Transcript from the Whistler Premier of the film Pretty Faces

Written and presented by Dr. Megan Bulloch, Howe Sound Women’s Centre Board of Directors

 

When I got my PhD (my last of 4 3/4 university degrees — I don’t talk about that 3/4 one very
much but we can talk about life decisions later), my Mom apologized for a book she’d given me
when I was a little girl.

The book was called something like, When I grow up, what will I be? And it had pictures of
what women could be. They could be ballerinas. Secretaries. Stewardesses Nurses. Teachers.
Mothers. Cowgirls.

I really liked the cowgirl one.

The book resonated with my Mom in 1975. She was a ballerina, a nurse, and a mom. Women
can do all of those things. They are fabulous things to be. That there is a higher paid, higher
prestige male job associated with each of these isn’t my point.

My problem was with the final thing that this book told me that I could be when I grew up. It
had this sarcastic flavour. It said I could be an astronaut. But by the picture, I knew that I really
couldn’t be an astronaut because I’m a girl. Sadly, this sounds similarly to something I had been
told when I first thought I would be a professor 30 years later.

When I became Dr. Bulloch, Mom apologized for not giving me a book that better mirrored
what I eventually went on to do. I might not have grown up to become an astronaut, but I did
grow up to be a professor, which is something not a lot of girls grow up to be even now, and is
still really hard for girls to do.

In spite of the book, and probably mostly because of my Mom, I did grow up to do all sorts of
awesome things. I studied monkeys in the jungle in Belize. I did research in West Africa, living
without running water or electricity. I have a degree that was purely about getting an education,
playing with ideas. I worked with chimpanzees — who became my nine favourite people in
Ohio. I’ve travelled all over the world. I have my dream job, and I’m living my dream life.

Given what I’ve ended up doing, you would think that my role model would have been
someone like Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey. Women who sacrificed everything for something
important, something they loved, and did what most folks said women couldn’t do. Much as I
admire both of them, they didn’t get my feet on the road.
Dr. Eugenie Clark was the one who did that.

Anyone heard of her?

Remember those book clubs in elementary school, where you could order books? And how
excited you were when they arrived? (Do they still do that?) When I was in grade three, I
ordered one called, The woman who swam with the sharks. It was about Dr. Genie Clark —-
this remarkable woman (she was born in 1922) who fell in love with fish at the aquarium, and
then with sharks in the ocean. She developed elegant new ways to study them, then spent her
whole life swimming with sharks (she was diving into her 80s), and trying to figure out how
they go, what they think, and even, whether they slept (which she did find out and they sort of
do, in these cool underwater caves that she swam into with all these sharks). I was pretty
obsessed with sharks when I was a kid (and I still am — I’m wearing great white sharks socks
right now), and for me, Genie Clark had the greatest life ever. She got to teach people, she got a
title — Dr. — in front of her name (I was really big on titles then too, and I guess I still am), and
she got to be around these dangerous, beautiful, misunderstood beings every day, to travel to
exotic places I’d never even heard of to do it, and to spend all her time in the ocean. To my nine
year old mind, she was like a scientist mermaid.

Like a lot of folks, I lost that little girl passion for a while and settled, unsure of myself. You
know that passion that we have as little girls, when we think we can do anything. I had gone
from being at the top of my class in high school writing and english literature, to earning Cs and
C+s on papers that, even I knew, were badly written, uninspired, and frankly, not super smart.
A few months into university, I was taken aside by Dr. Sinel, my prof. She handed me a paper
I’d written on Wordsworth’s poetry, and there was an A on it. She asked me what I’d done
differently — to go from Cs to an A. So I stuttered about editing, and some of the themes in the
poetry, and she cut me off and asked me, What did you learn? I prattled on about poetry format
and word choice, and then she said, “No. You’ve learned that you must do what you love
because you cannot fake it.”

This is a scary thing to tell an 18-year-old girl. How do I know what I love? What if I can’t do
what I love? What if I don’t love anything?

I have not seen Dr. Sinel since April 1991, but her words have had such an enormous effect on
the shape of my life. Her insight into how I tick now, and how I ticked at 18, has kept me from
settling numerous times, from making some really bad decisions, has given me permission to
make some really smart ones, and the confidence to sin boldly. To be myself as big as I can.

Because of the book about Dr. Clark’s experiences, I never doubted that I too could do cool
things. Because of Dr. Sinel’s advice, I never thought about doing anything that wasn’t
interesting, and something I loved.

At one point, when I was overwhelmed with indecision and doubting myself, I ran away for the
weekend. Somehow I ended up at the Calgary Zoo. While I was there, I met a gorilla — his
name is Kakinga — and we spent 45 minutes touching each other through the glass. I fell madly
head over heels, in love with him. I walked away from that experience thinking, “People do
that. They do that every single day. They study how animals think, and how they go, and they
get to spend all their time with them. I could do that. And I would love that. ” And so I
promptly changed my life’s path to be more like Dr. Clark’s, less like that book my Mom gave
me, and grounded thoroughly in Dr. Sinel’s advice.

I want you to try something with me.

I want you all to close your eyes. I know, you feel vulnerable, and it’s weird that I’m asking you
to close your eyes when you’re supposed to just sit there and listen to me. Go with it.

With your eyes still closed, I want you to think about your role model. Who is the person that
has given you permission to be you, or the person who gives you support when you need it, or
shown you the way, or told you that you were worth it? Who put your feet on the road? Picture
that person in as much detail as possible. Got her?

K keep your eyes closed. Now I want you to think about who you are that person for. Who are
you a role model for? Who do you give permission to just be? To support when she needs it? To
show her the way? Who do you tell that she’s worth it? Whose feet do you put on the road?
Picture that person in as much detail as possible. Got her?

I want you to picture the three of you together, however you like. We’re all balanced between
being role models, and needing role models, and we have to remember that there are little girls
out there, and grown women out there who need someone to tell them that they’re worth it, and
that they are big enough just as they are. Remember to do that.

You can all open your eyes now.

Role models don’t have to be people you see every day, or people who are “supposed” to be
your role models. Role models are the people who get under your skin, and show you that
something is possible. It’s going to be really hard, but it is possible. Sometimes this happens
because they come right out and tell you that you can do anything, and sometimes you just see
that they can do it, and begin to believe that you can too.

Role models put your feet on the road.