I have two sisters: the 14-year-old wants to be a pediatrician, while the 11-year-old wants to go into animation.
Since they have made these aspirations visible, I have done what any other older sibling would do: I’ve worked to make sure that they are always empowered. I’ve supported their ambitions with the highest level of enthusiasm.
Then I started thinking about casseroles.
A few weeks ago, I received a text from the 14-year-old saying she felt sick and wanted to go home. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that her P.E. teacher, a man, had asked her and her friends what women have invented, aside from the casserole.
She ended up soldiering through the rest of the day like the fighter she is, but that moment made me aware of the world that both my sisters will face once they enter the job market.
When my two sisters were beginning to decorate their room, they wanted the obvious choices on their walls such as “5 Seconds of Summer,” Marilyn Monroe and so forth.
Being the pestering sibling that I am, I made a deal with them: I’d print out the images on the condition that I get to choose three things that hang on their wall. They disdainfully agreed.
When choosing the three people who would hang on their wall, I took into consideration the careers that they aspire to.
The youngest has a tough road ahead. Animation is a boys’ club. According to the Animation Guild, only 20 percent of creative animators are women, and the boys’ club has worked hard to keep it at that level. A 1938 rejection letter from the Disney Animation Training School is proof:
“Women do not do any of the creative work in connection with preparing the cartoons for the screen. … For this reason, girls are not considered for the training school.”
The letter goes on to state that that “girls” only work as inkers or painters, positions in traditional animation that only replicate the creations of an animator. In short, women were prohibited from being a part of the creative process.
So the first to go on the wall was animation director Brenda Chapman, who in her 29-year career has worked on critically acclaimed films such as “The Lion King,” “The Prince of Egypt” and “Brave,” which earned her an Academy Award for Best Animated Film. Like Chapman, the youngest will have the drive to become one of the 20 percent.
The 14-year-old has it a bit easier. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 70 percent of pediatricians are women. Unfortunately, only 33 percent of physicians nationwide are women, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
So for her, Leila Denmark went up onto the wall. Denmark was a legendary pediatrician from the Atlanta area. She practiced medicine for over 73 years until the age of 103, making her the longest serving physician in American history, according to the American Medical Association. It was during this long career that Denmark co-developed the vaccine for whooping cough, as well as discovered the harm of feeding cow’s milk to newborns.
The third was Malala Yousafzai, currently the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient. The girls are no strangers to Malala, who they have been made familiar with through viewing of the documentary, “He Named Me Malala.” They are aware of her bravery against persecution and her work as an advocate for the education of girls in her native Pakistan.
I hope I did a good thing. I hope the next time my sister hears a sexist comment, she won’t feel sick and want to go home. It’s my hope that they become the heroines of their own lives, as Nora Ephron said. For them, those posters in their room of accomplished women are the only things that remind them that their aspirations are viable even in a society that often says otherwise.
For the record, the modern casserole was invented by a woman. But so were modern anthropology and nursing.