Last week a colleague of mine posted a link to a BuzzFeed article titled “29 Things Women Avoid Doing Because We Fear for Our Safety.” I went down the list and checked off all 29 items. I didn’t even realize I did half of these things?! Then I got upset. As a woman, on what else am I missing. I have been especially aware of my identity as a woman in the last month or so. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just discover this fact yesterday, but I can say I’ve noticed various aspects of my identity take the lead at different points in my life. In this last month I read two amazing books (that I encourage EVERYONE to read ASAP!), Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and The Defining Decade by Meg Jay. Both reminded me of the beautiful, the challenging, and simply, the real, parts of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. In addition to the Buzzfeed list and my summer reading, I came across Verizon’s Inspire Her Mind Commercial. Then, the next day, I encountered yet another video, Always’ #LikeAGirl Campaign. Okay World, what are you trying to tell me?
Well, both of these campaigns brought me to tears. Tears of joy, frustration, hope…tears that prompted me to speak about it, write about it and send them to colleagues, friends, and family. I encourage you to watch both videos; I promise you they are worth your time.
Let’s bring it back to the work we do. What does it mean for our students to identify as women? I think it’s safe to say that it means different things to each of them, and the gender dimension of their very complex identities may be more pronounced at certain life stages. For many it may also mean that certain careers are off-limits, that being a girl means they can’t do certain things like the sciences, jobs that are too time-consuming, or require you to move away from family.
We all have complex identities that consist of our gender identity, socioeconomic class, marital status, sexual orientation, racial/ethnic identity; the list goes on and on. These identities are intricately woven together and inform our day-to-day activities and together, make us who we are. Some dimensions of our identity may be more pronounced at different points in our lives, like when starting college, for example. Being aware of these identities is crucial to our work as counselors, educators, and as professionals in a field in which we come into contact with so many students at such a pivotal time. Gender norms and expectations are deeply ingrained into our society and groupthink that we often don’t realize we are teaching and re-teaching ideas that no longer make sense. We are encouraging girls to hold back, to step down, and to settle.
So, World, thank you for bringing up such an important issue just in time for me to write this blog. As women, our students can have a career AND a family…at the same time. Whether it’s selecting a school, a major, or a career, it’s important that we are aware of the messages we are passing on to our female students and the impact that it will undoubtedly have on their career and life paths.
So, how do you inspire, encourage, and empower the female students that you encounter, to pursue what they are truly passionate about?
By Diana Moreno