Wednesday, March 11, 2015

For my Daughter

I already wrote a blog post for my writing career today. This one is for my daughter.

As a programmer, I've noted for years the dearth of women in the STEM field. I vowed to shield my daughter from influences that block access to these male-dominated fields, but the interference is subtle and pervasive. My wife taught both our children to read before kindergarten, and both have IQs within three points of one another. However, Emily idolizes Pierce because he's "so much smarter." My kids play the same nerd games like Pokemon, read the same books, and watch the same geek shows. However, no one raised an eyebrow at my son skipping a year. My daughter on the other hand has been questioned from all quarters for the last six years. We have to constantly tell her that she belongs there. That bugs the crap out of me.

We do our best to balance the family reading list. For every story with a male lead, we try to find one with a female or at least a balanced cast (Sisters Grimm, Fablehaven, Percy Jackson). TV is more difficult without going fantasy (Wizards of Waverly, Mermaids, or RWBY). I always try to treat my wife with affection and respect around the kids, so they can see how to treat and be treated by members of the opposite gender. This demands constant vigilance, but all it takes is one peer to wreck it.

Two years ago, Emily had her picture hanging in McDonalds for a month because she had the highest scores in math. This year, some kid two years older than her (in the same grade) crushed her self worth with a casual comment. What can I do? Well, hours of dodge ball practice with my daughter helped the most. Seems this boy is considered a whiz at the game, and she can smoke him at it now. She feels powerful and capable now. That's what I can give her.

Most recently, I go to her volleyball games and cheer. At this age, there isn't much volleying. With encouragement and confidence born of her own hard work, I'm proud that Emily runs toward the ball instead of shying away like some of the "girlier" team members. At ten, we're lucky if the players on either side can get it over the net more than they miss. But beyond practicing, Emily has earned something critical--encourage the girls next to you at every opportunity, I think this will help turn the tide for her generation more than my math tutoring or endless setting the ball.

Let's face it, Emily isn't nearly the introvert I am and would likely be bored by number theory and programming combinatorics. She's much more social. The lesson I meant to teach her was that she can do anything she sets her mind to. Yet she shouldn't be a standout in this. If she's the only woman, however exceptional, she'll spend the rest of her career in the same battle she's faced in school. "You don't belong." I think she has the right idea in helping those around her. Life is a team sport. You can't win if you're the only player. She's learned to develop her own support network when I'm not there anymore. But that's hard to shout approval for from the sidelines.

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