Growing up, I thought I could be anything, do anything, and nothing could stop me. I wasn’t told that “girls can do anything” but I wasn’t NOT told that either. I grew up dreaming of being an astronaut, President of the United States, a doctor, a lawyer… I really believed I could be ANYTHING I set my mind to. If I worked hard and got good grades, I could achieve any goal. The problem is, this is only partially true. Women can do anything until they reach the real world. The real world isn’t ready for equals and no one tells you this as a little girl.
When I was in college, I chose Athletic Training as my major. I worked in a predominantly male profession with predominantly male athletes. I did well and all the things a “good student” should be doing whether a male or female. But, when the time came for internships, only my male classmates were offered summer positions in the NFL. Why?
This was my first encounter with gender bias.I was frustrated. How could all of my hard work be discounted because I was a girl? At the time, there was 1 female Athletic Trainer in the NFL, but she was there! Why not me? Fast forward to today: there are 145 Athletic Trainers in the NFL. 6 of those are women. Little by little, we are making our presence known. But setbacks like the one I experienced are not helping our cause. And I’m by far not the only one experiencing these setbacks. So the big question is, WHY? Why is it happening?
My glimpse into the real world didn’t slow me down – I continued to pursue my passions and became a Physician Assistant specializing in Orthopedics. At this point, I had honed my “act like a dude” mentality and had a generally easy transition into the field. That is, until I began having babies. I was utterly blindsided. How can an educated, smart, successful, and talented woman begin collapsing under the pressures of work-life balance? No one told me about this part.
I had NO IDEA that I couldn’t “have it all.” I had NO IDEA how guilty I would feel leaving my babies. I had NO IDEA how hard pregnancy and the post partum recovery would be – both mentally and physically. I had NO IDEA how much stamina I would need to build. I had NO IDEA how hard it would be to “balance” being a good mom versus being a good employee.
No one tells girls that they can be anything they want to be, BUT then they might not get to live out that dream. Because you’re a girl. As a girl, you may become a mother. And becoming a mother leaves you with choices you couldn’t dream of making when you’re a little girl.
Sure there are exceptions, but the majority of us are drowning. We aren’t prepared for the increased demand…the demand for every ounce of us – mentally, physically, emotionally. We are expected to work hard, study hard, succeed professionally, and then seamlessly carry and birth a baby “in the interim.” We have little to no support from our employers, our government, or our communities. We wake up, go to work, come home, and do it all over again each and every day. There is little time to socialize and what little time we do have, it definitely doesn’t include branching out of our comfort zones to make new friends. It leaves us tired, lonely, and without a local village.
This cycle continues and worsens with each new birth. More children to tend to, more logistics, less sleep, increased demand overall. I often feel like I’m treading water with a 50 pound weight attached to my ankle. I’m working so hard to stay above water that I am incapable of anything else. I have asked myself time and time again, “What would help? How do I break the cycle?” After five years of searching, I realized what I need has been in front of me all along: I need a village. I need a personal village and I need a professional village. And that is what I have come to do. I will build us a village because it is the only way we will be able to thrive. While other amazing women are on the front lines of government change, I am in the trenches with you for social change. And at the end of the day, we will do it together and we will tell our daughters, “Girls can’t do anything, they can do EVERYTHING.”
By Ashley Reckdenwald