Jobs For The Girls

I was talking to my child the other day about life, friends and anything in between when she decided to ask me a question about work, or ‘workies’ as she likes to call it. The conversation took a sharp left turn that I really was not expecting.

“Mammy, why do grown ups have to go out to do workies?”
“Well, because grown ups do jobs for other people and places and in return they get given money, so that they can buy food and pay for things that they need.”
“But why do they need to have monies for things?”
“Because we can’t just take things without paying for them, that would be stealing and we need to buy the things we need to live. That’s just how it all works.”
“Well….you don’t go out to do work, you just work at your computer and at your drawings…you don’t have a boss.”
“No, but I work for myself, everyone’s work is different.”
“Do people not like going to their workies? Is it hard?”
“Sometimes, but some people really like what they do – we try to choose work that we want to do and that we like doing.”

Observational chuckles aside, it made me realise that my daughter understands the concept of working for a living fairly well for a preschooler. But what she said next really surprised me. I asked her:

“What do you think you’d like to do for workies when you’re grown up?”
“I dunno…what workies there are…”
“Well, you could do lots of things – you could be a dancer, an artist, or a doctor, a dentist, or you could be in the police or a firefighter-“
“No I can’t Mammy, they’re boy jobs!”
“What? No they’re not-“
“They are, they’re just jobs for boys.”

I was shocked. Really. I’ve never mentioned or referred to job roles in a gender-specific or stereotypical way, so to hear her come out with this was really jarring to me. I have no idea how or where she’s digested the notion that only boys can be policemen and firemen or doctors. It baffles and worries me, and speaks volumes of the cultural underpinning of workplace stereotypes that we obviously still have in this world. My daughter seemed so resigned to this fact that I was genuinely stunned for a minute.

Needless to say, I informed her that girls could absolutely do those jobs, and often do. I made a point of showing her examples of policewomen, female doctors on TV shows, video clips of female firefighters and women working in engineering and manufacturing. It really bothered me that she would believe that without question, especially as I’ve always worked hard to ensure she feels able to access any opportunity she wants to. Why did she think like this?

The one saving grace that eased my mind is her attitude towards sport. My daughter loves to be active (sometimes too active for my liking) and seems to really enjoy being outdoors, whatever the weather. We both play rugby, and not once has she ever asked me why girls are playing a ‘boy’s’ game. Surprising really, and a testament to the power of the sport that it’s made such an impact on inclusion, whereas it seems the mainstream world of work yet has not.

It makes me sad to think that in 2018, there are still children growing up with these beliefs, and it’s our job to make sure that these beliefs do not go unchallenged. I don’t want my child thinking that there are things she cannot do because she’s a girl – that’s all kinds of wrong. Regardless of how backwards our society might be travelling, I refuse to allow my daughter to feel limited at the age of four. No chance.

Our girls should never feel limited, women have worked far too hard for too long for this perpetual mantra of  ‘jobs for the boys’ to remain the norm. I won’t have it.

After much discussion, I decided to ask her for her thoughts once more:

“So what do you think you’d like to do when you’re a grown-up – and remember, it can be anything you like.”
“Well…can you do rugby as a job? I think I’ll just do that.”
“Of course you can. If that’s what you want to do, you can.”

Of course she can. We need to start looking at our world’s representation of women even more than ever before and challenging the stereotypes we see. Yes, progress has been made, but clearly – it’s not enough.

There’s more to be done to ensure our children accept and understand workplace equality, to ensure our daughters feel that they are able to access whatever work they might like to do as adults. We need to work together to achieve that.

These are our jobs for the girls.

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