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I always had my heroes as I grew up. I always liked to read about great people, and of course this more often than not meant read about great men. On my time as a child very rarely important women of history were in the books I read or the documentaries I watched.

I've heard more than once from female colleagues while in college that if more female models of success were presented to them as a child, they would feel better about their career choices and overall position in society.

I kept thinking about it for a time, and now that I have a baby daughter I was thinking if it would be good for her if I made a particular effort to talk about the life of great women and give her books about it as she grows up. In one hand, this would perhaps make her less anxious about choosing her path in life. On the other, she might feel that I'm trying to tell her that I will only admire her if she becomes as successful as the women I'm talking to her about.

What do you think about it? Should I tell her about Hipatia, Cleopatra, Zenobia, Boudica, Florence Nightingale and Marie Curie, the same way I was told about Alexander, Julius Caesar, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein?

I know there's much more about history (and life) than great people of the past, but they seem to be powerful educational images. What do you think about it?

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Great woman of history should be presented to both, girls and boys! –  Jakob Aug 11 '12 at 8:48

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My teenage niece said to her mom who is a computer programmer who graduated from Harvard, "Girls are not good at math". Imagine her mother's surprise! Of course we can only speculate how the teen came to that notion - friends, TV, advertising, teachers...who knows.

There is a lot of media and factors that are stimulating our children that we can't control or know about 24/7. Your efforts might be offsetting a perception your daughter has that you don't know about. At the very least your efforts would show your genuine interest in your daughter's life.

I would align your efforts with whatever your daughter is into at the moment so that it is a more natural conversation. If she's into biology, teach her about Rosalind Franklin and 'Watson and Crick'. If she's about to get an X-ray, tell her about Marie Curie's contributions and William Coolidge. If she's into music, have her listen to female and male musicians alike.

Keep it balanced and let her guide your teaching. Going totally one-sided and omitting say Einstein would be a great loss.

More importantly, self-confidence and ambition are attributes you can greatly affect in your daughter's early years through encouragement and age-appropriate challenges. If she feels good about herself, she'll feel good about her decisions. Teach your daughter that it's never too late to try something new and a love for learning.

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I think you shouldn't necessarily present just great women, but talk to her about great role models, both male and female, and both ancient and modern - as children need historical/epic role models and current ones.

I think if you just focus on historical figures, this can give a skewed view and possibly lead to anxiety as you said, so make sure that you list modern role models from a wide range of fields. This could include sporting heroes and heroines, successful businessmen and women, people in the arts etc.

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I think it's a great idea to present her with many female historical figures, alongside the male ones. Kids identify with the heroes of stories they hear, and they identify more easily if there is more similarity.

With that in mind, I would also take care to expose her to children's stories where female characters have traits that you think are important. When (and where) I was growing up, the female characters were decidedly traditionally female, so my mom made up stories for me. Every night, she would get in bed with me and tell me a new story about a character who happened to have my name: a brave and confident girl, inquisitive, active, helpful, warm, who often went exploring in the forest (the main scene for all the stories). Other stories would revolve around three little birds, a girl, a boy and an unclear one (my language has the neutral gender, so the name matched), where the girl was always just a little bit more on top of the situation compared to the other two. I loved this time together, and I loved the stories, and I love the effort and care that went into telling them. Today, there's an abundance of kids' books out there with confident female characters, you just need to pick some nice ones.

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Many of Disney's movies have female heroes in them. TV and movies are not always desired, but when they are, Disney has some good material. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 11 '12 at 13:47
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@TorbenGundtofte-Bruun-- I really, really disagree. I'd argue that many of Disney's role modeling has lead to some extremely poor expectations. Snow White just waits until she's awoken by a prince, and then marriage is a breeze. Ariel can only find a man if she's mute. Cinderella waits until her prince rescues her. Nicki Minaj (arguable if she's a good role model) dismissed another one with "I am not Jasmine, I am a Aladdin"-- Jasmine is definitely the weaker, although better than the others. More recent movies are better, but classic Disney is terrible for gender roles. –  mmr Aug 11 '12 at 14:42
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@TorbenGundtofte-Bruun: My partner complains about Disney and, even worse, Pixar movies for their terrible gender roles. Women are merely love interests for the male characters. Every Pixar movie is like this. –  Dave Clarke Aug 11 '12 at 17:49
    
Thanks for this feedback! I was not really aware of this extreme bias. My toddler isn't watching movies yet but I will certainly have to think about what we'll be showing. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 11 '12 at 18:26
    
@DaveClarke-- the only Pixar heroine I can think of as being 'good' is Jesse from Toy Story 2. Cars, nope. Finding Nemo-- well, she's an amnesiac, so probably nope. Brave-- maybe, haven't seen it yet. Tangled-- I actually really like Rapunzel in this one. The point is, Disney's getting better, I think, but the classic stuff has no place in my house, for either my son or daughter. –  mmr Aug 11 '12 at 19:06

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