Monday, December 21, 2009

"Why can't boys be doctors?"

When I write my family's annual holiday card letter, I'm writing for two audiences. The first consists of our far-flung friends and family, the people we no longer get to see on a regular basis. The second group is composed of my three children—or, rather, my children's future selves. My hope is that my yearly recaps will help them remember their childhoods and our lives together.

I can't fit the following tidbit into the letter (I keep my year-in-reviews to one page), but I think it's something readers here will appreciate, especially if they have a daughter.

Earlier this year, the elder of my seven-year-old twins (i.e. the one who is at varying times age 17 or 37) asked me, "Why can't boys be doctors?"

As I responded that "boys" could in fact be doctors, and reminded her of some of the male doctors we knew, I realized that all of her doctors—her pediatrician, dentist, orthodontist—are women.

When I explained that there was a time when all doctors were men, and that women weren't allowed to go to medical school, she exclaimed, "What!? Are you kidding me?"

What was once the norm (men as doctors, women not) made no sense to her, just as it wasn't making sense to her that boys, because they are boys, might be prohibited from becoming doctors.

This daughter and I had a similar conversation during the presidential inauguration. She understood that George W. Bush was leaving as president and that Barack Obama was becoming the president, but she wanted to know when "the lady" was president. (She had seen Hillary Clinton on TV during the campaign and vaguely knew she had already lived in the White House.)

I replied that the United States has never had a female president. That answer of course led to the question, "Why not?"

After a lengthy discussion about the history of womanhood in America, Ms. Ava asked when our country would have a "girl president." I said I didn't know.

"It might not be until you're a grown-up," I answered. "In fact, it might be you."

She smiled.

Pictured, in a 2004 snapshot: A future commander-in-chief?

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