My home is not one where you will find traditional gender roles straight out of the 1950s. On any given day my husband, Mike, can be found cooking the family dinner or vacuuming while I assemble a book shelf or balance our check book. This isn’t by accident. We want our daughter, Annie, to be raised in an environment where she learns firsthand that women (and men) can be and do whatever they want. Considering that you can imagine my shock when, a few days ago, Annie said something that would have lead you to think she was being raised by June and Ward Cleaver.
Annie has been infatuated with doctors of late. Her new favorite TV show is “Doc McStuffins,” which follows the adventures of a little girl who wants to be like her doctor mother so much that she plays doctor with all of her toys. Annie also has been a very interested observer of my current pregnancy, and wants me to tell her every last detail about each and every one of trips to the doctor (which are many since my pregnancy is high risk).
A few days ago Annie wanted to “play doctor,” so she pulled Mike and me into the play room.
“I’m the patient,” she said. “Daddy is the doctor, and Mommy is the nurse.”
Mike and I glanced at each other sideways.
“How about Mommy plays the doctor and I play the nurse,” Mike suggested.
“No! Mommy is the nurse and you’re the doctor!”
“Why don’t you play the doctor, Annie?” I suggested.
“No, Mama. I can’t.”
“Because boys are doctors and girls are nurses.”
Annie’s pediatrician is a woman. My perinatologist, who Annie asks about every week, is also a woman. Even flippin’ Doc McStuffins and her mother are female! How on earth could Annie have picked up the sexist notion that only men are doctors?
I thought on this for a while and it eventually dawned on me that, as much as Mike and I try our best not to expose Annie to antiquated/sexist thinking, we’re not her only exposure to the world. There’s things she sees on television, conversations she overhears in public, advertisements on billboards, you name it. Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do – especially when out in public – to stop her from seeing these things.
Perhaps most disconcerting? I have no memory of seeing or hearing something that made me think, “Yikes! I really wish Annie didn’t see that.” This means that whatever sexist thoughts or images that influenced Annie to think that only men could be doctors is so ingrained into every day life that most of the time we don’t even notice it.
I had a long talk with Annie, reminding her about all of the female doctors she knows, and now she likes to be the doctor when we play. That’s awesome, but it doesn’t change the fact that she lives in a world that sends her the wrong message, often in the subtlest of ways.