Thousands of Inland Northwest girls visited workplaces last Thursday as part of the national Take Your Daughters to Work Day. An idea for a future career just may have been sparked during these visits. Or a career path may begin in any number of other ways. As this essay shows, we never know when or how the dreams of girls - or boys - begin.
Through the Christmas season in 1968, three astronauts - Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr., and William Anders - hurtled through space to the moon. Back on Earth, the world watched, in awe of our capabilities. We could send men to the moon and get them back.
“That the flight of Apollo 8 occurs during the season of the birth of Jesus is a coincidence lost on very few people, believers or nonbelievers, throughout the world,” said the cover story of the Dec. 30, 1968, issue of Newsweek. “Of course, the exigencies of celestial mechanics rather than sentiment dictated the optimum flight dates for Apollo 8’s mission to the moon. But a parallel cannot be denied: through the December nights three men guided by the stars are seeking man’s destiny and hope.”
When those three astronauts ducked behind the moon and came back out the other side, a whole nation, gripped by the tension, exhaled. I swelled with pride. Just shy of my 16th birthday, I was a high school sophomore struggling through math and Boys 101. But at least the career path seemed clear. I wanted to be an astronaut.
I never noticed that every one of those adventurers in bubble helmets and space suits was a man. Blind to the fact career paths were still divided along gender lines, I was convinced if I worked hard at geometry and calculus and took a computer class, I would be able to fly into the sky some day. Nevermind bad eyesight or the fact I was short. I earned money babysitting and bought contact lenses and who better to fit inside those tiny space capsules?
When Apollo 11 landed on the moon six months later, and Neil Armstrong took the first hike there, I thought it might just be the proudest moment of my life. There was no stopping us now; we could do anything we put our minds to. And I thought of it as a collective we - men and women.
Alas, I was long on naivete, for it was not bad eyesight or height or being short on mathematical abilities that made my enthusiasm only a dream, not a career plan. Just as the news magazines said, we were seeking man’s destiny when we fired those rockets off the launch pads in Florida. Women stood by and watched, thrilled and proud, but still firmly rooted to Earth.
Somewhere soon after the Eagle landed and rocketed safely back to Earth, my astronaut dream became lost amid writing for the high school newspaper, tennis practice and cheering on the sidelines at football games. I went off to college and took as few math classes as I could and still graduate.
And I became a sportswriter.
Dimmed by decades passing, memories of aspirations to soar above the earth disappeared. Hiking the ridges of the Rocky Mountains at 8,000 feet is the closest I’ve come to the heavens. It wasn’t until I started looking through scrapbooks my mother had saved that I even remembered I once wanted to fly to the moon. Or that I spent several of my teen years cutting every article out of the newspaper that dealt with space travel and pasting them in an oversized scrapbook.
The yellowed clippings about the Apollo spaceflights were peeling, and after leafing through the dusty pages, I tossed the scrapbook into the trashcan. As a historical document it was worthless, but more than that, it made me sad. That I grew up in an era during which parents said any child could be President of the United States, or an astronaut, but they really meant the boys. And sad that I spent several of my teen years thinking I had a career plan when, really, I had just a child’s dream.
In the nearly three decades since that first man walked on the moon, a multitude of career options has opened for girls. Sportswriting, for one, which is how I spent the first few years of my newspaper career. And, yes, girls can and do grow up to be astronauts.
Still, as I look at the pages of the newspaper in 1997, I wonder what articles 15-year-old girls are clipping now and pasting in scrapbooks (or whatever the ‘90s equivalent might be) - and are these articles the basis of their dreams for interesting lives?
When I read the front pages of newspapers and see the preponderance of men still doing the talking and the thinking, I wonder if girls notice the gender imbalance. Do they see all the pictures of the male heads of state, CEOs and U.S. senators and become inspired to dream of their own careers? And how many of these girls will end up packing their dreams and ambitions away as though they were just so many childish things?
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SPACE EXPERIENCES Students interested in exploring an aerospace career will have a couple of opportunities in the next two weeks. Gene Kranz, the leader of the flight team that brought the crippled Apollo 13 capsule back to a safe landing in 1970, will speak at Eastern Washington University on Tuesday night. The lecture begins at 7:30 p.m. in Showalter Auditorium on the EWU campus in Cheney. The presentation is free. And on May 7, many Spokane area high school students will participate in the Fairchild Air Force Base Career Day. Students will bus from their high schools to the base and participate in a number of informational activities. For more information, contact the career counselor at your high school.