November 12, 2017
I take a perverse joy in watching my daughter throw tantrums.
The tears stream down her face. She lies on the ground, spreadeagled, staring up at the sky and hiccoughing in indignation. Sometimes when she gets really riled up, she’ll turn herself over, scream, and pound her little fists and feet on the floor. It makes me happy.
It makes me happy to know that she is about to learn to do something for herself, because that is the root cause of her unhappiness. I, her omnipotent parent, cannot (or usually will not) solve her problem. And she is REALLY mad about it.
I always say the same thing to her. “Kiddo, you can throw this big fit and then you can solve the problem, or you can just solve your problem. Which one do you want to do?” Then I give her a nice big hug and wait with my “pleasant, expectant smile.” Usually she continues to throw her fit.
But eventually she calms herself down. She starts thinking. She gets up. And she solves that problem.
And that’s really what it’s all about - life, that is. It’s just one problem after another, and we just need to solve them as they come. For too many centuries - millennia - women and girls have been taught that they are not capable of solving their own problems, or that their problems aren’t actually problems.
Both at Princess Awesome and GoldieBlox, we saw problems with the choices available for girls. These were problems many in the fashion and toy industries didn’t see, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there. We decided to try to solve them - why not us, after all? If we can see the problems, and if we know what we want the solutions to look like, then why shouldn’t we try to solve them?
Starting a business was much harder than we ever had imagined. There were hundreds of smaller problems, some of which made me want to throw a lovely little tantrum ala my daughter, or just give up in quiet despair. A few problems really did make me cry. But we solved them, and in solving all those little problems, we began to solve the original, big problem.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned that a solution you engineer yourself is intensely satisfying, not just in the final product but in the process too. There’s the thrill of a sudden flash of insight, the gallows humor when an idea fails spectacularly, the melancholic awe when you know you’ve created something not just serviceable, but beautiful too.
Every girl needs the problem-solving skills engineering teaches, but - just as importantly - every girl needs the ability to actualize herself as the solver of her own problems. We want girls to know: first, that their perceptions are valid and the problems they see exist. Second, that they can take ownership of those problems and solve them. Third, that the process of solving problems is joyful, rewarding, and artistic.
My daughter’s problems are small now. But when she grows up, she’ll have big problems - the problems I haven’t solved, that my generation will pass on to her and her peers. It will take many girls to find solutions to the issues of their time - but they will find them, if only we give them the skills and confidence to build a better world for themselves.