Thursday, March 8, 2012

Stealing Dreams: International Women's Day

Looking Out the School Window (NYC, 2/2012)

I. Girls' Dreams

Today was International Women's Day 2012 and I spent a portion of the day reading young teenage girls' dreams--texts they were authoring that described how they imagined their near futures (early 20s). One girl imagined she would be a part time teacher and have twins. The remainder described their futures in terms of:
  • having two to five children
  • having twins
  • driving a Hummer
  • being married to an attorney, clown, rapper, or current boyfriend
  • getting paid a lot of money
  • living outside of New York City
  • no longer "living horribly"
The girls I spoke with hailed from the south end of the Bronx. Here poverty is persistent.  The public middle school they attend has an "A rating" from NYC DOE.  I have found the school to be an intriguing place, populated with professionals who daily make critical differences in young people's lives.

II. Talking Back to Seth Godin

In section 15 of Stop Stealing Dreams, Seth Godin reports findings from a survey done by Jake Halpern of 750 high school students from the Rochester, NY region. Halpern asked the teens, "When you grow up which of the following jobs would you most like to have?" The choices were limited to:
  • Chief of a major company like General Motors
  • a Navy SEAL
  • a United States Senator
  • the president of a great university like Harvard or Yale
  • the personal assistant to a very famous singer or movie star
Godin reports that the girls surveyed made the following choices: 
  • 9.5% of girls selected: Chief of a major company like General Motors
  • 9.8% of girls selected: a Navy SEAL
  • 13.6% of girls selected: a United States Senator
  • 23.7% of girls selected: the president of a great university like Harvard or Yale
  • 43.4% of girls selected: the personal assistant to a very famous singer or movie star
Role models in our lives matter. What we experience informs our choices and may well limit our choices. With that in mind, I wondered how many women role models are available for the careers Halpern cited as choices.
  • There are currently 12 women who are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. That represents 2%. (Source)
  • There are 0 women who are Navy Seals as they are prohibited to serve by law. There are between 2000 and 2400 Navy Seals currently. 0%. (Source)
  • There are currently 17 women in the US Senate. 17% (Source)
  • There are currently 3 women who are presidents of Ivy League colleges (Brown, Univ of Penn, Princeton) 37% (Source)
  • There are no conclusive data about the number of women who are personal assistants.
There are currently 2, 576 to 2,976 men working in the positions listed above. In comparison there are 32 women.  Are we really so surprised that girls would gravitate to the one job in the list where women might actually be employed?

III. Snuffing Out Dreams
Godin writes:
Is this the best we can do? Have we created a trillion-dollar, multimillion-student, sixteen-year schooling cycle to take our best and our brightest and snuff out their dreams—sometimes when they’re so nascent that they haven’t even been articulated? Is the product of our massive schooling industry an endless legion of assistants?
The century of dream-snuffing has to end. We’re facing a significant emergency, one that’s not just economic but cultural as well. The time to act is right now, and the person to do it is you. (Section 15)
How many of the few actual female role models do you think live in the South Bronx? How many have ever visited the South Bronx?  I want to say here that it isn't the school or the professional staff who have stolen the girls' dreams of the school I was visiting today.  The assumption that schools are singularly responsible for "dream-snuffing" is faulty and dangerous as it shifts our attention away from other forces that influence girls' dreams.  


  1. Thought provoking post. I keep telling my students that I can imagine them using their skills as lawyers, doctors, teachers, inventors, engineers, mathematicians. . . I've sent some articles about people in those fields who are making differences, and posted info on our website, but I want to think more deeply about how I can bring the lives of strong, dedicated, professionals into my students' lives and dreams. Thanks for the prompt.

  2. Look forward to learning what you do, Maureen,

  3. NVR ComputericalMarch 9, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    Not only sex determines such perception of role. "Up" interviewed 14 kids aged 7, again at 14, 21 et seq 49 years. See "I'm gonna work in Woolworth's "

    1. I agree. Thanks for the link. Will take a look.