Yes, I meant that title to be slightly ominous. I’m sure many of you out there read that in a slightly creepy voice. Possibly with a British accent. I don’t know why, maybe it’s the Red Queen from Resident Evil that makes me think British accents can be used to great creepy effect. Okay. Enough of that. Let’s get to the actual heart of today’s blog post.

Who are “they?”

I’d go super-generic here and say that everyone counts under this umbrella of “they.” More to the point, however, I’m concerning myself with impressionable youths. Yes, those darn kids that shouldn’t be on your lawn. They are, for lack of better grammar here, the “they” of whom I speak.

When you’re young, you’re learning about the way the world works. Sure, you’re frequently off in your own little universe doing your own thing, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not paying attention. That’s how we all learn. We observe the world around us and that’s how we discover the “universal truths” that are supposed to guide us. Things like, “Fire is hot,” and “Listening to your parental figure or figures is probably a good idea since they’ve been around a lot longer.” ¬†Those are just a sample of the simple lessons that we learn as children.

Children pay attention even when we don’t think they do. That’s why Stephen Sondheim tells us in his hit musical Into the Woods:

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be

What are they listening to?

See what I just shared up there? They’re not kidding. Children are paying attention to everything. Everything. From the words you say to the actions you take, they’re paying attention and taking their cues from the adults in their lives. That’s why it’s so important to set a good example. I’m not saying that you should attempt to be perfect or anything. Nobody’s perfect. I’m saying that you should be mindful of what you say. Particularly, I’m talking about the way we speak to and about girls. Recently, this message has been the subject of commercials put out by two major corporations. I’m going to share them here.

Always:

Verizon:

I’m lucky. My parents have always been nothing but supportive of whatever it was that I wanted to do. When I was young, I spent my Saturday mornings in Adventure in Science, a 4-H program dedicated to, well, science. I groused because I had to miss cartoons, but I learned a lot. By the time I got to biology in school, I was a veteran of sliding open formaldehyde-filled frogs. My lab partner wasn’t a huge fan of dissection, so she was grateful for my expertise. If I’d been so inclined, my parents would have been totally behind me if I’d chosen one of the STEM fields. Other girls, I’ve come to understand, aren’t so fortunate.

Sure, I’ve faced a lot of people who’ve been quick to tell me that there are things that girls can and can’t do. Fortunately, I’ve never really paid much attention to them when they’ve said that, but those words still stuck. I think part of the reason that I ultimately turned away from science wasn’t just a lack of interest, but a slowly acquired belief that it wasn’t something I should be doing. Truth be told, though, I’m really more of a humanities and liberal arts person anyway. It’s just the way I’m wired.

I’m just looking at the pictures on the Adventure in Science page and seeing that there aren’t too many girls represented. If you look at the videos up there, you can probably imagine why. When all one hears over and over again is how one shouldn’t do a thing because of who you are, you eventually begin to believe it. That’s why it’s vitally important that you think about what you’re saying. That’s why diversity and representation in the media are so important. Just imagine the advances that have been lost because we’ve discouraged innovators based on their gender or whatever it is that people are discriminating against at the time.

That’s not even going into the number of women whose stories have been lost because they didn’t conveniently fit into the carefully crafted male-dominated narrative. If you’ve got stories to share, put them in the comments. Let’s get them out there.

I’m also not going to go into some of the larger, more vicious messages that are being communicated. There has been a lot of talk already about that and I don’t have anything further to add at the moment.

What should be done?

Well, folks, it’s actually pretty simple. Just treat kids the same, regardless of gender and whatever. Talk to them and encourage their interests. When people who are less thoughtful than you start to tell kids that they shouldn’t be doing a thing because of a stupid reason, call them out on their bullshit. Buy and create works that tell diverse stories. Use your time and money to show that everyone’s stories and everyone’s voices are worth reading and hearing, not just the “popular” ones or the “majority.”

We’re all important and children should listen to that too.