I was in preschool when I first told my parents what I wanted to be when I grew up. Much to their amusement the career I one day aspired to have was a “hairstylist ‘slash’ brain surgeon”. My dad assured me that it was the perfect combination of occupations because “I would never have to focus on much more than the head of a person”.
A few years passed and I never got over wanting to be a hairstylist. I would spend hours a day after school brushing the plastic locks of my Barbie dolls, and yet I never seemed to get tired of it. Occasionally Barbie did get old, but then I would just switch over to my Bratz or American Girl dolls. I never played with any STEM based games or toys, I also eventually dropped the ‘slash’ and the idea of wanting to be a brain surgeon.
My parents always encouraged me to do what makes me happy and to always try my best. I was always the kid who followed my parent’s wishes and rarely disobeyed them. I did well in school and never missed a homework assignment. If I did let “my dog eat my homework” not only would my parent’s have been upset with me, I would also have been upset with myself. I valued my education and “knew” I could be whatever I wanted to be, except that was just something I thought, but never truly felt.
If I really felt I could be whatever I wanted to be, maybe I would’ve continued to want to be a brain surgeon. Why was is that when I got to be 7 or 8 years old I decided that becoming a brain surgeon was just “too hard”? I thought the idea was cool, but also thought that only boys can become doctors. My 7 year old self believed that only ladies were nurses, and men were doctors. I never did have a woman doctor until I was 17 years old.
By middle school I stopped caring about my education all together. I watched The Girls Next Door regularly and even admitted to my 8th grade teacher, at 13 years old, that I one day wanted to be a Playmate like Kendra Wilkinson. The beautiful, fun, perky blondes were able to be successful and all while looking like they had fun jobs. Why would I want to try hard in school if one day I could have a job like them? I actually wound up failing 8th grade math that year, and fortunately because of my (probably frightened) teacher I passed the class. Mr. D most likely assumed if he didn’t pass me in 8th grade math he would one day see me bouncing around Playboy Mansion like the women I aspired to be.
I’m proud to say by high school I eventually realized that the Playboy Mansion wasn’t the most ideal or realistic career path. I passed all of my classes, but also didn’t really care or apply myself. Long forgotten was the Katie who always did her homework and studied for hours on end. I did still want to be a hairstylist, but I also learned that you didn’t need a high GPA to be accepted to cosmetology school, so why would I bother studying?
Senior year hit, 12 years since preschool passed by, and I still wanted to be a hairstylist. I was lucky enough to get a job helping out at a local salon and couldn’t have been happier, because this of course was what I was going to do with my life. However, things began to not go as planned. I hated working at the hair salon, and I realized I couldn’t do it for the rest of my life. Absolutely horrified a month before graduation, I had never taken the SAT, and my life plan was just thrown so far out the window I had no idea of where to go. What happened to being a brain surgeon, I still could’ve still been that too right?
No, I couldn’t. It was at that point in my life I realized I royally messed up. How had I never taken an SAT prep course? Why did I stop caring about my grades? Why did I convince myself I was dumb? Why did I lose all confidence in fighting for my dreams?
I did all of those things because I was one of the many girls trained to believe it. Not intentionally, not by my family, not by my educators, but because of history and the business of making money.
Mashable shared a great article that was the perfect inspiration for my first Grumpy Blonde post. The article focuses on a study that shows how girls are more affected by stereotypes by the age of 6 than boys their age. In the article, Lin Bian, the study’s co-author stated that “It’s possible that in the long run, the stereotypes will push young women away from jobs that are perceived as requiring brilliance, like being a scientist or engineer.”. Immediately after reading her quote I was bought back to my childhood career choices and how they played out over the course of my education. I was finally going to get an answer to why I lost interest in becoming a brain surgeon.
The article continued to mention that the study found that “There is a ‘masculine culture’ set up in computer science and engineering which makes girls feel like it is a place where they don’t belong”. Is it bad that I also don’t find it surprising? It’s 2017 and there are women working in every field, but I find myself at college surrounded by female friends who are working towards many of the same liberal art degrees. I can only tell you that 5 or 6 of the girls I know are getting a degree in the STEM field.
I certainly can’t be the only young woman in my friend group to have lost their dream of being a brain surgeon somewhere a long the way. I give credit to my few friends who haven’t lost those dreams of theirs, because I regularly listen to them talk about how they’re usually one of the only girls in their classes. The Mashable article explained that the study isn’t 100% sure on why young girls feel less smart compared to their male counterparts, but they have somewhat of an idea.
History books that we were taught from as children were mostly only filled with the accomplishments of white men. It was filled with mainly their accomplishments because women and people of other races were never given the right to be given credit for their achievements.
Marketing advertisements for children’s toys were based off (slowly diminishing) gender roles. The girls, like me, would play with their Barbies and the boys would play with Legos.
I hate to pick on Barbie, because she really truly made me love my childhood, but sometimes a girl should be able to build something with Legos too.
I don’t think we should tell young girl’s to not play with dolls, but I also don’t think we should just limit them to them.
We should remind young girls that there were smart women in history who made changes in the world.
If we are able to do all of this, maybe my daughter or your daughter won’t forget about her dream of becoming a “hairstylist ‘slash’ brain surgeon”.
Mashable article http://mashable.com/2017/01/26/girls-gender-stereotype-study/?utm_campaign=Mash-Prod-RSS-Feedburner-All-Partial&utm_cid=Mash-Prod-RSS-Feedburner-All-Partial#T.XZEsXJzsqa