Girls ought to see options, obligations on go-to-work day


On Thursday, millions of little girls will go to work with their moms or their dads for "Take Our Daughters to Work Day," an event designed to boost the confidence of adolescent girls and expand their ambitions.

And everyone -- except the little girls who get to skip a day of school -- is angry.

Educators think the girls belong in the classroom, that this kind of consciousness-raising stuff should not interfere with a young girl's primary responsibility, which is to learn.

Mothers of sons want to know why the boys have been excluded. Don't they need to witness women working, too? The women who do not work outside the home feel slighted. Isn't their role a worthy option for girls?

And the Ms. Foundation, which organized this event three years ago, wants to know why young girls can't have one lousy day out of the year to call their own.

I am not sure one day, or 100 days, would ever be antidote enough to reverse the erosion of self-confidence I know is at work on my 9-year-old daughter.

A tour of my office and the sight of women in business suits is not going to persuade her to stop looking in the mirror and start thinking about all the things she can do with her life.

But I think the parties arguing over this event have missed the point.

I will bring Jessie to work with me Thursday and take her to lunch and tell her the world is her oyster.

But then I will take her home.

There I will show her the dishes in the sink and the unmade beds, and I will let her listen as I try to talk her brother through his latest dilemma, all the while trying to throw together a low-fat meal her father can microwave when he gets home late from work.

I will tell Jessie that this will also be her world. For whether she is a kindergarten teacher or an astronaut, a nurse or a heavy-equipment operator, she will probably also be a mother and a wife. A career, I will tell Jessie, is not something women do. As in, what do you do? It is something women also do.

The conservatives and the religious right are furious with the Ms. Foundation and the "feminist, careerist, anti-family" agenda they believe is promoted by "Take Our Daughters to Work Day."

They argue that this celebration devalues the role of women as linchpins in the home and sends girls the message that only work that is paid is valuable.

But the truth is, neither vision of a girl's future is accurate. I doubt that my daughter will ever make an irrevocable choice between career and family. She will probably do both. And she will probably do them at the same time.

I will tell Jessie how some of us choose to work and some choose to raise children, but many more of us don't get to make that choice.

I will tell her that women like me have the best of both worlds, but never feel that we belong in either.

I will tell her how torn we are. About how we feel that we are doing one thing too many and neither of them well. About how we envy the stay-at-home moms all the while fearing that they disapprove of us and suspect our disparagement of them.

I will talk about how proud our husbands are of our achievements and how grateful they are that we can share the financial burden, but how it is still true that they have one job and we have two.

I will tell her that although we talk cheerfully about the balance in our lives, what we really feel is that we are failing in two places instead of one.

The truth is, I will tell Jessie none of these things.

I would never want to extinguish the enthusiasm she has for her future, and my suspicion is that she will see these things for herself soon enough.

If she is to learn anything from "Take Our Daughters to Work Day," I want it to be that her options are limitless, and one of those options is to have children.

We should take our daughters to work and show them the women bankers, the women doctors, the women carpenters and the women engineers. And then we need to take them home and show them, not the unmade beds and the mountains of laundry perhaps, but, as best we can, the precious responsibility that they are to us and how much we love them and how earnestly we take the job of raising them.

Take your daughter to work. And then take her home. Show her both worlds. Because the odds are she will straddle those worlds one day.

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