Kara & Aria

The mother of two young girls
discuss the balance between
parenthood and gender

Interview by Katharine Hada

Katharine and Aria — Photo by Jesse Sutterley

Katharine and Aria — Photo by Jesse Sutterley

Q: When you think about the girls 20 years from now, who do you think they will be? How do you think they will be? How would you like them to view the world?

Katharine: I hope they will either be attending or have graduated from college. To be intelligent, independent, strong women. I hope my daughters see the world more equally than I do. I experience so much discrimination, and sometimes it’s not even intentional, it’s just a habit. I hope they don’t have to deal with that at all. We have already seen so much progress for women’s rights just in the past view years with the DNC nominating a woman as the front runner. Though it doesn’t feel like it right now, that is a huge step forward for women’s rights. So hopefully that discrimination diminishes. If it doesn’t, I hope that they see it for what it is: grossly unfair and arbitrary.

“So, if they’re girls with real attitudes, I’ll be glad, because it means they’re not conforming to society’s muzzling standards. And I guess I’ll tell them exactly that. 

Q: Do you worry they’ll be viewed for how they look versus who they are? How would you help them combat that? 

K: I know they will be viewed for how they look instead of who they are because they already are. The first things ever said to my daughters are how beautiful they are. Even strangers on the street comment – and it’s not flattering to me, it’s harming their sense of self-worth. So, when that happens I say, “She’s very smart, too” or something to that end. In general, we play down looks in our household, and put the emphasize not just on intelligence, but on working hard to achieve goals.

Q: How would you help the girls with overcoming stereotypes, prejudice, or racism? If anything like that happens to the girls, how would you help them? What would you do/say?

K: I’ve had too many experiences with discrimination to count. A colleague at the college I work for told me that I shouldn’t have a second child if I ever wanted to get a tenured position. I’ve been told I’m too abrasive, I have an attitude problem — all because I am unwilling to smile all the time, to agree, to be quiet when I have something important to say. Women are societally seen as “mothers” and as “kind” and if they fail in anyway at those things, they’re confronted about it. As a professor and, formerly, a reporter and a spokesperson, I’ve had to deal with many interactions that were grossly sexist.

To my daughters, I would say: the expectations society puts on women are not fair. They are not equal. And they muzzle women, and women’s issues and women’s freedom. So, if they’re girls with real attitudes, I’ll be glad, because it means they’re not conforming to society’s muzzling standards. And I guess I’ll tell them exactly that. 

Q: How do you help the girls deal with social struggles? How do you prevent them causing them? 

The family — Photo by Jesse Sutterley

The family — Photo by Jesse Sutterley

K: We really encourage friendly talk, and discourage what I call a “mine” attitude. We’re big on “everything belongs to everyone” even as our society has basically proven you can buy a presidency. It’s more important than ever to teach them how to negotiate or communicate with others. When there are fights or arguments in any regard, as there often are with two children, we use the phrase “How can you have handled that better?” and we let the girls come up with their own “better” solutions. Sometimes they have a hard time, but we remind them there’s no one right answer. We also make sure they can see there are and will be many ways to handle things well, not just one way.

Q: Do you consciously create a diverse world for your girls? I.e. friends, school, extracurricular activities, etc. Why is that important to you?

K: I do consciously create as diverse a world as I can — this is something that feels very awkward sometimes, it’s true, but we do. We don’t orchestrate friendships to make them full of different colors or religions and sexualities, but we embrace them and encourage those already existing friendships. For example, we occasionally celebrate Shabbat on Fridays with a close family. We attended two gay weddings with the kids this past year, the only weddings they’ve been to. We attend a church that’s extremely racially diverse, our posters are all different nationalities as well. And we live in Oakland!

The school we have less control over, but because our neighborhood is diverse, it is to some extent, too. It’s an interesting thing, though, because similar to affirmative action, there’s something almost too aware about it. I think it’s important because if we don’t make their lives as diverse as possible — showing them and talking to them about diversity — we won’t help them become as open and interested in others as they might be otherwise. 

Q: How do you want the girls to view the world around them as they grow up? How will you help them understand social constructs?

K: I hope they view the world as exciting, and that they see social constructs as something they can change if they live the way they want to live, and do exactly what they want to do with our support.

Kara — Photo by Jesse Sutterley

Kara — Photo by Jesse Sutterley