The longer this campaign goes on, the more pessimistic I find myself. So a few days ago, when the principal at my children's school posted a photo of a girl on facebook with the shirt "why be a princess when you can be the president?" my only reaction was "we keep telling them that, yet not one example".
Which started me thinking about the million other things we tell our daughters that ring hollow, for the most part. And so I decided I would run a Girls Excelling in Math and Science club at Helen's school next year. As the name suggests, this is a club focused on math and science for girls - and the introductory materials for potential group leaders are very powerful.
For example, they not only cite the research that, particularly in middle school - girls drop out of math and science, but they point out things that teachers do that encourage this. For example, teachers often call on the student jumping out of their chair waving their hand, the student with the first answer, the student who blurts something out. (And even if the teacher doesn't call on the student blurting something out, that student has likely taken the wind from the sails of the student who will eventually answer.) Girls aren't as likely to do any of these things.
When it comes to science experiments, girls become the data recorders, rather than the people performing the experiment - hands on. And of course, the data recorder is important - but it shouldn't be the girl's job all of the time.
The solution? The club guidelines ask club leaders to always wait about 15 - 30 seconds before calling on anyone for an answer. While waiting, the leader should look around encouraging all of the girls to come up with the answer. The leader is silently letting them all know that each of their opinions are valuable, whether they come to the girl immediately or it takes a few moments. The leader should, of course, rotate who she calls on, to give everyone air-time. I love this advice, and I'm going to start using it in my book clubs. Often, I'm sure I let the person who seems most excited talk, because their excitement is contagious.
The next important thing about the club is that the club is run by women - and the leaders are called on to bring in examples of scientists working in various fields. In this way, our daughters can see people who look like them in the jobs we are telling them they are qualified for - yet every book they read will be loaded with male examples and the female examples will be few and far between (Curie, McClintock, Goodall, Lovelace, Carson, and Hopper).
So I sent an email to several parents at our school who seem to know everyone. I asked if they could connect me to a mother, grandmother, or even a high school girl who was a scientist (whether or not that person was currently working in a science field). I can cover math, but I'd love a science partner.
The response so far? Nada.
And so I'm left wondering, in a ridiculously wealthy community that hosts plenty of highly educated women - are there really no scientists?
This might be harder than I imagined. Thankfully, a friend reminded me that AAUW has a local chapter, and they likely get requests like this all the time.
So continue to hunt, I will.