(Originally written April, 2016)
In the spirit of subtle non-conformity, this evening I eagerly attended the Mad Science with Mom event at school with my daughter – a Mother-Son event.
We arrived to an auditorium full of rambunctious elementary-aged boys puddled together hyperactively cross-legged on the floor making a mess of pizza and absently spilling their waters. On the stage in front of them was a young science enthusiast – ironically female – wearing a white lab coat and protective goggles presenting super cool experiments to all that would give her two-seconds of their undivided attention. She used rubbing alcohol to catch a dollar bill on fire while explaining why the alcohol burns, but the dollar doesn’t. Did you know paper money is partially made out of cotton, so it will only burn at a higher heat than rubbing alcohol by a difference of 20-degrees? I didn’t. Maybe that’s ‘cause I’m a girl and I’m not supposed to care.
The scientist continued to expound on the chemicals in dry ice that make it steam and cause a coin to emit a lingering sound on contact. She explained that oxygen is a gas we breathe in and carbon dioxide is a gas we breathe out. The kids learned hands-on how to make slime from sodium and water, how to make a periscope using mirrors and light, and how magnets attract with opposite poles and repel with same poles. You know, cool shit!
Ava had said she wanted to go to this event, and frankly, I wanted to take her. Because science is not just for boys, just like dancing is not just for girls at the Father-Daughter Dance – and yet we are still operating in an age where these two things are gender exclusive. Can you imagine how a boy might feel if he wanted to attend the dance? In our culture, he wouldn’t dare.
It turns out, most girls wouldn’t dare attend a science event, either.
The first thing Ava noticed when we walked in the door was that she was a minority. I had prepped her that there would mostly be boys, but probably some girls, too. There were maybe two other girls there that were likely siblings of the boys. I encouraged her to sit with some of the boys she’s known for years, which she did. But about 10-minutes in, she came over to me holding back tears wanting to sit on my lap and not wanting to tell me why.
I knew why. She was uncomfortable. I immediately felt like maybe this was a mistake. It wasn’t my intention to put her in an uncomfortable situation. She is a girl that enjoys playing with boys and doing “boy” stuff and “girl” stuff. I told her we could leave if she wanted to – that it was no big deal if she’d rather go home. But she said no. She wanted to stay.
She sought comfort in my lap a while longer, intently watching the science presentation, asking me questions, both of us geeking out, occasionally exclaiming “Cool!”
When I felt she was in better spirits, I excused myself to get a bite to eat and let her sit in my chair by herself. I am of the belief that we can comfort our children when they need it, but we must also recognize when it’s time for them to get back on that horse. Once the presentation was over, when the kids swarmed the swag booths like bees to a hive, she lit up with delight and unfettered participation.
Not to make a mountain out of molehill – or maybe to do just that – these are the subtle societal messages we keep teaching our boys and our girls without thinking twice about it. I realize it’s just a harmless elementary school fundraiser. I understand the concept of doing special events for dads and their girls, and moms and their boys. I adore the father-daughter dance as an opportunity for my girl to have her daddy treat her like a princess. I get the premise of it all, but I don’t agree with the exclusive, annual, no diversity stereotyped themes – girls will dance and look pretty, boys will be smart and curious. That is all.
I’m a girl who likes playing the drums and riding dirt bikes. I’m a girl in a male dominated profession. I’m also a girl who likes to put on make-up, wear my hair long, and dance in heels. I’m a girl who enjoys science, learning, cussing, drinking… oh wait…
These are not mutually exclusive gender traits. There are a ton of other themes to explore. How about purposely doing the opposite of the social norm – a Mother-Son dance and a Father-Daughter Science night? I’ve seen your boys throw down a dance party, people. At this age they haven’t learned that, by default, they aren’t supposed to like to dance, because that’s what girls like. They don’t pull those expectations out of their proverbial butts. They learn it from us. If we don’t teach them to view and experience things from all sides, how can we expect them to be empathetic and open-minded adults?
I’m not interested in standing at a podium with a megaphone leading a rally call for justice, but I am interested in showing my own daughter that she doesn’t have to live in this classification.
It is in the subtle everyday things we do and say that send the loudest, deepest, most formative messages over time. I want the message my daughter hears to be empowering.
I second guessed myself for taking Ava to an event that caused her to feel out of place, but in the end, I’m glad she experienced the discomfort of being one of the only girls at the science event. It’s a crucial life skill to learn how to be uncomfortable, how to deal with uncomfortable, how to overcome uncomfortable. It is being out of your comfort zone that actually cultivates empowerment. I’m glad she stuck it out, by her own choosing, even though she was intimidated. She wanted to be there, she deserved to be included.
There is a song we love in our house by Beyonce called ‘Run the World’. The lyrics are basically, “Who run the world? Girls.” Sometimes when we sing it at the top of our lungs, Ava says she feels bad for boys. Coming from a child’s brain, that essentially means she doesn’t want to be better than boys, she wants to include boys in the empowerment. Now put that in your pipe and smoke it.
When we got home, her Dad asked her if she had fun. She enthusiastically said yes and showed him her slime.
He responded to her bout of discomfort with, “Don’t be intimidated by boys. Especially because none of those boys ever took apart a motorcycle.”
They will be back in the garage rebuilding the Sportster this weekend, followed by a dance party.