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Answer by Michelle Roses, mother, shark diver, reporter, dancer, and wonder woman:
I dealt with gender discrimination while growing up in my traditional Jewish family. The only way I’ve found to fight it is to break the cycle.
It goes back several generations. My mother wanted to be a doctor. She was the first in her family to graduate from college. My grandparents told her, “No man wants to marry a doctor. Be a nurse and marry a doctor yourself.”
When I chose to go into the nonstable, always-moving-all-over-the-country profession of TV journalism, my grandparents told me, “It’s not safe for a young girl to drive all over the place looking for work. You shouldn’t have to move all over. No man will want to follow you around. This is not a good choice if you want to have children. Be a teacher.”
My family loves me. They want to protect me and make my life as easy as possible. But life isn’t easy. I wanted to know I had their support no matter the career I chose.
At family meals, the women served the men. It was frustrating because no matter how much I was interested in or contributing to a conversation, I’d have to serve the food, or clear the table, or set the table, or do the dishes. My male cousins were never asked to help. No matter how many times I pointed out the sexism, it was ignored.
The way I’m fighting it is by teaching my own daughters differently. I’m encouraging them to become whatever they want to become: doctor, designer, pilot, princess, whatever makes them happy—not what I will approve of, and not what a man will approve of.
I make sure I have men in my life who consider me an equal partner, modeling behavior I want my girls to emulate and look for in their own partners one day. He cooks. I clean. I cook. He cleans. We don’t tit-for-tat. We share household responsibilities equally, and he treats all women like people, not just women, should be treated. He encourages my decision to continue my education and work. He accepts me for everything I am, not just as a woman.
I encourage them to see people as people, not as male, female, black, white, gay, straight, big, tall. They have understood from a young age that people are people. It doesn’t matter what you believe, look like, who you love, or how much money you have. Being kind and respecting others is right, and they should expect the same.
I am breaking the cycle of gender discrimination in my family. My daughters will be encouraged to be more than just pretty and dependent and to never doubt their potential, especially based on their sex.
My grandparents still criticize my daughters as young women, but my girls know what they’re capable of and shoot zingers right back to their great-grandparents: “Gigi, the only body parts that determine what I can do are my brain and my heart.”
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