Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and Kid Responses to Sexism


Today, I read the boys a story about Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female in the U.S. with a medical degree. She was considered for the Geneva Medical School of Western New York because of a letter from a respected doctor, and accepted as a joke. She was ridiculed during her education, but she graduated as a top student. She also studied at the best medical schools in London, Paris, and Berlin, but not even patients wanted to take her seriously. She eventually started a clinic to serve poor neighborhoods New York’s east side. She also started America’s first women and children clinic, trained nurses in the Civil War, and started the first medical school for women.

I will now share snippets of the discussion we had following our reading.

Elijah passionately responded to the ridicule Blackwell received with, “Why would they do that? That’s not what God made men to do!”

Me: Should certain jobs be for men only?
The unanimous answer was an enthusiastic no, and how silly it is that people would think women aren’t smart or can’t handle gross stuff.

I then asked them to argue the opposite point – to come up with the best reasons or examples they could think of for why women should not do some jobs – because it’s important to be able to “see the other side”. The flood of very frank responses I got ranged from comical to disturbing-if-you-think-about-it-too-hard.

9: Well, if it’s like a sperm donation job…
10: I was going to say if it was a scrotum-flicking contest…
7 (first real answer): Well, because usually kids prefer to be with their moms, so they can stay with their kids if dad goes to work.
9: Or, like, if a woman was pregnant, and suddenly the baby came out over something dangerous…
10: Well, because women DO tend to investigate things, so…
7 (second real answer):  Because some jobs are dangerous and people respect women more, so they’d rather men get hurt.
10: Women are better at remembering things, so maybe if it was like a war job, and a friend got hurt, it would be better if it was a man, because he could forget it easier, but a woman would remember better and be really upset. I have a trash can and a recycle bin in my head.

Then we talked out all the thoughts and the boys still settled on it making more sense for women to do what they want to do.

Me: Name some occupations that have few or no women in them today. Try to explain why.
They responded with jobs like construction work, submarine driving, grill cooks, court, mechanics, car engineers, and military.
I asked them why they think that is.

9: Because they don’t want to do those jobs.
10: Yeah, they just don’t prefer it.
7: Because of the [above mentioned] danger reason.

Me: Could there be any similar reasons that Elizabeth Blackwell experienced?
10: No, I don’t think people think like that any more.
Me: Actually, some people still do, or at least have certain assumptions. For example, I’ve had people assume that I don’t know about car things or tools, but they usually would be happy to teach me.
7: But you know a lot about tools!
Me: Yes, but the point is there may be a pattern to what men and women prefer to do, but it doesn’t apply to all people. [Then we discussed jobs they see mostly women in]. Women can be generally really good at jobs that use their relationship skills, like teaching and nursing, but some women really like mechanical things, for example, too. Some jobs are more open to women now, but not everyone is happy about it.
Me: What do you think should be considered when hiring somebody for a job?
9: If they’re good at the job.
10: How skilled they are.

That’s right, little dudes. I love their precious minds.

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