‘I can do anything’

‘I can do anything’

When my daughter was young, she liked to ask me about the “olden times” when I was a girl.

The days of no satellite TV, no mobile phones, no Google, not even a measly VCR.

It’s hard for her fathom that life.

Even harder to explain are the attitudes that prevailed before my time, when people were separated on the basis of skin tone or religion, and girls couldn’t have certain jobs simply because they were girls.

Those things are illegal now, but vestiges linger, especially in this year’s presidential campaign.

That’s why, even though I tired of the campaign rhetoric and rancor long ago, I took time to talk with her about the milestone achieved last week.

Whether you like the Democratic nominee or not — and plenty of people don’t — the first woman presidential candidate from a major political party is a big deal.

I don’t think my daughter realized there’d never been one; in fact, she once did a report on Shirley Chisholm, the first woman and first African-American to run for the Democratic nomination, in 1972.

Visiting the United Nations recently, my niece asked her to look at the row of intricately woven tapestries with likenesses of all the secretaries-general over the years. What do you notice? she asked.

“Wait ...,” my daughter said.

While an internationally diverse group, it includes only men.

My eminently sensible daughter just couldn’t figure it out.

Why, she asked one day in the car out of the blue, do people really think the color of your skin makes a difference? I mean, dogs don’t think about that, if one is black or brown or white, she said.

I was momentarily stumped, considering that humans couldn’t manage something that creatures who chase their own tails have figured out.

History is complicated, I started to say. People gravitate to their own cultures, they fear differences, they get all sorts of misconceptions based on their experiences and what they hear, and ... then I thought, not really. It should be pretty simple.

Listening to coverage of Hillary Clinton’s nomination, I heard one commentator accuse her of being sexist by telling girls that they could one day be president. She accused Clinton of “tearing down” boys and said there never was a glass ceiling. Noting that she has a son, the woman said it would have been better to say, “You know what, whether you are a boy or a girl, both of you, my job will be to make sure it’s equally an option for both of you.”

I went downstairs and my daughter had listened to the same conversation, puzzled at the reaction.

I tried to explain. I told her that I would never want to take any opportunity away from her brother. But what we all want is a level playing field, and it’s OK to celebrate that.

I think of it like this: if it were only women in that U.N. lobby, or we’d had only women as presidents for 227 years, wouldn’t it strike you as odd that half the population had never gotten a shot at the top job?

That’s all it is. Fairness. Equal opportunity, for both of my kids. For all kids.Blog Photo

Girls growing up today are already in that mind-set. That was clear when I talked to a few middle-schoolers at the “Girls Engaged in Math and Science” camp last week sponsored by the University of Illinois Department of Computer Science.

Berelian Karimian, 12, was particularly eager to offer her thoughts on Clinton’s nomination.

“It’s nice, but I actually wanted to become the first woman president,” she said. “But I also want to become a mathematician, and as a hobby a pianist. And I might just add some computer science in, too.

“If I don’t become president, or if I’m too busy becoming president, I might just get a major or minor in law.”

Raneem Saadah, 13, thought it was good to have a “girl candidate” for president.Blog Photo

“It’s about time — 44 presidents and none of them are girls. None of them are African-American until Barack Obama. So I think just having a girl president, it shows more of the diversity that people have been trying to look for.”

Not that she’s interested in the job. She’s thinking of being a commander in the military: “I do tae kwon do and I’ve done karate and stuff like that.”

Bianca Rubel, 13, a Clinton supporter, said it would be a “good change” to have a woman president.

But she adds, “I think the concept of having a girl is less important than” the candidate herself.

She’s never felt disadvantaged because she’s a girl.

“I can do anything I want,” she said. "If someone tells me I can’t do it, I’ll just be like, ‘What are you talking about? I’m going to do it.’”

Maybe that’s an attitude we can all agree on.

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Julie Wurth blogs about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below, or contact her at 217-351-5226, jwurth@news-gazette.com or Twitter.com/jawurth.

Photos:

Top: Middle-school girls work on teamwork at the University of Illinois Department of Computer Science's "Girls Engaged in Math and Science" computer-coding summer camp in late June. Those sessions focused on game design and 'CS and the Environment.'

Bottom: Girls at the GEMS 'Wearable Computing' and 'CS and the Arts' camps toured the Spurlock Museum of World Cultures during the last week of July.

Photos courtesy UI Department of Computer Science

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