AS I SAT DOWN TO WRITE THIS MONTH’S COLUMN I HEARD ON THE RADIO THAT THIS YEAR’S AUSTRALIAN SCIENCE OLYMPIAD TEAM ACTUALLY HAS A 50-50 SPLIT OF MALES AND FEMALES. THIS IS A BIG THING. LAST YEAR THE TEAM HAD A SINGLE GIRL AND IN 2015 THEY HAVE EIGHT!
Giving girls the opportunity to do what they want is easy in theory but getting them to believe they can is often another thing altogether.
A few years back I was being given a delightful lecture by the then-three-year-old Gypsy about her turtle and its “natchel habitat”. It included what they eat, what they like to do (swim, eat and surf currents apparently) and even how they got their shell.
It was a lovely way to start the day and through my smiles and laughter I called her a clever girl. I was shocked at her answer: “I’m not clever Daddy.”
“What? Honey you’re VERY clever.” She hung her head sadly and said “I’m not clever. I not a boy.”
Heart smashed. I was horrified. Then mortified. Then angry but with no one to be angry at. Then incredibly sad. All these emotions raced through me in two seconds.
I picked her up and forced a laugh and told her that anyone could be clever and it didn’t matter whether you were a girl or a boy. And tickled her to reinforce the point.
And while she soon ran off laughing to jump on her twin sister, my queasy stomach tormented my addled brain for the rest of the day. I had a few stupid moments of “how could I have prevented this” and “should I have started on equality earlier” before taking a few deep breaths.
I want my girls to grow up knowing they can do anything and not be limited by archaic ideas of gender and it’s something I’ve always planned to instil in them. It’s one of the few things I have in the MUST LEARN column which is why it cut so deeply.
But at the end of the day she IS clever and I’m not being a biased father when I say that. This is a girl who built a ladder to climb onto the couch before she could walk. Then not long after she started walking she stared intently at a doorknob before constructing an intricate and huge ramp so she could open the door.
She wants to know how things work. Unlike her twin, she’s often quiet and contemplative. She remembers things in detail from years ago (bear in mind she’s only five). She knows more about turtles, platypii and Wonder Woman than kids twice her age.
My point is that she is parsecs away from being “not clever”. And incidentally Gypsy will tell you a parsec is “a long, long way”.
Anyway I spent an entire day of worry stressing about why this had happened and how I must be a bad parent. I’d worked out it probably came from daycare and it might be as blunt as a little boy telling her the ‘fact’ or that she simply misunderstood the application of the word. And that’s what I was forgetting in all this. She was not even four. I couldn’t treat her like an adult with adult comprehension. She could have declared “only a platypus can be clever”. All I can do is to calmly correct her when she’s wrong and hope she learns the lesson somehow.
So perhaps next time I need to try and bite down my horror and not over-react. That’s probably the real lesson here. Even if they learn osmotically, they still spend more time with me than the little boys of the world, clever or not.