Family life

Why female Olympians are changing my kids’ lives

Inspired by female Olympians, Tracy Chappell's daughters are more eager than ever to hit the ice.

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Photo: iStockphoto

Follow along as Today’s Parent senior editor Tracy Chappell shares her refreshingly positive take on parenting her two young daughters. She’s been blogging her relatable experiences for our publication since 2005.

I took many language courses in university and learned, in a whole new way, how powerful words are, and how, through phrasing and terminology, we allow society to treat us, shape us, and categorize us.

I remember writing about politically correct language and its impact on children. I also remember hearing people talk about how stupid and pointless it was to create gender-neutral terms. I couldn’t understand why people were so up in arms about it, but it’s change and many people don’t like change. But a seemingly simple adjustment—switching the term “police man” to “police officer,” for example—has an astounding ripple effect, one you can’t really quantify. Well, I can: It means that my daughters will never think about that profession and assume it’s unattainable to them. All in a word.

And it’s a whole other thing to see it in action. This is the first year my kids have gotten into the Olympics, and they are absolutely drawn to the female athletes. The reason is obvious—watching them, they see themselves. Their someday, what-if selves. But it’s not just any female athlete that gives them that feeling. I asked Anna, who is seven, what her favourite Olympic sport to watch was. She said hockey—the women’s games, though, not the men’s. I asked her why, and she couldn’t have answered more perfectly. She said, “Because when I watch them, I see how good I could be.”

Read more: How does she do it? Hayley Wickenheiser >

My daughters both play hockey and it’s never occurred to them that hockey is something only boys do. As someone who grew up with two sisters who played, I always felt proud, but I knew that they were a minority, that they were doing something that was a little bit groundbreaking and, at times, frowned upon. It was change that somehow threatened some people. My kids are growing up in a generation where so many barriers have been knocked down (I’m very aware that we still have many more to tackle), but it still matters that they see women doing things. Doing everything. Not just hearing about it. Watching men’s hockey doesn’t show my daughter what a great hockey player she can be—that’s right out of her own mouth.

A big announcement was made last week about a partnership between Getty Images and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In organization, which are working together to change the face (literally) of stock images used in media. These are the photos you see in magazines, pamphlets, billboards, and newspapers depicting “typical” people doing “typical” things. But those of us who work in media know that the photography available is frustratingly narrow in terms of the people and things on display. Searching for an image of a working mom, for example, will likely bring up a woman in a suit, balancing a baby on one hip and a briefcase in the other. She will almost certainly be Caucasian (and will likely be wearing glasses). They are expanding the library by 2,500 images “featuring… female leadership in contemporary work and life” with the hope that women can identify with, and be empowered by, the images that surround them as they go about their days. I saw comments about this initiative, also calling it ridiculous, and a waste of time and money that could be better spent elsewhere.

I couldn’t disagree more. Perception is so important. We all want to see ourselves and our friends and colleagues and neighbours reflected in the world around us, instead of the same old images of women smiling as they eat salad, play with their children, or hold calculators and look perplexed about finances with their spouses. It seems like a small thing to some, but it’s through representation that we all start to feel seen, and heard, and included, and inspired. Perception is powerful.

After Dara Howell’s gold medal win in the slopestyle skiing competition, my kids weren’t adventurous enough to say, “I want to try that!” But my friend’s daughter who skiis was. I wonder if she felt that way after watching the men do the same event.

I’m so excited to be raising daughters right now (when I’m not completely terrified about social media destroying their lives). With all the scary stuff out there to face in parenting, I also have so much hope for all the things that our kids will attempt and conquer so boldly and fearlessly, simply because it won’t occur to them to not try.