“You can’t be what you can’t see.”
That’s the slogan for RAD Girl Revolution, a new children’s book created by two mothers from my neighborhood, Sharita Manickam and Jennifer Bruno. Like many modern parents, they were disappointed with traditional portrayals of gender roles in children’s books. It wasn’t just the “knight in shining armor” and “damsel in distress” tales that concerned them; it was the idea that astronauts, fire fighters, business people and a host of other professions were almost always characterized as men. Despite the increasing prevalence of girls empowerment programs across the country and a rising presence of similar slogans on clothing targeted to young girls, Manickam and Bruno kept coming back to the same bottom line: if girls couldn’t point to women in specific roles in society, they would have a much more difficult time visualizing themselves in such a position.
To that end, the authors created a book that shows girls dressed as members of professions where women are traditionally under-represented. Bruno staged photographs of young girls for each page, from judges to police officers to CEOs. Each photograph is accompanied by a short rhyming poem to make the picture more accessible to a young child’s imagination. The book is cute on its own but it’s message elevates the project to a more meaningful level.
I’m excited about RAD Girl Revolution for obvious reasons, of course. My daughter is about to turn two and I want to make sure that she grows up believing that she has every possible opportunity available to her. She won’t be able to be “anything she wants,” of course; her genetics are likely going to prevent her from being a professional athlete, for instance. But I would prefer that DNA prevent Shayna from reaching a certain goal, as opposed to an arbitrary glass ceiling imposed by the society in which she lives.
The other reason I’m excited, though, is less obvious.
A few months ago, I wrote a response to a Time Magazine article about toxic masculinity and the differences between the ways parents approach raising sons and daughters. Essentially, girls continue to be encouraged to speak about their feelings and experiences, while also receiving increasing pushes to pursue their dreams, no matter how far fetched. Boys, on the other hand, are still consistently pushed into traditional male-dominated fields and often face criticism for choosing a different path. Girls who want to be doctors are empowered; boys who want to be nurses are ridiculed.
Admittedly, RAD Girl Revolution is not going to solve the issue of traditional views of masculinity pushing young boys into the same typical fields. And it shouldn’t; its main focus is on improving girls’ status in society, a noble cause in its own right. Redefining masculinity is a process that has to start with training sons to think differently about women and girls, as opposed to training girls to stand up for themselves against boys and men.
But that is exactly the other reason I love this project: Trudy and I will buy this book for Eitan as much as for Shayna. We want Eitan to grow up believing that girls and women belong in every profession as much as he does. We want him to understand the different perspectives that women can bring and the value of including input from different sources when solving problems and developing programs. He needs to believe that the assumption that a girl would be unsuitable for a job simply because of her anatomy is not only inaccurate, but harmful. Girls may not be able to be what they can’t see, but boys can’t visualize other possibilities if they don’t see them either.
I hope you’ll join the RAD Girl Revolution with us by contributing to its Kickstarter account and following its progress over the next few months. For more information, please visit the project’s Facebook page, follow RAD Girl on Twitter and Instagram, and check out their recent news spots on PIX11 News, NY1 and amNY.