This fall, I have had the good fortune to meet many memorable women. I met a physicist and computer science expert from the National Institutes of Health. I met an artist who transforms scientific data into stunning, wall-sized murals. I met a teacher librarian who has turned a cramped high school library in Yakima into the busy, beating heart of the building. I met a professor of Fine Arts and Engineering who has started an Art and Ecology program at her university. And a young woman who moved from Texas to Seattle with two suitcases to her name and is now a successful copywriter by day and writer of fiction and memoir by night. And a Somali immigrant, who brings her oldest daughter, a kindergartener, into our neighborhood tutoring center because she wants her to succeed.
I am lucky to have the kind of life in which these kinds of encounters are possible. I wish more men did. I wish it wasn’t so hard for guys like Mitt Romney to get out of their mostly-male bubble and meet the dynamic women that are everywhere.
I want to tread carefully here, because I realize I’m entering a minefield of stereotypes just waiting for me to take a wrong step. So maybe I’ll try the most positive route through this hazardous terrain: the route of utopian vision. Of “What if?”
What if we lived in a world where everyone, regardless of gender, had time in their work week to volunteer for two hours? Tutoring the mostly African immigrant children I help with homework at the neighborhood center is often the most challenging, rewarding, stereotype-busting two hours of my week. I’m lucky to have the flexibility to do it. I wish more people did.
What if we lived in world where the STEM disciplines—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math—were as highly valued as they should be, but NOT at the expense of, or segregation from, the arts and humanities, from which they have so much to gain? I recently got to be part of a panel of artists at a conference on scientific visualization. I thought it would be way outside my comfort zone. But I was thrilled to hear about collaborations taking place across the great divide between art and science and I was humbled to meet the men and women who are breaking these new trails.
What if all our schools could keep their libraries open into the evening, with staff and volunteers present to help students learn how to navigate the new world of Internet-based research? Think of the future scientists, writers and artists we could nurture.
What if we lived in a world where the love of learning, thinking and creativity was valued more greatly, or even as greatly, as money, power, prestige? In what different ways might children flourish in such a world?
It just might be a world in which we don’t have to offer Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” for consideration for government appointments. A world where we’ve moved beyond binders. Beyond the strict boundaries that keep us from knowing each other.
If scientists can work with artists, if libraries and tutoring centers can stay open, if young men and women believe they can create lives that blend making a living and making art—then surely such a world beyond binders is possible.
Our films, The Church on Dauphine Street, 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle and Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story are now available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.
Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.
Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.