When my oldest daughter, Breathe, was five, she was convinced that girls could not be doctors. She’d been around several doctors her entire life. As an infant, she underwent surgery on her skull. By a male doctor. Her pediatrician, as fabulous as he undoubtedly is, is a male. She has allergies out the wazoo, and asthma to boot, and also suffered from severe constipation that required us to see specialists and a few ER doctors as well. All of these physicians were, you guessed it… male. Her eye doctor… male. When I was pregnant with my second daughter, Breathe knew that, practically every week, I went to see my OB G-YN…. who was also a male. Then came my myriad of health concerns, including a heart surgery, which was prepared by…. a male. One day, I asked her if she was going to be a doctor when she grew up and she said no, because only men were doctors. I didn’t take this very lightly, I didn’t like this much at all. I promised her that that wasn’t so. I reminded her that her dentist is a female, a girl, a fact to which she responded: “Yes, but she’s a dentist not a doctor. Girls can be dentists.” I promised her that I had been to women neurologists, specialized doctors. I did everything I could think of to convince her that women are just as capable as men of being good doctors. I felt pretty confidant that, in trying to find the BEST doctors for our healthcare, I had inadvertently failed my daughter. I was an awful parent, and I had to make it right ASAP. This unresolved issue continued for several months and then it was time for her to have her annual checkup. Toward the end of the checkup, I said: “Dr. L, we have something that we would like to ask you about, though. ”
“Can girls be doctors?” I asked, looking to Breathe. He opened his mouth, shut it and then nodded. He pulled his little chair around, sat down in front of Breathe, put his hands on her knees and said, “Yes. Girls can –definitely– be doctors. In fact, Dr. S is my boss and she is a girl.” He took a prescription pad and circled the names of the doctors who work in the practice that are girls. Then he said: “Actually, you know what? I am a pediatrician. All of the doctors in this office are pediatricians. We work with kids. And –most– pediatricians are actually girl doctors.” Breathe was looking at him like an alien. He continued, very seriously. “Breathe, as you grow up, there will be all kind of people who tell you that girls can’t do science, that they can’t do math, and that they can’t be doctors or astronauts or scientists. They are lying to you. They are all wrong. Girls can –definitely– be doctors.” I pretty much fell in love with Dr. L that day. I’d always really liked him, but when he treated her concern so seriously, it totally cemented my admiration of him.
Basically, he told her that girls rule. Which, they do.
Contrary to what many (not those that read the blog, but those that actually know me in person), I am rather emotional. I cry. I also over-analyze, love chocolate, sad movies and will probably melt in seconds if ever I was invited to dance in pouring rain. I can’t see someone hurting and not try and fix it; I love caring for others, and Winnie-the-Pooh makes me happy. I love the colors pink and purple, adore tea parties with teddy bears and staring at clouds. I like control, and I can be a bit stubborn. I walk barefoot and drive others nuts by refusing to wear shoes or coats, even in cold weather. I fight the need to be perfect, personalize everything, forget nothing and sentimentalize plenty. Dressing up makes me feel feminine, so I like doing it—but imply that I’m weaker than you are or “girly girl” and I will work until your foot is pretty much jammed in your mouth. I love bubble baths and daydreaming. In essence, I’m a girl. And I don’t know about the other girls out there but I, for one, feel a frequent need to defend these character traits about me. Whenever I cry, I simultaneously apologize. I preface my thoughts and opinions with an apologetic “I know I’m probably over-analyzing again but…” When I stopped a couple years back to help two kids who had been left outside a church, I felt the need to explain why I stopped to help. How ridiculous is that—-I mean, isn’t the better question: why WOULDN’T I stop? Due to complications with her heart rate and my health, I had a C-section when I’d planned and prepared for a natural birth. It took me a long time to stop feeling inferior to women who had given birth to their first child the “right” way. People, let me tell you, there is no wrong way to have a child. In water, naturally; with medication; via a C-section—they all equal the same thing: pain (either in the midst of it all or afterward, take your pick) and beautiful new life. It’s not that I’ve just been defending myself all these years, I’ve been defending the very things that make me a woman.
Women are not delicate. If you think so, you’re in need of some serious education: I suggest you find whatever female happens to be near you right now and tell her that she’s not as strong as you are. The result will likely be edifying, I promise. We shouldn’t have to prove strength to ourselves or to anyone else. But we do, mainly because our –greatest– strengths are more gentle than outward appearances suggest. Without the flair of women’s emotional sentimentality, many of the most breath-taking poetry would never be heard. Women are keen observers but many of our observations only come out when we’re passionate about something, be it a relationship, an argument, a career or what kind of groceries to buy. When we care about something, we make it personal so that we can motivate ourselves to get it done. If our child is hungry, we will find a way to feed her. If we need a promotion, we will work until blood runs down our foreheads to obtain it. We aren’t easily distracted, we keep sight of the goal. We make lists and charts and keep diaries and post it notes inside our purses because we’re all too aware that we’re flawed and we just might forget something important. We take our time in major decisions because we understand that what we do today decides what future we’ll live tomorrow. Men take pride in the fact that they’re often less complicated than their female counterparts while women take heat for being “complicated” even though our complexity is what makes us beautiful. We shouldn’t feel the least bit guilty or ashamed or apologetic for any of the things that make us the beautiful creatures we were intended to be.
I read a book once that claimed all women long to be rescued because all women, deep down, want the fairy tale. It went on to say that there’s nothing wrong with that. Amen. Even if we do secretly long for someone to stand up for us, to be the strong hero that Hollywood and the publishing industry has made famous, even if we do sometimes wish we were Cinderella dancing with the strong Prince… doesn’t that just make us dreamers, safe guarders of a little bit of leftover childhood innocence? Isn’t it the same as the “boyish charm” the grown-up man who loves baseball possesses, with little to no recriminations? Cinderella believed in magic, she wished for love… but who’s to say that, had the Prince –not– shown up, she wouldn’t have one day found a way to leave the house that hurt her? No one assumes the man hypnotized by watching a sports game isn’t also capable of running a successful business: he has to earn his way, he has to earn his position as employer versus employee, yes, but my point is that no one doubts his ability to lead just because he loves sports. But if a woman listed “Disney classics” as opposed to “sports” under the “Hobby” section of a resume, she’d risk a quicker rejection. My girls love the movie “Mulan.” They think, though, that Mulan isn’t a princess, she’s a hero. Can’t a woman be both? I mean, she didn’t fight a war but instead clung tight to her sense of optimism and her dreams—does that make Cinderella less of a hero than Mulan? I don’t know… personally, I think being strong enough to believe in what seems like impossible dreams even in the face of intense adversity is just as heroic and brave as fighting a war. After all, isn’t the point of both to defend what you believe in?
Women have a gift for giving the emotional essentials: hugs, acceptance, tenderness and compassion. Yes, we are inherent nurturers—but we’re also capable of maintaining a clean home, working a job, raising kids and making dinner every night. We’re capable of balancing a checkbook, we’re capable of doing our own taxes, we’re capable of becoming doctors or astronauts or Nobel Peace prize winners. Men are stronger and they offer things that women just can’t. So women offer things men just can’t. Isn’t it rather childish when we compete against each other—if a wife cuts her finger, and a man does the same, don’t they both bleed red? Neither man nor woman is smarter, braver or more accomplished; neither deserves more than the other. Aren’t we equal? I care about my life, he cares about his. I love my children, he loves his. I enjoy working, he enjoys working. I need affection and attention in order to be healthy and thrive; so does he. I need validation and support; so does he. I need food, air and water to survive; so does he. Interests and hobbies vary; gifts, talents and strengths vary; that’s what makes us different, that’s what makes us individuals. I choose to believe in magic and storybook fairy tales; he prefers reason. I’m good at seeing the emotional needs of those around me; he’s good at resolving immediate, tangible needs—without one, isn’t the entirety of the task incomplete?
I don’t think we ever find “the other half” of ourselves. We are complete individuals, whether we are male or female. I believe, however, that it’s possible to meet someone who uses their strengths and talents to uplift mine, who doesn’t have to feel superior in order to feel important, who simply wants to be on my team. There have been incredible women throughout history: Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space; Maleva Maric was the Mother of Relativity; Amelia Earhart; Pat McCormick is an amazing Olympic diver; Jenny Hodgers was a soldier during the Civil War and there are pages of women whose names I could add. We all know that when a woman puts her mind to something, she doesn’t need a man to make it happen: all she needs is God’s guidance. There have been men who have changed the course of history: Einstein, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Aristotle, Hemingway, Shakespeare, Ali and more. What all of these people, both man and woman, had in common was that they believed in themselves and they were passionate about a dream. In essence, I hope my daughters grow up remembering that dreams are the airplanes that send us all flying and the only ticket needed for take-off is Belief.