This past week we celebrated International Women’s Day. Maybe it’s because we each have young daughters at home who are becoming more aware of what it means to be a girl in the 21st century (with all its peril and promise), but we’ve noticed over the past few days that people are paying more attention than ever to Women’s History Month. Local museums have mounted new exhibits honoring the contributions of women to our artistic heritage. Bookstores are filling their front shelves with biographies of extraordinary women. The children’s section of the library has gone all out with a special display of picture books that celebrate girl power!
As founders of the Homer reading app for young children, we love a good celebration, particularly one that allows us to curl up and read with our kids and watch as the books they’ve chosen spark new connections between ideas and the world.
My daughter’s school has gotten in on the action this year, reading stories during circle time about against-the-odds bravery of women such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Anne Frank and other women and girls who have shaped history. When she brought home a book from the school library about Rosa Parks, it seemed the perfect moment to start a conversation about women whose courage and audacity blazed new trails for all women (and in the case of Rosa Parks, all people).
Before I could frame a question, my daughter had one for me: “Why don’t we have a men’s history month, Mama?”
At first, my daughter’s question made me feel exposed as a total failure of a female role model. Where had I fallen down on the job? Wasn’t I the person most responsible for telling her the stories of women who had fought for the right to vote? Wasn’t I the person who was supposed to help her understand that for centuries of our collective history, being a girl meant certain doors were closed to you, no matter how bright, passionate or talented you were?
As I searched feebly for a response to her very good question, it occurred to me in the nick of time (just before I opened my mouth to utter some meaningless platitude): my daughter’s question was something to feel proud of. It was a sign of how far girls have come, of how confident girls feel in their world. In my daughter’s young experience, she knows and respects moms who work and moms who stay at home to to focus on their families. She’s watched her own mom do both at different times (”you can have it all but not at the same time,” a wise friend once said to me). Girls can run for president. Girls can be ballerinas, but they can also be basketball stars. While she’s still young and may encounter hurdles along the way because she’s a girl, she doesn’t see herself as someone who requires a special month of celebration any more than her brother does. Every day is a day for girls as far as she’s concerned.
My daughter’s privilege and good fortune at having so many healthy female role models means it will be doubly important for me, as her mother, to talk to her about the sacrifices made by the many women who came before her.
It’s up to me to be sure that she’s aware that women in some countries suffer unimaginable persecution.It’s also up to me to delight in her sense of herself as a person who can do anything.So what are we planning to do to celebrate women’s history month? We’ll choose a few books about trailblazing women who’ve made our world a better place, but we’ll also find some time for a funny story or two about our favorite heroines, who remind us there are many ways to go about being a girl.
Here are our top picks: