Recently, my daughter Prima was asked the inevitable, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question by my mother. Encouraged by her grandmother’s praise over her prolific art work, Prima declared that she wanted to be an artist. My mother duly affirmed her eight-year-old optimism with a, “That’s wonderful darling, you’ll be a brilliant artist.”
Prima then asked her grandfather what he thought about her career choice. Whilst I have always admired my father’s unwavering and unflinching honesty, I do wish he would calibrate his comments for his grandchildren sometimes. He said, “Well, if you want to be an artist, I will support you but I would really prefer it if you were a doctor, lawyer or accountant.”
When my father said “I will support you…” I wasn’t sure if he thought I was raising a dilettante; that Prima would never make a living and so he would have to do as all Sri Lankan patriarchs do and financially support her. My father seemed noticeably relieved when my son Secundo declared that he wanted to “be a banker, just like Daddy.”
After much thought, Prima then said she wanted to be a farmer’s wife. Not the actual farmer but the farmer’s wife. The Wife. Now I have never professionally aspired to be anyone’s wife so I was concerned*.
[*OK, this is not entirely true. When I was Prima's age, I aspired to be Han Solo's wife but that's because I wanted to be Princess Leia who was a fully emancipated woman, perfectly capable of leading an insurgency against the Empire.**
**OK, this is not entirely true either. In recent years I may have aspired to be Matt Damon's wife but we are ignoring that for the purpose of this post.]
My brain naturally went into overdrive (over-reaction). When I say naturally, I mean naturally for a highly-strung person. Where could she possibly have picked up this idea from and was it time to move Prima from her local state school to a more hardcore private girls’ school?
My poor little eight-year-old was then subjected to an afternoon of (attempted) re-education:
Me: Darling, women are allowed to own property now in most parts of the world; you could be the farmer, not the farmer’s wife.
Prima: But I want to marry a farmer.
Me: But darling, you will be as clever, capable and educated as any man. You could own and run the farm yourself. Actually the bank would probably own most of the farm but you could run it.
Prima: OK but can I marry a farmer?
Me: Yes darling, as long as you understand that generations of women have broken barriers for you, fighting for equal rights, equal opportunities and equal pay.
Prima: What’s a broken barrier, do they have them on farms?
Me: I don’t know darling, my point is that your generation of women, I mean girls, I mean you – you can choose to be anything you want to be.
Prima: OK, I want to be an artist. And a farmer’s wife.
Shankari Chandran is a recent returner after ten years in London. Formerly a social justice lawyer, she now uses her skills to keep the peace between her four children, a husband and a sometimes live-in mother-in-law. Shankari chronicles the day-to-day of her family’s return in her blog.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Were your choices clouded by stereotypes?