My church book club recently read, I Am Malala, the story of a 15 year old Muslim girl who was shot by the Taliban because she was (and still is!) an advocate for the education for women. She's the youngest person to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. The thought occurred to me when my husband and I got our tickets to see her speak—I wish our daughter was old enough to come with us.
We have books about Ruby Bridges, Amelia Earhart, and Rosa Parks that we read frequently at our house. My thinking is usually along the lines of how good these stories are for her, for her courage and her sense of self and her ability to be strong and remarkable.
When we talk about going to a women's sporting event, I think, that would be really good for my daughter to see, to experience, to value, to appreciate.
I do want her to have positive female role models, diverse female examples that demonstrate various ways women can be leaders in the world who are making a difference. I know that having people who look like you (your skin color, your age, your gender, your background, etc) can inspire you in ways that people who don't look like you may not.
But here's the thing. I also have two sons. Why aren't I as concerned that they have strong female role models as well? Do my boys only need male role models? Will only my daughter benefit from female role models?
Of course not. In fact, I think it's just as important, if not more so, that my boys learn to look up to women just like my daughter. I want all of my children to see competent men and women in leadership. I want them to see a variety of people, with different skills and personalities and backgrounds and experiences, making a difference in the world. I want my children to be able to recognize strong leadership attributes.
I especially want my boys to appreciate women as leaders, as change-makers, as equal partners in all aspects of life. I want them to empower women. I want them to encourage women. I want them to work with women. That won't happen if they don't learn from an early age to look up to women, to admire women, to model the worthy attributes of women in their lives.
When our church group (of 8 people total--7 women & 1 man) went to hear Malala speak, I took a look at the group in attendance. Based on a small sample size, my estimate was that 15% of those in the sold out Target Center were male, 20% at best. Malala's speech was aimed largely at young people, but most of those young people were young girls. I celebrate that there were many young people in attendance and that the arena was sold out. But I do lament that more young boys and men weren't present.
This was especially poignant because Malala's life is based on the strong support and encouragement of her father. Her father fought against his culture to help his daughter (and other young girls) get an education. Her father went against the norm to include his wife and daughter in political conversations and important decisions. Her father raised his whole family to look up to strong women. He named his daughter after one of his own role models-Malalai of Maiwand, a famous Pushtun poet and warrior woman from southern Afghanistan.
Men, who are your role models? Do any of them happen to be women? Who are your children's role models? Do your boys look up to strong women, or just men? Does it matter to you? Should it matter to them?