A week ago I attended an event – Brunch & Pitches – during Alumni Weekend at the college I graduated from. During the event we got to hear 6 student led teams pitch their companies and products with a Q&A session following the conclusion of the pitches.
At one point I was looking down either just not paying attention or in my phone, and out of nowhere I hear this loud, confident voice that sounded like it came from an adult woman. I looked up to see that it was actually a young girl probably between 9-12 years old asking a question. Her question was in response to a student, who during his pitch, mentioned that he fully developed his product and idea before conducting market research. He then realized there was no market for what he created, so he had to go back to square one and start over.
This girl wanted to know why it's important to do research and gather feedback first before designing a product or service. Valid question I think, but when she finished asking her question, the room filled with snickers and giggles.
Not one person laughed at any other individual that asked a question before or after her. This girl sitting in the front row was listening and paying attention, and way more than I was to be quite frank. She heard something that piqued her curiosity and she confidently raised her hand to ask a valid question about the importance of conducting market research when developing a business idea.
I immediately started paying attention to her reaction, post laughter. When she heard the giggles, she uncomfortably laughed too, her posture slumped, and her head shrunk into her shoulders as she started looking around the room like, "Did I do something wrong?" "Did I ask a dumb question?"
I couldn't tell what her mother (who appeared to be caught off guard by this) was saying to her from across the room, and I don't want to assume that she was discouraging her daughter from asking her question. However, it didn't appear to me that she was reassured by her mother's words. My heart hurt in that moment and I got a little sad. Now, I could be 100% wrong because I was going off of body language, but I hoped that her mother was praising her for raising her hand and not scolding her.
I sat there and started thinking about all the girls who raise their hands, receive a response like that, and then stifle their curiosity as a result. I thought about all the girls who stop asking questions, who stop speaking up in the classroom, during team projects, in the conference room during a staff meeting, and in the board room if there is even a woman present period. I wondered at what point I stopped raising my hand.
My dad raised me on the phrase, "A closed mouth is never fed," and I know I still at some point stopped raising my hand, stopped asking questions in front of others, and stopped offering to answer a professor's question even when I was 100% confident I knew the answer.
I'm going to raise my hand and ask a question right now. When are we going to get to the point that it's not a fucking shock or a laughing matter for ANYONE, especially a young girl, to be inquisitive and seek understanding?
You might be saying, "C'mon, this isn't new." It's not new. I know it's not, but it struck a nerve. Maybe witnessing that bothered me so much because lately I've intentionally been looking at everything with a new lens. Or maybe because I've been thinking about how I want to raise my future children – intentional and purposeful.
I plan to intentionally choose to have a child, not have one inhabit my uterus unexpectedly (unless my birth control fails of course). Which also means I plan to be intentional and purposeful with my parenting instead of just winging it and making do. There's nothing wrong with children coming into our lives unexpectedly; all children are blessings. I myself am an unexpected blessing because my mother ran out of birth control when she moved to NY. Frankly, I'm pretty happy she did! When it comes to me, however, if and when I ever get pregnant you can be 99% sure I did it on purpose.
I had to account for the 1% chance that things don't go as I planned, because I just told
you one post ago, that they never do... *rolls eyes* sigh*
That's beside the point though. Multiple times throughout this now 4 month journey I've been on, I have stopped and asked myself, when I learned to "be like this" or "do it like that." What caused me to be so fearful about everything? When did I learn to approach risk in an overly cautious way, or to turn around and walk away from it completely? What are all the ways parents indirectly and unintentionally cause their children to behave in a particular manner?
When my mother was telling us, "Don't get hurt because I'm not going to the hospital today," my mother-in-law was encouraging my husband to climb to the top of the jungle gym, jump off, and do it again. My mother with her well-meaning warning may have [unintentionally] influenced my avoidance of risk as an adult, while my MIL [unintentionally?] raised a man that ran toward it. Is either mother wrong? No. It just produced a different result.
Will I tell my children to not do anything to get hurt or encourage them to jump from the top of the jungle gym? I'm not entirely sure yet, but right now I'm leaning toward jumping off the jungle gym. They might get hurt, they might not. Right, Wrong, or Indifferent.
This is just one example of how a parenting tactic that I'm assuming probably wasn't implemented intentionally, influenced my behavior in adulthood that is opposite of how my husband naturally acts. I didn't fact check, but my best guess is that my mother doesn't like hospitals and didn't feel like sitting in one for hours, which is most likely the reason for her warning. Also because she legitimately didn't want us to get hurt. I doubt she said to herself "Hey, what can I do to raise play-it-safe children?" And I'm sure my MIL who is a very playful and goofy woman probably just wanted to have fun with her son rather than purposely try to raise a man that is not afraid of risk.
And I'm sure that this room full of alumni and college students were all just caught off guard and weren't thinking about the potential ramifications of their laughter. But again, when there is no thought or intentionality behind our actions and responses we get to where we are today. Women and girls who don't speak up. Women and girls who don't ask or answer questions. Women and girls who stifle their curiosity and avoid risk. Women and girls who don't try new things. Women and girls who will walk into a conference room and choose an empty seat along the perimeter instead of sitting right at the damn table with the men.
Especially in the era of The Donald, we need to DO BETTER!
To all the current and future moms and dads (my husband and I included), please take some time to sit down and think about how you can be intentional with your parenting, your words, and your actions so it's not a laughing matter when a young girl asks a question.
To that beautiful, inquisitive, confident girl at the Brunch & Pitches event, and to my future daughter(s)...