My daughter likes history. She enjoys reading biographies and other history books. So when we went to Disney World this summer, we made it a point to visit the Hall of Presidents and take in the show.
From time to time, I turned to look at my daughter's face, noting her rapt attention and obvious enjoyment of the program. When the show ended, we stood and began to file out. My husband tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Did you hear what she asked me?” I hadn't.
He said, “As the show was ending, and all the former presidents were standing up there, she looked at me and said, 'Do you really mean to tell me there has never been a girl president?' ” He answered her that, no, in fact, there has not ever been a girl president, and she responded with a look of shock followed by disgust.
I have been thinking about her reaction ever since and asking myself these questions: Why am I not shocked? Why am I not disgusted? Why, when I sat looking at the exact same stage, did my 9-year-old have to point out the obvious? What is different in how she perceives the world? Is it me, or is it she?
Here is what I know: My daughter's belief that a woman should be president does not stem from what she has seen with her own eyes. We live in a state that has never had a female governor and a town, Auburn, that has never had a female mayor (although Sarah Payne is a candidate this year!). In Congress, women make up 25% of the Senate and 24% of the House. From Indiana, two of the 11 congressional representatives, or 18%, are women, even though in the last census, Indiana had a slight gender gap, with women making up almost 51% of the population, which nearly mirrors the national statistic.
My daughter (who I hope is an example of all children) believes people are people, and that one's gender does not define qualification for office. Perhaps this is the difference between us.
There is a body of work on the concept of a mindset, specifically around the existence of two types of mindset: fixed and growth. In her book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” psychologist Carol S. Dweck describes how her students at Columbia University inspired her to share the results of decades of research. She found that the most important factor in determining success stems not from a person's talent, natural ability or innate intelligence but the mindset, attitudes or belief system.
A fixed mindset tells children they have a set amount of intelligence from birth, while a growth mindset acknowledges the potential to learn new things. Research has shown that more than 80% of preschool children have this growth mindset. They believe they can learn; they believe in the power of “yet.” They say things like, “I can't do that yet” and “I don't know yet.” By the time those same children reach middle school, fewer than 25% retain this growth mindset. They no longer believe in their own potential.
At first, these statistics saddened me; then I remembered I have a 9-year-old daughter who thinks a woman should be president of the United States because it makes sense. I am determined to keep her mind open.
I am privileged to partner with the teachers and administrators at her school who introduced me to this concept of a growth mindset. To date, these amazing educators have all been women. What a beautiful illustration for my little girl – that strong women are teaching her to have a growth mindset. Maybe, just maybe, her world view comes from having women in her life encouraging her to keep her mind open and set her goals on greatness.
Let's teach our daughters to dream with an open mind. Let's tell them, “No, there hasn't been a girl president – yet.”
Cassie Dunn is senior manager at Haines, Isenbarger & Skiba.