At a dinner party this week, some friends and I were discussing some of the television shows that captivated us as children. The men talked about Voltron and Six Million Dollar Man, while the women talked about Bionic Woman. Later I thought about the singing, dancing and drama series Fame, set at the School of the Arts in the USA and how I would have done just about anything to be a part of that world. As a teenager the characters in that show seemed so talented, so interesting and yet somehow accessible, that they became the substance of my dreams and ambitions. Oh the heartache of adolescence!
Today when my children and I talk about their career prospects I tell them that whatever they will be has not yet been invented. They find this puzzling and cannot process that a career choice which doesn’t exist today may yet materialize as the world changes.
Concerned that girl children are not aiming high enough and doing my bit to expose them to positive female role models, I decided one day to introduce a little girl to a lady financial director. I explained that the woman was in charge of all the money in the company and therefore very powerful and I suggested that perhaps one day if the little lady worked hard at her maths and science she too might have such a big and powerful job. How wrong was I! She firmly declared (in front of said FD) that she had no such ambition and was instead going to pursue a career as a dancer! That left me despondent.
Not that I have anything against dancers per se. After all, I too aspired to this career choice at some point (shhh don’t tell my mother!) My anxiety is around the fact that girls should be more aware of a wider range of career choices available to them. As a clever women once said, ”You can’t be what you can’t see,” and until women in positions of leadership and authority start stepping forward for girls to see them, we will continue to shortchange the next generation by presenting a limited number of options to them.
A little girl today can dream of becoming an astronaut, a software developer, a neurologist, a biochemist, a professor of behavioural science, a water and sanitation engineer, as well as a dancer or a financial director. As children, many of us did not conceive that those options were available to us. When the little girl who disdained a career in finance grows a little older and begins to better understand the full implication of such a career choice, when she has been exposed to enough women financial directors and seen how they live, when she understands that the girls who are four or five years older than her are now dreaming of being financial directors, then maybe something in her will begin to open up to the possibility that she too might one day be counted among them.
SOUTHERN SISTER - SUNDAY 25 AUGUST 2013
I write to lend you my courage, to help you find the words for the things that frighten you; the things you feel, but are not yet ready to say. I write, to tell the stories of our time and to edify those whose stories I tell and their audiences.