Eleanor and I sat side-by-side. I was giddy. She was just beginning to learn about the periodic table of the elements, and I couldn’t wait. It is full of patterns. Knowledge. Wonder. Full of stories of women and men and their discoveries, mistakes, triumphs. Full of politics, intrigue, double-crossings. It’s all in there. And, so was this:
Welcome to fourth grade science.
To introduce students to the elements, the science teacher at Eleanor’s school showed a video that included this image to represent silicon (which is actually different from silicone, but that’s an entirely different issue). He also posted it to the homework webpage, which was how Eleanor and I came to be watching it together.
The giddiness drained, leaching color from my face.
This was not the politics and intrigue I thought we’d be discussing. But talk about it we did. And then I followed it with a very, very kind email politely asking if there could please be a different video. The old one was gone by the morning.
I still had a pit in my stomach.
It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough because while our little group of fourth graders wasn’t going to see it any more, so many other girls (and equally importantly, boys) still would. They would see it and get the message that girls don’t have a place in science. The message that the only way they matter–the only way they are represented–is through their bodies.
Enough would be changing the video. But it had been seen nearly 10 million times on YouTube. It was the top search result. How was I going to take on the company that made it?
With manners and mamas.
And so I called on my community. The women with whom I share my alum status from Wellesley. And we rallied. We tweeted. We facebooked. We social-media-ed.
And this is what happened…
love the love note? you can pin it!
I know that sometimes change doesn’t come easily. That sometimes change means raising our voices. And sometimes even more. But what Eleanor learned that night was that change comes. She learned the power of standing up for what’s right, even when you are unsure of the outcome. She learned that women she didn’t know, women she will most likely never meet, believed in her. The messages she learned that evening went far beyond the elements of the periodic table.
“Mama,” she breathed, “I’m so proud of you.”
The company moved quickly, the video has been edited and is back online. Now when children start to learn about the periodic table, they see this: