Are we there yet?

“Grampa, when you were in the Army were there women in the Army too?” my nine-year-old daughter asked my Dad.

We were at The Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Washington, D.C., for a Fourth of July event seated with two other women when she asked. We all smiled and looked at each other. One of the women said she liked where my daughter’s head was and that it was an important question to ask. Dad said yes there were women in the Army when he served.

That was the end of the conversation.

Embarrassed, my daughter stuffed the end of a hot dog in her mouth and left the whole thing hanging out while she stared at me and I stared back wondering what to say besides, “how about taking a bite of that and putting the rest down?”

I wish we’d spent more time talking but it was awkward at the time with two strangers. Who among us could recite the history of women in the military – more than superficially — anyway? (Had I known the subject would come up, I would have taken a crack at some PowerPoint slides with a timeline and pictures. Maybe I’ll still do that.)

The question was insightful coming from a nine-year-old girl. But why? I assumed she would have thought women always served in the military. At nine, she doesn’t know a whole bunch about the role of women in history. I’m really only learning now myself.

But from an early age I remember hearing I could do whatever I wanted. That’s what we told girls then and certainly do now. We’ve come a long way from the workplace of 20-or-30-years ago, I’m told by older work colleagues. I have no doubt we have.

So why would my daughter ask that question?  Is it because she’s exposed to messages that have been baked into our culture from books, TV, movies, her family or things she hears on the rough streets of suburbia?

I think I’m on to something here.

A few months ago, I thought we would elect our first president who would happen to be a woman. That’s where I thought we were. She was certainly more qualified than her competitor. Fast forward to now. Female senators were excluded from drafting major healthcare legislation that, as it happens, also excludes the word “women” anywhere in it. These examples go on and point to something I thought we’d left in the past.

We tell girls they can do anything but can they really? Maybe we aren’t there yet.

Oh never mind! What am I thinking? She was just asking a silly question because she’s inquisitive. I obviously don’t know what I’m talking about. We’ve arrived. I’ll shut up now and go back to what I was doing before these silly thoughts entered my head. You’re silly too for reading this far.

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