How do you inspire girls to make choices that inspire them? How can we inspire girls to be badass and yes, it is a compliment? How do you give them role models?
There is nothing worse in the world that not having any choices. So let’s give our daughters the chance to have options and choices, just like boys. Don’t filter them out before they get started.
I’m in data and technology (my uncle was at Bletchley Park) and I was inspired to learn to program as an eight-year-old girl by a spy who cracked Japanese codes whilst hiding out in India. I was extremely lucky to be taught by someone who knew Alan Turing personally and was friends with Ludwig Wittgenstein, but many folks don’t know where to start. They just know that they have to harness their daughter’s enthusiasm somehow. And there is nothing wrong with boys reading these books either…. or anyone else. My son can read these books and say ‘wow, Hedy LaMarr was awesome!’ and that’s great to hear, right?
On Twitter, I saw the British historian and BBC presenter Dan Snow post the following tweet:
My daughter had a ‘medieval feast’ at school yesterday. Mostly, the boys went as knights, the girls as princesses.
She went as the Viking fleet commander, ‘The Red Girl’ briefly referred to in the 12th C ‘The War of the Irish with the Foreigners.’
— Dan Snow (@thehistoryguy) April 24, 2018
What Mr Snow may not have expected is that there were many responses about the fact that many inspiring women in history get forgotten, or even written out of history. Think Bletchley Park; how many famous women do you know from there? There were thousands of female workers at Bletchley Park there but we only hear about the men.
It’s time to right this wrong, and Snow’s tweet got me thinking. Some mentioned some of their favourite books that focused on women who inspire, in order to show their daughters a different way. Example:
My nine year old is very much enjoying reading these.https://t.co/TfE8H1dN8c
— James O’Flynn (@jamesoflynn) April 24, 2018
WE NEED MORE OF THIS! We often talk about girls needing role models, and we end up being caught in a paradox.
How do we inspire girls with role models, if there aren’t any role models? How do we get role models, if we can’t inspire girls?
Before you read below… how many women can you think of? A quick poll of people around me produces ‘that woman who invented Tippex and was David Bowie’s mother’ – three things with that; a. stop defining her as a mother b. remember her own name as well c. she wasn’t David Bowie’s mother (!). A quick research shows that Bette Nesmith Graham actually was the mother of one of the Monkees. In a reverse Handmaid’s Tale sort of way, you might call him Michael OfBette. If you haven’t read Handmaid’s Tale, please do; it will make you angry because it is so plausible. It will make you scared for how the world could go, and that’s exactly why you should read it.
Well, the good people of Twitter started to put the world to rights again, when people started to note their own favourite books, which showcase women in a variety of fields. I am listing them here, and please do add more in the comments.
I do not get paid for recommending books because that’s plain grubby and money-grabbing. I’m recommending these because the good folks of Twitter recommended them, and I will be reading them myself.
Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls – recommended by James O’Flynn
Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World by Kate Pankhurst – recommended by James O’Flynn
Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics by Jason Porath and recommended by Jenny Colledge
Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs by Jason Porath
These books are perhaps more for the adults:
Laurel A Rockefeller writes a series aimed at women in history
As I said, I’m into technology so I have to recommend Programmed Inequality (History of Computing): How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing. Written by Marie Hicks, it will inspire and hurt and you will learn something about how Britain can do better. Plus, WELCOME TO MY LIFE, PEOPLE.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood – If you don’t read it, then you have to watch it. It’s painful because it’s articulate, insightful and it feels so close to the surface that you can almost touch the dark reality that’s not so far away from ours.
So, Mr Snow, if you ever decide to do a series on female badass characters throughout history, I think you’ll have a very interested audience. #SubtleHint
I want better things for our children, boys and girls. If you are reading this far – Well done you – and it gives me hope that we might miss out on the dystopian future in The Handmaid’s Tale after all.
It’s about giving girls choices. If your daughter wants to be a mommy and wear pink, that’s fine. But if she also wants to be a car mechanic or scientist or save the world through environmental science, she shoudl be able to do that too.