments, and we signed up for swimming and soccer. The closest we got to being a ballerina was “creative movement” class that had about 40% boys in it.

When Jessica was two, her cousin Ryan (three months her senior) asked for a doll for Christmas. Her brilliant and educated parents (PhD in physics and MS in math education (my sister)) had no problem with the request. When Santa brought a Ryan a little girl dolly with a red and white dress, I knew I was on the right track.

I wasn’t moved when I watched Ryan toddle around Grandma’s house dragging the doll alternately by the foot and the hair. (To be clear, he’s a married adult now with a son, and a great dad with no caveman fathering techniques detected.)

But a few months later I took an temporary gig at Novell to make ends meet while we finished college. Juggling our schedules, we found that the income would only be possible if we had help. My mom volunteered — anxiously, I might add! — to watch Jessica three per week for about three hours. And the first thing she did — to my horror — was to buy a baby doll, complete with multiple sets of clothes, feeding utensils, bottles, diapers, the whole enchilada.

I held my tongue, realizing that my mom was the volunteer helper here and that the “Grandma doll” would stay safely tucked away at Grandma’s house, inflicting minimal damage on my child’s forming scientific identity.

The first day of Grandma Play Date, I arrived early to help with the transition. Of course, “the transition” was nonexistent since Jessica knew her grandma very well, spent lots of time at that home with us, and adored her grandma and the doting she got from her. But anyway, I had to help with the transition.

When we walked in, my mother presented the giant doll box to Jessica. She tore into it. Picked up the doll and cradled it. She rocked it. She cooed to it. She fed it a bottle and then burped it.

This from a girl who had no siblings and had never been to a day care in her life. Not to mention that she had a mom who’d spent two years trying to level the playing field for her. That is what moved me. She was instinctively different from my nephew.

I’m not trying to make the case that all girls are exactly the same or all boys are, either. Just that I realized then that there actually are some intrinsic differences in gender other than siting vs. standing in the bathroom. And that’s OK, it’s fine, it’s good.

That doesn’t mean girls can’t or shouldn’t or won’t be good in math or science. But it might mean that in order for them to find interest and enjoyment in those things — on a general level — we might need to approach the subjects differently than we have historically.

So what happened with my parenting style? I stopped being anal about girlie stuff and started trying to let the kids express their interests while finding ways to encourage them in things that would be useful in their adult lives.

After that, Jessica had dolls. When she was five, her other grandmother sent her a Barbie for Christmas. Not just any Barbie. A Miss America Barbie. Of all the extreme to the left of sexist toys on the planet, that’s what she got. And you know what? She survived. She even liked it. And in spite of my protestations and counter-recommendations, all my other girls had at least one Barbie phase of their own. And survived them, too.

Her Halloween outfits were typically things like ballerina, princess, and gypsy. And she survived.

Then she got a bachelor’s degree in film editing with minors in computer science, graphic design, and ballroom dance. Now she’s completing her master’s in information systems — and is on BYUs ballroom dance team.

Ultimately, I decided there is nothing wrong with being a princess. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of being a brain. She’s a pretty great mix of the two.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Optimalmission July 21, 2013, 11:01 pm

    Love that your daughter is in computer science and sequins all at the same time. We don’t have to give up one for the other. You must be so proud of Jessica!

  • Margie July 23, 2013, 10:10 am

    I like the idea of equality of opportunity without demanding the removal of the feminine. I mean, we do women have to become men to be equal?

  • Kathleen July 23, 2013, 2:41 pm

    I raised 2 girls and 1 boy and they all played with the same toys; dolls, blocks, cars, Barbies and it was okay. I think most people are born with an instinct towards something, like rocking a baby, but that doesn’t mean that is all they can or should do. I also think that women can hold a traditionally male position without becoming masculine. By the same token, men can hold a traditionally female position with our becoming feminine. We can have the same talents without changing who we are and the way we were created.

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