Thursday, April 27, was the Ms. Foundation’s annual “Take Our Daughters To Work Day.” First launched in 1993, Take Our Daughters to Work (TODTW) Day bills itself as a celebration of girl power, an opportunity for young women across the country to skip school for the higher purpose of experiencing the adult world of work. Wrapped as it is in the feel-good rhetoric of self-esteem building, Take Our Daughters to Work Day is difficult to criticize. But a closer look at the message behind the rhetoric suggests that this particular holiday is more about the inculcation of feminist myths than it is about expanding the horizons of American girls.
TODTW day has evolved little since its initial launch. Having weathered some early gaffes (such as the female Wisconsin lawyer whose career advice to a class of seventh-graders was “sleep around all you want but don’t get married”) the event’s organizers still hope to publicize an agenda that is far from mainstream. One of the original founders of the holiday, Nell Merlino, recently told the Chicago Tribune that the purpose of the Day was to deliver a strong political message in an appealing package. “We could have said “Let’s smash the patriarchy,” Merlino mused, “but I’m not sure that everyone would have signed up for that.” Indeed.
Instead, the Ms. Foundation (which has trademarked “Take Our Daughters to Work Day” to prevent any would-be entrepreneurs from horning in on the merchandising arm of the event — the Foundation hawks T shirts, hats, sports bottles and spiral notebooks on the “shopping” section of its website) has chosen a multicultural theme for this year’s event: “Free to Be You and Me.” The theme is meant to encourage girls to “think about diversity and gender equity in the new millennium.” But what millennial vision is the Ms. Foundation promoting?
Alas, it is the familiar and factually corrupt vision of women and girls as victims. The underlying purpose of the event — to combat “the radical and distressing shift that occurs in the lives of girls in early adolescence” — is based on misguided assumptions and shoddy social science research promulgated by the American Association of University Women and others. Scholars such as Christina Hoff Sommers have debunked thoroughly this “girl crisis” research, which claims to demonstrate lowered self-esteem and higher rates of insecurity among young women. Similarly, the Ms. Foundation claims that women are paid less than men and are “underrepresented” in American boardrooms and executive suites, both deliberately misleading claims that nevertheless serve as staples of feminist rhetoric.
A glance at the recommended activities for this year’s multiculturally-themed event also gives pause. The suggested exercises reveal an agenda that encourages politically correct pandering and ethnic balkanization among participants — not real workplace skills. Girls are encouraged to identify themselves by ethnicity, to “say hello in their ancestral language” and to write down a “person from [their] own culture” who has influenced them, for example. In one game, girls are told to “change chairs if you can name someone famous who is the same ethnicity as you.” More disturbingly, the Ms. Foundation literature reminds TODTW Day’s adult “facilitators” that a girl “always has a right to pass” if she is not comfortable speaking in a group. Such hypersensitivity to adolescent self-esteem is hardly a recipe for success in the real world. Few working women enjoy a “right to pass” when asked to speak during a business meeting, nor can mothers “pass” on speaking their minds to their child?s teachers or doctors, for example. Why send the message to teenage girls that they don’t have to speak up for themselves?
And what of the nation’s boys, you might ask? While a Foundation representative recently told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that “we believe if boys are included, it shortchanges the girls,” boys are not to be left out completely. Interested parties can purchase a curriculum plan from the Ms. Foundation for classroom use while the girls are away for the day. The “Especially for Boys” section includes a recommended reading list with titles such as “Challenging Macho Values,” for example. While the evidence from previous TODTW days suggests that many parents and educators ignore the “girls-only” message and take sons and daughters to work with them, it is worth noting that the Ms. Foundation officially disapproves of such inclusiveness.
There are lessons to be learned from Take Our Daughters to Work Day, but they are not the ones the Ms. Foundation is pushing. The lesson America’s youth — male and female — can take from this feminist stunt is that actions speak louder than empty rhetoric. And as the evidence demonstrates, American girls are doing just fine. Girls are outperforming boys educationally, graduating from high school and college at higher rates and with higher grades. Young women are leaving college to enter a working world where they demand and get equal pay for equal work, and where women’s entrepreneurial spirit is flourishing. Rather than take your daughter to work, why not take her aside and talk about the positive message of American women’s achievements? Why not emphasize that self-esteem is something one earns by pursuing excellence and exceeding expectations and standards, not something society owes you. Instead of taking our daughters to work, let’s take a moment to expose feminist myth-making and recognize what girls are really doing–succeeding.