When my youngest daughter, Suzanne, was four-years-old and her older sister was in middle school, Suzanne and I were discussing her upcoming pre-school trip to the local hospital. I suggested that she could request a "doctor" kit rather than the "nurse" kit that was routinely offered to the little girls. (My little effort to build some awareness of gender bias in the general population). Suzanne immediately said that she could not do that.
"Why?" I asked.
Her reply, "Girls can't be doctors."
"Yes they can."
"Well Suzanne, your sister likes science and she is thinking about being a doctor. Don't you think she can be a doctor?"
Suzanne, had often heard Deborah say that she was interested in being a doctor perhaps, So Suz had to think a bit on that one. Finally, she responded, "Yes, she can but she'll have to be a boy."
Well that was her answer -- Deborah would have to become a boy and then she could be a doctor. Deborah went on to become a science teacher and Suzanne did change her mind along the way -- but at five years old we wondered where she had ever gotten the idea that only boys could be a doctor. A check with her pre-school teachers eliminated that possibility, nor did her sitter ever address the subject. So where?
That night over dinner, I posed the question and her older siblings (five of them) suggested that we had only taken her to male doctors (that was true) but then one of her four older brothers jumped up from the table and went to our library. In just a few minutes he was back with at least five books that included doctors in their story lines -- ALL MALE. Not one female (other than nurses) among them. One of them was Curious George Goes to the Hospital by H.A. and Margret Rey (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1966). The older children had read those books over and over again to her and to one another -- so they felt that was the reason. And I think they were on to something. The images in picture books provide impressions that run deeper than many of us will realize. When young minds are trying to make sense of the world -- the impressions they see in the world around them and in books form those opinions.
But now we have a delightful book in the children's literature field -- Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell by Tanya Lee Stone, with Illustrations by Marjorie Priceman (Henry Holt/Christy Ottaviano Books, 2013).
BRAVO -- perhaps by the time my grandson has this conversation with his mom, he will understand that "boys" can be nurses and "girls" can be doctors - or vice-a-versa.
Who Says Women Can't Be Doctors? The Story of Elizabeth Blackwell has been named to the Spring 2013 Kids' Indie List --- "Inspired Recommendations for Kids from Indie Booksellers." Publication date for Stone's book is 2/19/13.
Every school library, every family should have a copy of this book. I'm sure there are some books now that show female doctors but I can not think of any ... If you have a title with female doctors, I'd be interested in hearing from you.
Meanwhile, Thanks Tanya and Marjorie for bringing to picture books a gorgeous book that features yet another strong female character. Not only do little girls need to see these books; but little boys as well. Read more about the book on the publisher's site at: http://us.macmillan.com/whosayswomencantbedoctors/TanyaLeeStone
March 2013 will see the publication of another book focusing on a women doctor. This one tells the story of Dr. Mary Walker, who as a commissioned doctor during the Civil War she earned the Medal of Honor — the only woman to earn that honor. She challenged traditional roles and fought for women's rights as a suffragist. The book, Mary Walker Wears the Pants: The True Story of the Doctor, Reformer, and Civil War Hero, written by Cheryl Harness (with illustrations by Carlo Molinari) will be released by Albert Whitman Publishing.