Let’s start with a disclaimer: I love Walt Disney World. Perhaps a vestige of lingering happy memories from my own childhood trips, I am easily—and happily—captivated by the Disney magic. Walking down Main Street USA with my three young children on their first visit last week, I was immediately transported, ready to live for a few days in that fantasy world. As we approached Cinderella’s castle, my children’s eyes widened, their smiles reflecting a mix of joy and disbelief. This place, which they had seen at the start of countless movies, was real, and inside: princesses.
To be fair, my kids can also recognize the White House, and they could probably pick out President Obama in a photograph. With a mom working to advance women’s political leadership, they’ve knocked doors for Senate candidates. My five-year-olds regularly inquire about governors and mayors, trying to understand the concept of elected officials. But if we ran into Hillary Clinton on a street corner, I can’t imagine they’d have the reaction of 10-year-old Macy Friday.
Whenever I see this picture I wonder, what did her parents teach her to generate such excitement? How did the Friday family turn a political figure into a hero? For parents of young children, it can be especially difficult to communicate the importance of female political leaders. While there is a whole industry in “princess parties,” I’ve never heard of anyone throwing a little girl a “president party.” (Perhaps the utter lack of female US presidents makes that more challenging.)
I want my daughters (and son) to understand the importance of public leaders and see that they come in many forms. Earlier this year, I toured my children’s future kindergarten classroom. The walls were adorned with photographs of President Obama, Governor Deval Patrick, and Mayor Setti Warren—three African-American men. I stopped in my tracks, deeply moved. Seeing those pictures together sent a clear message, one practically unimaginable even a decade ago, about what is possible. However, I couldn’t help but wish for a female face in the group.
While a dose of fantasy is fine and definitely fun once in a while, we need to balance the endless parade of princesses. It’s up to each of us to change our children’s impressions of who and what is glamourous and exciting. Talk to the young girls and boys in your life about female political SHEroes. Let’s make seeing a senator as awe-inspiring as meeting Cinderella.
How do you talk to the kids in your life (children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, students) about public leaders? Share with us on #MarchtoParity
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