Take Our Children to Work Day (or Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, as it is officially known) is being celebrated today in the United States. And as nice as that might sound, it makes my heart sink. Because it’s a would-be post-feminist charade that’s butted out what I believe was an amazing program for American girls. Take Our Daughters to Work Day is one of the reasons I am a feminist. It kills me that it lasted barely a decade in its true form.
Take Our Daughters to Work Day was introduced in 1993 by Gloria Steinem and the Ms. Foundation for Women. It was to promote the idea that girls can be and do whatever they want. They were explicitly welcomed into the workplace and told that when they grow up, they can do this too. They can have this job, earn this money, enjoy this success.
Boys already know that. From their baby clothes on, they’re told they are on the path to being a baseball player or an astronaut or whatever the hell they want. They’re boys. No little brat on the playground is ever going to tell them they can’t be a doctor or a fire fighter or a soldier because of their sex. Especially if
they’re white and middle class and American-born.
When only daughters are taken to to work, the message that they are explicitly valued and welcome in the workplace is clear. When children are taken to work, that message is lost to just another generic “Reach for the stars, kids!” message that clearly does young girls no favors, and reinforces the entitlement of young boys.
I do see the value in taking all children to work. And I think one change that should be made is de-emphasizing children following their parents to work, because some parents don’t work or have jobs that can’t accomodate the program. My mother was out of work in 1993, but she was awesome so she arranged for me to spend the day with a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer. At the time, all I wanted to be when I grew up was a fast-talking nosy reporter along the lines of Hildy from His Girl Friday. Seeing the inside of a news room was a magical experience for me. I think giving that to all children to reinforce their ambitions and dreams is a lovely goal.
But: not at the expense of Take Our Daughters to Work Day. Because in other years, when I followed my mom to work at her job that was not even remotely in my dreams, I still got something out of the program that just doesn’t happen when the boys come too. I got to see other young girls on the train with their parents, excited for a special day in the big city. I got to hear adults take the time to tell girls what they can do with their lives, praise them for their talents and interests instead of how pretty they look that day.
My wish is to see Take Our Daughters to Work Day brought back in its true form. But as an adjunct, to share the joy and to shut up the “Won’t somebody think of the BOYS!” critics, let’s have When I Grow Up Day. Where we take all children (not just the daughters and sons of workers) to a job they’re interested in.
Because yes, all kids deserve to be shown the working world. But Take Our Daughters to Work Day is about more than that. It tells girls “we value you, we welcome you, we’re waiting for you.” When it’s just a day for all kids, the day becomes just another message of, “You can come too, even though you are a girl.”
So let’s take our children to work. But on the fourth Thursday of April, let’s take our daughters to work.