In 1951 when I was six, I announced “When the men who are making the first space ship get finished, I am going to the moon.”
Since you haven’t heard of a woman on any of the expeditions to the moon, it’s obvious that I didn’t make that goal come true. But having a goal like that, and having a supportive grandfather, led me to a successful career in another male-dominated field, computer science.
Recently I was involved in a Twitter conversation. A father was complaining about an article that stated that maybe the reason women aren’t involved in the STEM fields is that they aren’t as good at STEM activities as men. The father’s statement, which is what got me involved in the conversation, was “This is the last thing my daughter who is fascinated by science needs to hear.”
When I offered him some encouragement to share with his daughter, his response was “She wants to be the first person on Mars.” Clearly this was a kindred soul. And her father, like my grandfather, would help nourish her dream until it had roots to grow on its own.
Notice that neither of us said we wanted to be the first woman to do something. And I’m sure that the main driving force for Sally Ride and Kathy Sullivan was not to be the first American woman in space or the first American woman to walk in space. But they were. What drove them, what drove me and what drives the young girl who wants to be the first person on Mars is something else. It is a drive to do something that interests us.
For far too long, young people with non-traditional-dreams have been told that their dreams are unrealistic. Sometimes the falsehood that people like them aren’t any good at the field they are dreaming about is added in. This has to stop.
There are signs of hope. I just saw the movie “The Martian”. While the main characters are still all men, the movie also has a group of strong women with serious jobs. And the commander of the mission to Mars is a woman!
So maybe my young friend will be more successful in achieving her goal of space conquest than I was. Or maybe she will find another path through life that interests her more. But, regardless, she should never be told that “girls don’t”. Because they do. They always have.
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