I’m squarely in mid-life, 42 years old, a mom to two, no longer a “young” doctor or young entrepreneur or young voice. Perhaps because of that, I’m starting to see things differently when it comes to raising boys and girls to support equality.
I’m a feminist. I think that means I don’t want gender/sex to get in the way of any individual. I was raised with a mom and dad who didn’t present a world of possibilities different for me than the one they presented for my brother. At least not that I could see. I’ve been mentored, supported, encouraged, and nurtured as a woman in the workplace, and a mother in my community, by female mentors like my mom and my advisor in college (a professor of psychology who studies gender), current and past colleagues, advisors, employers and co-workers, and dear friends. But more than ever before I’m feeling the profound support I’ve had from men in my life to be an active, striving-for-equal opportunity physician and advocate. In some ways it’s easier for me because I have the fortune to work as a physician in pediatrics, a field of physicians with a majority of women. In fact, 3/4 of the pediatric resident physicians in the US are women. It’s complicated though, so if interest consider reading, “The Good and Bad Statistics On Women In Medicine.”
However, now more than ever,
I’m starting to feel it isn’t my voice that will make things better for equal rights at large as time unfolds, it’s the voice of my boys.
Obviously this isn’t only about women supporting women. My strongest and perhaps most loyal advisors during my medical school education and during my residency training were both men who have helped me see and also helped me strategically carve out ways to get work done while also having children. I’d describe my residency mentor as one of the biggest feminists I’ve ever known. His feminism and support for me persist in my work and life. Exhibit A: I posted a photo in my pink hat on the day of the Women’s March in January and he was the first to comment saying, “I’m with you, Wendy.” He’s 40 years my senior and carries with him an elegant view of different ways to contribute to pediatric health care and also enjoy raising children of my own. Circa 2005, I vividly remember him drawing out, on a napkin, the different kind of career trajectories one could have in pediatrics and public health, describing them in terms of typical gender norms and roles and stating that I could do this — this career and life — any way that fit with my ethos, energy, passion, and tempo. I could adapt a “male” trajectory or a historically “female” one but that all models could work for all people.
Boys and men in my life do show me also how much they include me. Of course, I’ve felt discrimination, too. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about the BIG opportunity of NOW.
Raising Boys And Girls Who Nurture Equality
In the near middle (half way to college!) of raising two little boys, during this profound and illuminated time for girls and women in history, and I say let’s tap on the shoulder of little boys and men today. Deliberately. So much opportunity for girls and women to have equal rights, equal pay, and equal perception of opportunity in their lives rests not in the work of loud and quiet women but in the voices of men who support equal rights.
Today I’m quietly (or not so quietly now) wearing red. I’m not alone here in Seattle. At school drop-off I saw red shoes, red purses, red sweaters, and red down jackets. The welcome note on my 2nd-grader’s chalk board celebrated International Women’s Day in red pen, nonetheless. When I saw it, I felt a pang of regret that I didn’t make more a to-do this morning about my little boys wearing red. Perhaps we’ll suit up in red for dinner.
Do-overs are okay here.
Equal rights, we’ll keep working for them for all children, all minorities, all of the underserved, the vulnerable, and those without the strongest voices. But today I’m reminded how very much we must get our boys and the men in the midst to share their support for girls and women in STEM, in leadership, and in life.
It’s women who largely will wear red today, sure. But it’s my hope we’re raising children into a new world where each year more and more men wear the red, too. We need to call this out when we see it, endorse and celebrate it. I’m getting more deliberate. When my family recently watched Hidden Figures, I stopped the movie a couple of times to show my boys what was happening explicitly. How male characters in the story helped take a sledgehammer (literally in one scene) to racism and sexism carving a path for women mathematicians at NASA. How men were encouraging and literately plowing opportunities for their female, black colleagues. I remember saying to my boys something like:
You may never have a chance to fight for equal rights in a way that feels this dramatic or poetic, like they do in this movie. But you might. And if you do — take the opportunity — and remember these images as a great example of brilliant strength. By celebrating and advancing women’s voices you’ll not only advance their understanding, science, and work but your own opportunities, too. No question in my mind.
There are countless articles written about how companies do better when women are included in leadership roles.
There is infinite hope in equal pay and what that will mean for families in the US.
There is boundless smarts in acknowledging we need to keep evolving to support girls and women.
I’m not writing a “how to” here. I’m just hoping we can all talk about International Women’s Day at dinner or bedtime tonight. Get ideas from our people at home on how to support equal rights in an every-day way. No more tip-toeing, I say. Let’s tap on the shoulder of girls and women, yes, but all the boys and men in our lives today, too. So much of the velocity of equal rights for women is held in their hands…