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Sexism. This particular topic has been on my mind for quite some time now. Recently, one of my (female) supervisors asked me if I have ever before had the experience of someone telling me I couldn’t do something or disrespecting my opinion because I am a woman. After several moments of thought, I had to answer honestly that no, I hadn’t ever had that experience previously in my twenty-three years of life.

THAT realization stuck with me for quite some time. How fortunate am I? Oh, I feel incredibly blessed. Growing up, I was always told that I could achieve anything I wanted, be anything I wanted, do anything I wanted. And that was the end of the sentence. There wasn’t even an “even though you’re a girl” attached to the end! My parents, my grandparents, my good friends – they have always been encouraging to me. They taught me, supported me, helped me every step of the way. And I know that no one is more proud of my accomplishments than my family.

I started thinking that not everyone is so lucky. There are girls and women in the world, in my country, in my state and city, that are not so fortunate. They haven’t grown up being told how amazing and strong they are, how many options they have, how much potential to achieve anything they want. Those little girls and grown women deserve to hear that they can do things as well or better than a man, that doors shouldn’t be shut in their faces or salaries decreased just because of their XX chromosomes.

I appreciate the can-do spirit my family gave me, the belief that I have the ability and responsibility to hone my skills and excel in my field of choice. I never went into a situation feeling inferior because I am a girl. I also appreciate the advice my mother gave me when I was a bit older, though. She said that women have to work twice as hard and perform better than a man to be given the same opportunities. I believe that. Those words, in part, inspired me to overachieve in order to present myself as a competitive prospect for any position I may desire. Is it fair? Not at all.

I hope one day that changes. I hope that in the future, my children will be able to compete on equal ground with other job candidates regardless of sex. How can I make that happen for them? By changing people’s minds and hearts today. People’s opinions about sexism don’t change just because a new law gets passed through Congress or the Supreme Court reaches a certain verdict. Those things may change people’s actions, but it doesn’t make them believe in it. The way we do that is by teaching our children and providing good examples for them to emulate.

I appreciate the work that my family did to make me believe that I could do anything I set out to do. It is my hope that one day I can impart that same belief in my daughter. I want her to grow up with the world as her oyster, with no one looking down on her because of her genetic makeup. I want her to know that she doesn’t have to be a wife or a mother but that she can be those things if she wants. I want her to know that she can be an astronaut or a nurse or a neurosurgeon or a farmer or a police officer or the president of the United States. She can achieve those things because she is not intrinsically inferior to men. I want her to be strong and independent, not to be overly concerned about gender norms or stereotypes. I want my daughter to feel safe and respected in her society and to help create that society.

I want to teach my son to respect women, to be mannerly, considerate, and sincere. I don’t want my son to make “get in the kitchen” jokes about women or rape jokes, not only because he respects women too much to do so but because he respects himself too much to do so. I want him to have that same can-do, high-achieving spirit with the same lack of concern about gender stereotypes. He, too, can achieve whatever he wants and works hard to achieve. I want him to help create a society in which women feel safe and respected, in which “equal opportunity” truly exists.

Parents, teach your children to respect one another and themselves, regardless of gender or sex. That is where real change will occur.

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