A Lesson on Visibility

Sometimes you can be 100% sure about a concept, but when you see it play out, it can still catch you completely off-guard.  I had this happen to me this week with the idea of visibility and I’m still processing the weight of it and the implications it has on my life and my writing career.

Last week, we had the great opportunity to travel with my husband as he spoke on a panel at a university.  Besides being incredibly proud of him, we were all excited because the university just happened to be in a city where some of my family lives. Free hotel with a pool for the kids, a visit with family and a couple of days to just be together away from the stress and pace of our day-to-day lives.  Perfect!

The best part was that my two cousins both work there, one as a firefighter and one as a police officer.  Just a reminder, we have a five-year-old, a three-year-old and an almost one-year-old.  There is basically nothing cooler to these kids than lights and sirens and uniforms.  So, after a few texts, and some strategic planning around their respective schedules we made plans to see them both in action.

First, we went to the fire house.  It was early evening and as we pulled into the parking lot, they opened the massive garage door revealing four or five engines, all happily “sleeping” as our son would say.  He was uncharacteristically shy, completely overwhelmed by the awesomeness around him.  But we chatted, checked out the engines and lights, and even got to see where the firemen eat dinner.  This is big stuff for kiddos that age.

My other cousin was able to stop by the firehouse and was equally awe-inspiring to our kids.  She rolled up in her squad car with flashing lights, showed the kids her computer and walkie and took lots of pictures.  I was just happy to see them, get in some hugs and occupy the kids for a while.  I had no idea the impact this all would have.

The next morning, we were driving around, killing time while my husband was at the panel.   We drove about thirty minutes to the town where my dad grew up, saw his childhood home and visited my Grandma and Grandpa’s grave.  While we were on our way back, my daughter started talking about everything she had seen the night before.  That’s when she said to me, “You know what?  I think my brothers can be firemen when they grow up and I can be a police officer just like [your cousin].”

At the time, I just thought it was an adorable idea.  But the more I digested it throughout the week, the more I realized she had just taught me an incredibly important lesson on visibility.  It’s not like she has never met a police officer or firefighter before.  We are lucky to live in a community where our children are afforded many positive interactions with first responders.  But I’m quite sure this is the first time she has met a female officer.  And just in that brief encounter she saw something of herself in my cousin.  She thought, “She is, so I can.”  That is so powerful to me.

Do I think my daughter will become a police officer one day?  Probably not.  But it made me realize we have a duty to our daughters to make the world more visible to them.  Notice she did not suggest she could be a firefighter.  Why?  I can’t know for sure, but I would guess because all of the firefighters we met were men.  This is why we have to write and tell stories in which girls can see themselves as strong and capable women in all professions.  We need to expose them to women who are breaking barriers in every career we can think of.  It is one thing to tell our young children they can be anything they want, but it is an entirely different thing for them to see it in action before them.

When I was my daughter’s age, I was lucky enough to have both a library card and a collection of my own books at home.  But as I think back, I realize that the books I read at her age featured women in the roles of mother, teacher and princess.  In the world around me, you could add nurse and hairdresser to the list. These are noble professions, but presented me with exactly five options. It would be several years before names like Amelia Earhart, Christa Mcauliffe, or Marie Curie would enter my world.  And when they did, it would be because they represented an exception in their field, not the norm.

I want my daughter to see herself in the world around her, in books she reads, and in the news stories of the day.  I want to make sure she knows that there are women for her to look up to in every field she can imagine.  So, let’s tell those stories and make the role models like my cousin as visible as possible.  We owe it to them.

Emily Ramquist