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Girls’ Day At Work Under Fire Event Called Discriminatory, But Organizers Defend Intent

Millions of American daughters soon will be skipping school and going to work with mom or dad, an event aimed at exposing young girls to male-dominated careers and building self-esteem.

However, organizers of the third annual “Take Our Daughters to Work Day” say they have been besieged with calls from irate parents asking: “What about the boys?”

Marie Wilson, president of the Ms. Foundation for Women that is the chief sponsor of the April 27 event, said it should remain dedicated to girls.

Many companies are heeding that call. But a number have substituted “career days” for boys and girls, a change that has angered Wilson and others.

“It misses the point,” Wilson said. “What we are trying to do is keep girls’ voices strong and their aspirations high. What does it mean when we say girls are not worth a day?”

The event is rooted in studies showing that from ages 9 to 15 years, girls’ self-esteem drops and their sense of competence in math and science erodes.

This may help explain why, for example, many girls don’t go into the male-dominated redoubts of computer programming, engineering and auto design.

Last year, between 5 million and 7 million girls participated in the nationwide work-in, the Ms. Foundation said.

A Roper Starch Worldwide poll for the foundation found that 125 mllion people have heard about the day and nine out of 10 viewed it positively.

But those who don’t see it that way seem to be speaking up more prominently this year.

One vocal critic is Christina Hoff Sommers, a professor of philosophy at Clark University and author of “Who Stole Feminism?”

“Boys need to be there too,” Sommers said. “Young men need to see mothers at work. Sons are as much at risk academically as girls. It’s a co-ed world, why not a co-ed holiday?”

Many companies including Nynex Corp., Gerber Products Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. have broadened the day to include boys. The Associated Press has created a separate “Kids Day” for girls and boys.

“Many people felt it would be more constructive to include everyone,” said Ford spokesman John Harmon. “That’s in keeping with our policy of inclusiveness. We don’t want to discriminate.”

Others say broadening the day subverts the purpose. Boys, they argue, are constantly exposed to role models and opportunities girls just don’t enjoy.

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