We should all be the Wonder Woman of the party

Like a doomsday device counting down to zero, I have awaited my daughter’s embrace of Princess Culture with dread.

She has just started school, which I always imagined would be the time it would happen. Thankfully, nothing yet. One thing I anticipated happening would be birthday parties with lots of girls dressed as princesses.

This particular Saturday was her dance class in the morning, and a classmate’s birthday party in the afternoon. A big day for a 4-year-old girl. And she decided that she wanted to wear her Wonder Woman outfit to both.

A Wonder Woman costume was  something I always wanted to have on hand for our daughter as party dress option. Wonder Woman is a princess after all…

She is a superhero character I have actively encouraged our daughter’s interest in, ensuring we have books, comics, toys, and clothing with her on. To counter the Princess industrial complex, you need a multi media approach.

But I was also very aware that at any party, our daughter would likely be the only Wonder Woman room – and more often than not the only girl dressed as a superhero. In my experience, most kids don’t like being different. I have seen kids at dance class in tears because they’re not wearing a tutu like the other girls.

I know how it feels to be different, from being the only brown kid in a class of white children to the only dad in a room with dozens of mums. It’s not a scenario to undertake lightly.

Given this, her wearing the Wonder Woman outfit was never something I forced. We may have suggested, even encouraged – but it was always her choice.

So it was a delight to see her on this Saturday revelling in her individuality. She didn’t display a shred of concern about being different.

Something I have noticed, is how adults often gush over how great she looks dressed as a superhero or Star Wars character, or even just wearing t-shirts (well, apart from some disbelieving dudes). Perhaps this is one of the reasons she likes wearing this and similar outfits. Adult praise is an important part of childhood learning.

I also reflect that I hear other girls getting praise (if any) for looking cute or pretty, while our daughter often gets told how cool or awesome she looks.

While both are comments judging the girls on how they look, at least the value placed on our daughter’s is not about attractiveness.

But for now, I find my daughter’s confidence in herself inspiring. Her lack of self consciousness about looking different is something I hope she keeps hold of.

====

Check out her Wonder Woman clad dance class routine 🙂

4yo Wonder Woman + Justin Timberlake = 💕

A video posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

 

 

Sexual harassment in schools. It starts younger than you think.

Sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools is said to be at “shocking” levels, with teenage girls being subjected to high levels of abuse. But this toxic behaviour from boys starts far earlier than their teens. 

The report, by the Women and Equalities Committee, has detailed the levels of sexual harassment in schools, which they say is not being tackled effectively in English schools.

The report found that:

  • almost a third (29%) of 16-18 year old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school
  • nearly three-quarters (71%) of all 16-18 year old boys and girls say they hear terms such as “slut” or “slag” used towards girls at schools on a regular basis
  • 59% of girls and young women aged 13-21 said in 2014 that they had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year

As the parent of a primary school age daughter, something that jumped out at me about these stats was the age range, which begins at 13. Because sexual harassment of girls at school begins far earlier than that.

When I collect my 4-year-old daughter from school, she tells me three things about her day. It’s a tradition which began at nursery, as it was the only way I could get her to tell me anything about her day.

It’s almost always positive, so I’ll often ask if anything she didn’t like happened. Generally, nothing does – but not this time.

4yo: “I didn’t like it when 2 boys tried to pull down my skirt and knickers.”

I tried to react in a calm, measured, and constructive manner. But didn’t entirely succeed. First I asked her to expand on what actually happened in more detail, such as who the boys were. I then asked what she said to the boys in response (“I said ‘Hey!'”), how they reacted (They carried on), whether she then went to the teacher (she didn’t).

I explained what she could have said to the boys (“Don’t do that. I don’t like it.”), and that she MUST tell the teacher.

But I realised I was being too critical about her reaction, and that was overshadowing the fact that she was unhappy and she was not the one who had done anything wrong. I was in essence – despite being a proudly feminist father – victim blaming her.

As soon as I realised, I stopped this approach. Instead comforted her and reassured her that what the boys did was wrong, and would it be ok if I talked to her teacher about it (it was). I felt she needed to be assured that her teachers agree this kind of behaviour was wrong. Telling them would be much like older girls and women reporting sexual assault to the authorities, so this was an important precedent to set.

Her teacher seemed to take my concerns seriously. They were going to talk to the class about bullying in general. But there was one thing I wanted to happen I was unsure was going to, and I didn’t follow it up: Were the boys in question going to be spoken to directly about their behaviour, and why it was wrong.

The Women and Equalities Committee report summary says “…if the Government is to tackle ‘lad culture’ successfully at university, its work should start much earlier, in schools.” I would add, that it needs to start in schools at the earliest opportunity.

The full report does clearly state:

By the time they reach secondary school children often have entrenched views about gender norms. It is therefore important that children are educated about gender equality, consent, relationships and sex in an age-appropriate way starting in primary school.

Absolutely. The kind of behaviour my daughter experienced at primary school needs to be addressed as soon as it occurs.  I bear no grudge against the two boys. They’re very young and were testing boundaries. But they need to know that they crossed a line here.

Left unchecked, a boy in reception who thinks that it’s ok to pull down a girl’s knickers may grow into a young man thinking he’s entitled to escalate this type of behaviour to women,

=====

(Photo courtesy of Nick Page via Flickr)

 

The Man vs. Pink Alternative Christmas Gift Guide For Girls (and Boys)

Choosing gifts for girls should be easy. If you know what they’re into, buy something related to that. If you don’t know, then try and find out.

However, when the buyer (whether relative, classmate, or family friend) doesn’t know them well enough, they often chance it – and this is when gender stereotypes come into play.

Not wanting their gift to be unwanted, people often opt for what they think is the safe option of traditionally ‘girly’ items – whether it’s a Princess sticker book or a pink fairy costume.

Last years Alternative Gift Guide for Girls proved very popular, so I thought I would publish an updated one. What I wanted to offer here again is a collection of alternative gifts you may not have considered for girls.

1. Kano Computer Kit Bundle

kano-computer-kit-bundle

This fantastic machine is topping the list for the second year in a row, but this year there is a brilliant additional element that has really enhanced our daughter’s experience in using it.

To summarise, the  Kano computer is a wonderful device – not only a build-your-own computer kit, but the finished product is a gateway into coding and the creativity of computing. With coding and computing literacy high on the educational agenda, imho this is one of the best presents you could buy for your child.

The additional element in this package is the Kano Screen kit, an HD screen that you make yourself. It is fairly simple to put together, but as with the computer kit doing so helps understand the elements and process of this technology.  And there remains a great sense of ownership from your child in the finished product.

While the screen is available separately for those who already have the Kano, both are available as the Kano Computer Kit Bundle.

The screen really is a brilliant extra element that I highly recommend. From a practical point of view, the screen kit casing houses both the computer and the keyboard, making storage easy. It visually matches the Kano, with the transparent housing keeping all the blinking lights visible.

It also make the Kano more portable & versatile. Previously we were using it on the main family TV, but now is can be used anywhere, which has really increased our daughter’s engagement with the device. And engaging our children with computing is really the whole point of this marvellous machine.

It doesn’t come cheap, but I’ll reiterate – if you purchase only one present for your children this Christmas, I urge you to make it the Kano computer.

The Kano computer kit has an RRP of £299.99, and can be purchased directly from Kano.

2. LEGO

LEGO Marvel Superheroes Spider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle 76057
Our daughter enjoying our favourite set of the year – the Spider-Man Ultimate Bridge Battle, with a Spider-Girl minifigure

While LEGO Friends was once the preserve of most female LEGO minifigures, the Danish plastic brick company has made great progress in featuring more female characters in all their lines.

This year, we had some terrific licensed sets that included some cool female minifigures.

In the superheroes there was the Avenjet (with Captain Marvel), DC Sky-high battle (Wonder Woman), Gotham City Cycle Chase (Harley Quinn), Avengers Hazard Heist (Black Widow), and Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum (the Ancient One). For children aged 2-5, we also had a great Duplo set, DC Super Hero Batman Adventure – which featured a Wonder Woman DUPLO figure & bike.

In Star Wars there was the Battle of Takodana (Maz Kanata) and the recent Rogue One U-Wing set (Jyn Erso).

But the top set – and probably the best Marvel LEGO set we have ever built – is the Spider-Man Ultimate Bridge Battle. It features six minifigures, Spider-Man, Scarlet Spider, the Scorpion, Kraven the Hunter – and female minifigures Aunt May, and best of all Spider-Girl.

It’s a fun playset when made – a section of a classic New York bridge, with various moving elements from a web trap to a crashing taxi. It has LEGO studs everywhere so you can place your wall crawling superheroes all over the bridge. But it is also great to build, and a fun engineering project to share with your kids. I certainly enjoyed making it as much as my daughter.

=====

3. LEGO Dimensions

LEGO Dimensions Starter Pack PS3

Combining aspects of 1 & 2  on this list, LEGO dimensions has been a big hit in our house this year.

It’s one of the toys-to-life genre made famous by Skylanders, and the soon to be defunct Disney Infinity. But for me this is the premiere fusion of toy and game, combining the best elements of LEGO the toy and the LEGO video game franchise to create something marvellous in its own right.

The basic set is the starter pack, which is console specific. It includes the game, 3 minifgures (Batman, Gandalf, and Wyldstye), a minikit (the Batmobile), and the game pad – which is how you transport your minifigures into the game.

Basically, the included minifigures and mini kits have special platform bases, which are encoded to transport them into the game via the game pad.

Here they are playable as part of the included narrative game or in freeplay mode in various worlds unlocked by each character.

From this basic set, you can expand the game with new special LEGO dimensions minifigures and level packs. There are way too many to mention all, and they are releasing figures regularly (currently seven waves of multiple sets), but I wanted to highlight the available range of female characters, which are awesome.

As well as Wlydstyle, we have Wonder Woman, UniKitty, the Wicked Witch, Lumpy Space Princess & Marceline the Vampire Queen (Adventure Time), Harley Quinn,  Tina Goldstein (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), and a Ghostbusters (2016) Story Pack, with an Abby Yates minifigure, brand new game pad set, and a playable LEGO version of the entire movie.

LEGO Dimensions is a great way to bridge the divide between LEGO and LEGO video games.

======

4. The Amazing Colouring Book for Awesome Girls

The Amazing Colouring Book for Awesome Girls, The Amazing Coloring Book for Awesome Girls, Colouring Book for Girls, Coloring Book for Girls, Girls Colouring Book, Girls Coloring Book

More of a stocking filler is this great colouring book, featuring simple pictures of women and girls in a variety of different roles and activities.

It’s the perfect antidote to the more usual princess themed books targeted at girls. While I have some issue with labelling it a girls book – most notably because it will prevent many boys from being bought this – I understand why (because of the existing market), and love the finished result.

Just 3 of the inspirational illustrations to colour in - a girl being a pirate, astronaut, and sculptor.
Just 3 of the inspirational illustrations to colour in – a girl being a pirate, astronaut, and sculptor.

======

5. Anime and related

man-vs-pink-gift-guide-for-girls-2016-anime

While there has been progress, Disney Princesses continue to dominate the ‘girls’ market, so I have always been keen to source alternatives for my daughter to balance out this ubiquitous brand.

Studio Ghibli continues to be a rich source, and this year we saw a couple of ‘new’ ones. When Marnie Was There is purported to be their last movie, and is an engaging, rewarding, but also melancholy tale. An earlier classic, Only Yesterday,  was also re-released, with a brand new english language dub including Daisy Ridley. It sees a woman in her twenties reflecting on her modern life and reminiscing about her life as a little girl. It is a mesmerising tale from Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata.

We were also pleased to discover another anime classic, but this time not from Studio Ghibli. Wolf Children is a wonderful film that centres on Hanna – a young woman who has a passionate relationship with someone who turns out to be the last of his kind, a mythical Japanese wolf. Their kids, the children of the title, struggle to find their way in a world that has different callings for humans and animals. There is also a beautifully illustrated manga based on the movie. Both film and comic have become beloved favourites of our daughter’s – and mine too.

Our final ‘discovery’ was also anime related, the saga of Avatar: The Last Airbender and especially it’s sequel The Legend of Korra. Debuting over a decade ago, this animated TV saga has enthralled both my daughter and I this year. While the protagonist of the first show is a young boy (Aang), strong female characters are prevalent throughout (though it has to be said, my daughter adores Aang).

We started by watching Korra, which is magnificent, and while it was easy to follow we realised some of the references would hold greater relevance if we watched Avatar: The Last Airbender. We then rewatched Korra from the beginning and finished the show. The seven series epic is truly magnificent, and in the UK it is all part of Amazon Video. There are also follow up comics that I can’t wait for us to explore.

Sadly, there is also a movie of The Last Airbender. I say sadly, because frankly it’s pants and a pale shadow of the cartoon it is based on – but my daughter really enjoyed it. Make of that what you will.

6. Star Wars

Rey Lightsaber Toy Review from Star Wars The Force Awakens HasbroStar Wars, as ever, has loomed large in our house. Much of it centered around LEGO Star Wars, and as well as the sets mention above, we also really enjoyed the LEGO Star Wars Force Awakens game. It is (unsurprisingly) Rey centric, and features actual dialogue from the movie. Daisy Ridley (as well as much of the cast) also recorded additional dialogue for the game.

Rey has also added another character for little girls everywhere to dress up as, so my daughter’s Rey fancy dress outfit – with essential Rey’s Lightsaber accessory – was welcome.

Our daughter also enjoyed this interactive Stormtrooper toy, and I was a fan of the Star Wars novels Bloodline (a political thriller featuring Princess Leia) and Ahsoka.

7. DC Super Hero Girls

DC Super Hero Girls Action Figures - Supergirl and Batgirl SM

In what seems to be an attempt to combine the popularity of superheroes and Disney Princess, Mattel & Warner Bros. have created the brand DC Super Hero Girls.

As well as toys, there are books, cartoons, stationary and fancy dress outfits.

We only have a couple of toys, Supergirl and Batgirl action figures so these are the only ones we can personally recommend but the range has everything from fancy dress outfits, to accessory toys and homewares – and with LEGO on the way, I hope this brand does well in 2017.

====

8. Lottie

lottie-dolls-gift-guide-for-girls

Lottie dolls are an ever popular toy in our house. To be honest, check out their range for the ones that best suit you/your child – but these are the ones my daughter has received this year.

We chose the School Days Lottie and scooter accessory pack because our daughter started school and scooting there is encouraged. The palaeontologist Fossil Hunter was to help support an interest in dinosaurs before any ideas that ‘Dinosaurs are for boys’ crept into her thinking. Same for the Girls United Football clothes set, and the Raspberry Ripple dress clothes outfit was simply one my daughter liked the look of.

But there are lots of different dolls and accessories to choose from, and it should be easy to find the right one for the lucky child.

While you can purchase them via the Amazon links below, if you head to lottie.com, and use the code ‘bloggerambassador’ at check out you can get 20% off your order.

====

9. Sewing Circus

sewing-circus-man-vs-pink-christmas-2016-gift-guide-for-girls

This label – from Let Clothes Be Clothes founder Francesca Cambridge continues to blaze a trail for unisex clothing, which also promotes active and STEM themes that are perfect to undermine negative girl stereotypes. There’s also plenty of Star Wars and superheroes.

She also does bespoke work – such as the all-time fave Star Wars skirts our daughter often wears!

Head to the Sewing Circus website and browse the selection.

10. Miscellaneous

the-man-vs-pink-alternative-christmas-gift-guide-for-girls-and-boys-misc

Ok, I ran out of room to mention these fully – but any one would also make a great gift for a girl (or boy).

The Natural History branded pocket microscope is a great affordable STEM toy, that works really well too.

Rory’s Storycubes are a wonderful way to encourage creative storytelling in young children, and we love these Batman ones. They also feature a good selection of female characters.

We’re big fans of the work of writer & illustrator Charles C. Dowd, and his A to Z Guide to Jobs for Girls is a must have for anyone raising an empowered little girl. Our daughter is also particularly taken with his Lilith Dark comic.

A great introduction to the most iconic female comic book character of all can be found in the Wonder Woman: An Origin Story picture book, with nice animated style illustrations.

Also going down treat are a selection of Batgirl comics – Batgirl: Year One, as well as the hipster revamp Batgirl of Burnside and follow up Family Business. Some my not think of these as suitable reading material for a 4-year-old girl – but I would disagree 🙂

Also skewing older is a childhood favourite of mine – Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM. I read it to my daughter earlier in the year, and she enjoyed it immensely and is now being read it again by my wife.  If you know a child who has never read (or been read) this classic, we all highly recommend it.

=====

There you have it, my alternative gift guide for girls. What alternative gifts for girls would you suggest?

 

 

 

 

Does the world need pink and blue globes?

Spotted these in a high street shop this week. One globe is as you would expect – blue oceans, green and brown landmasses. The other is pink.

It may not say ‘boy’ and ‘girl’, but there can’t be any doubt that this is the intention.

The only time you would need a pink globe would be if there was a resurgence of the British Empire, and we took over the ENTIRE world.

But in the meantime, there is no place for this pinkification of science and learning. The oceans are blue, sexism is pink.

 

Photalife

Reinventing Princesses: The League of Extraordinary Ladies

Me: “What did you do at school today?”

4yo: “Played princesses.”

Now, this answer should horrify me. I hate princesses, and their pastel domination of our girls’ childhoods. As a brand, they represent everything I don’t want for my daughter.

But I was curious, as I had a suspicion it might not be what I feared.

Me: “So how did you play princesses?”

This was where the fun began.

She played with two of her friends, pretending to be Elsa, Rapunzel, and Jasmine. First surprise: Who’s who. Jasmine wasn’t my brown, dark haired daughter – she was the coveted Elsa. Her very blonde friend was Jasmine. Her other blonde friend – previously a Frozen obsessive, and most likely Esla – went for Rapunzel.

My daughter wanted to be Elsa because a) she has superpowers, and b) she’s a Queen, i.e. a leader. Her friend wanted to be Rapunzel because she’d just seen Tangled. My daughter encouraged her friend to focus on the Tangled Rapunzel’s own superpower of Medusa-like hair.

The set up of their game was that they were a team of crime fighting heroes, and while Elsa and Rapunzel were off on a mission to capture Hans and bring him back to prison, Jasmine was going to look after Elsa’s kingdom of Arendelle. Adventure ensued.

A few things occurred to me after hearing this:

a) While not encouraging Princess fandom in my daughter, they’re not banned either – and knowing the characters and stories has been vital in helping her bond with other girls.

b) The princess characters themselves are often far more empowered than portrayed in merchandising. I’ve frequently highlighted to my daughter their achievements and power (whether it’s leadership, skills, or actual superpowers), and dialled back on how pretty they look, or how lucky they are to marry a prince.

As parents, we can easily reinvent princesses to present them as far more powerful than the imagery used on t-shirts and lunch boxes.

c) Introducing my daughter to other female hero stories – whether Batgirl, Korra, or My Little Pony – has given her different, more active female-led scenarios to use in her play and share with friends.

d) How awesome would a super team of Elsa, Rapunzel, and Jasmine be? A League of Extraordinary Ladies… Over to you Disney.

====

Images ©Disney

She passed the Fake Geek Girl test. But she shouldn’t have to.

My 4-year-old daughter likes pink. She likes Frozen. She likes My Little Pony. But she also likes green. She also likes superheroes. She also likes Star Wars.

One of her latest dress up outfits is Rey from The Force Awakens. She makes a really awesome Rey. I even tied her hair in Rey’s distinctive three buns, and got her a proper Rey lightsaber toy (a blue one – the pink FX in the picture is courtesy of DorkDaddy).

The reaction she got wearing this outfit was amazing. Shop assistants, little girls, little boys, older girls, parents – all were smiling or commenting on how cool she looked. We don’t see many little girls running round in Star Wars outfits here. Lots of Annas and Elsas, very few Leias and Reys (basically, my daughter).

But one reaction was interesting. It was from a man, younger than me, probably in his twenties. He was also admiring her outfit. Said she’d be great at a comic-con. But then he started to ask her questions. Questions he obviously knew the answer to.

He pointed to the lightsaber.

“Do you know what’s inside there?” he said.

“A battery.” she answered.

“Haha. No, I mean a real lightsaber?”

She paused. He was about to say something, but then she said “A crystal.”

He was surprised. “That’s right!” he said, then continued “But do you know where they get the crystal?”

“The Jedi temple.” she answered.

“Uh, wow – yes, that’s right.” He’s a bit stunned now. What else can he ask?

“But do you know how they put lightsabers together?”

“By using the force.” she quickly answered.

*Saber-drop.

He was dumbfounded, and looked a little in awe.

He may have merely been trying to make conversation. But my daughter gets this reaction from men a lot, never from women.

He was testing her.

The Fake Geek Girl trope – an assumption that women only pretend to like geeky things to get male attention – is male fandom at its most insecure and pathetic. This disbelief that girls can like geeky stuff too bleeds into wider perceptions of women and girls.

So guys, stop assuming a girl doesn’t know her shit because she’s a girl. This applies equally to little girls and adult women.

Try sharing your fandom. It’s more fun than trying to defend it from those pesky females.

How a girl chooses to engage in a fandom is her business, and there’s as much room for overweight men in tight t-shirts as for women in Slave Leia outfits.

And little girls dressed as Rey of course.

The British Royal Family and the problem with Princesses

We were watching an event on TV recently, and I noticed William and Kate, aka the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, our future King and Queen, in the audience.

I said to my daughter, “Look, there’s a princess.”. *

“Where?” she replied.

I pointed out Kate, wearing sunglasses and what I am sure is a perfectly nice dress – but a world away from the sparkly tiara and ballgown clad ladies of Disney and other princess fiction. I could see our daughter looking confused.

Explaining the concept of a constitutional monarchy to a child is tricky, but the fact remains that we have a Queen, Princes, and Princesses. I’m one of those mildly hypocritical Brits who’s an anti-Royalist yet also thinks we are incredibly lucky to have someone like Queen Elizabeth as our head of state.

But when I analyse my anti-royal feelings, it’s not because of any resentment of their wealth. In fact I think I only realised why when William and Kate’s children were born.

I felt sorry for them. Especially Prince George, but Princess Charlotte too. I felt sorry for their lack of opportunity. That try as they might, their parents will have very little impact on how they eventually lead in their adult lives.

The British royal family exist in a bubble of scrutiny and pre-destined duty. Sure, there’s privilege attached too, but their role is rigidly defined and any life choices are endlessly criticised – who they date/marry, any work they undertake, what they wear, how they relax. Doing military service is a given, however they may feel about armed conflict.

Their path in life is decided from birth, with a duty to serve the people of Britain and the Commonwealth. It is in many ways a life of servitude.

I am baffled why so many parents of girls encourage them to dream of being a princess. Why would we want to promote such a pre-determined life to our children?

Princesses aren’t banned in our house. They are not encouraged either. But they are ever present in products and media targeted at girls. While many Disney Princesses have admirable qualities in their own stories, the branding reduces them to posing in sparkly dresses with empty smiles to match. So I have always been keen to introduce other fictional princesses who subvert the stereotype.

There is the superhero princess Wonder Woman (Princess Diana no less), the space princess Leia. Others have been useful such as Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke as well as Princess Nausicaä in their Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

These are women who are princesses in name only, and have much more admiral qualities than looking pretty, wearing fancy dresses, and getting a prince to fall in love with them. Most importantly, compared to most of the real life Windsors, they have chosen their own paths in life.

Another interesting fictional princess has been the character of Princess Pearl in Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler’s children’s book Zog – where she relinquishes her royal role to become a flying doctor.

This was recently mirrored in real life in our hometown, right next-door to my daughter’s nursery. Prince William paid a literal flying visit – landing his Air Ambulance helicopter in a field next door. Someone nearby had been injured, and William and his team arrived to help.

Much like Princess Pearl, William has chosen to work as an aviator to help those in need of medical assistance. By all accounts he enjoys the work immensely. But he isn’t able to devote much time to it. And as he nears his ascension to the throne, he will have even less. His destiny – since birth – has been to be King.

Like most parents, I want to provide our daughter as many opportunities to find her own way in the world as possible. William – and his children – have very little say in theirs.

Princess culture endorses this pre-determined life, where only birth and/or marriage defines your existence. The British Royal family are living proof of this.

Is that the kind of future we really want for our girls?

====

*Note: Despite the title of Duchess, Kate is still a Princess. In fact her occupation on the birth certificate of her children is stated as ‘Princess of the United Kingdom’

Superheroes are for Girls (and Boys)

When my daughter was about 2-years-old, on a trip to the local soft play centre a rather confused looking older boy asked me “Is she a boy or a girl?” about my daughter.

Resisting the urge to point out he’d already answered his question I simply replied “She’s a girl.”

“Why is she wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt then?” he retorted.

“Because she likes Spider-Man”.

The boy pondered, until his older sister (I assume) joined in telling him “Yeah, girls can like Spider-Man too y’know!”.

With a satisfying sense of “Our work here is done”, we went on our way.

I often recall this incident. I hope every time my daughter wears superhero or Star Wars clothing, she is similarly influencing or subverting other children’s (and parents) ideas of what is and isn’t for girls.

====

She’ll be starting school in a few weeks, and she still needs to gain confidence in making new friends. Luckily, she knows 4 other girls in her class, but I am concerned she will find it too easy to just stick with them.

I’m encouraging her to venture outside her immediate social circle from time to time, but I’m not sure how effective I am being. I’ve asked her nursery to work with her a little on this in her final weeks there, as they have noted the same.

At the local playground, we bumped into one of the girls she knows, as I was explaining my concerns to the girl’s mother while they ran off and played.

With perfect timing, as I had just finished telling her, my daughter bounded over saying excitedly “Daddy, daddy, I’ve just made a new friend! This is James!”

Turns out they got talking because of her t-shirt – showing Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, and Black Widow. James is a fan of Iron Man. I encouraged my daughter to talk to him about the others. With practically a sigh, she said “I’ve already told him who they are daddy”.

The kids ran off and played. I was happy that our daughter’s confidence with people is rising – and hopefully this is one boy who will now assume ‘Superheroes are for girls too”.

====

One thing I’ve noticed happening from time to time is that when we meet men for the first time, and they see my daughter wearing a geeky t-shirt, they have a tendency to ask her about it.

The reactions vary – most think it’s cool. Some are actually jealous (“My wife would never let me dress my daughter in that”), but others are incredulous.

These men tend to test my daughter’s knowledge, by asking her who the characters are, possibly buying into the fake geek girl idea.

She’ll often be intimidated being quizzed by a strange man, and answer “I don’t know”, reinforcing their prejudice while they mansplain the answer.

Yesterday at a local fayre, while we were waiting in the faceprinting queue, a man asked my daughter who the characters were on her top. With a seemingly new found confidence, she told him their names without hesitation.

“Oh, she really does know who they are..!” he said to no one in particular.

Hopefully this is one man who will now assume ‘Superheroes are for girls too”.

Especially after her choice of face painting.

She-Hulk 😊

A photo posted by Man vs. Pink (@manvspink) on

====

 

 

Female Empowerment: Raising a Confident Girl

This week I took our daughter to London’s Science Museum. It’s one of those places that we had always intended to take her to repeatedly. Knowing that many girls are dissuaded from an interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Manufacturing), the Science Museum was going to be a key way to encourage it.

Well, we finally got round to it – motivated by knowing our chances to do this mid-week term time were lessening every day. Soon she’ll be at school and we’ll be locked into the holiday/weekend museum crush.

The visit was good, though she was initially a little dazed by it all. As we walked in the large, exhibit filled entrance hall, she looked around dazzled, exclaiming “I don’t know what any of these things are!” In the next few hours, I tried my best to help with that.

But the best bit happened at one of the many demonstrations they hold there. I had heard a friend of our daughter’s talked excitedly about the ‘Bubble Show’, so when I saw it listed I made sure we went along.

My daughter, like many of her age, is not one to commonly answer questions from adults. She tends to be better with familiar faces, and how tired she is also has an impact. But generally her default is the same as many other pre-schoolers, in not wanting to engage when asked a question.

So when we went to the Bubble Show (a workshop about bubbles – yes, it was as much fun as it sounds), and the demonstrator asked the audience ‘What are the two main ingredients for bubble mixture?’, I was very surprised when her hand shot up.

I was disappointed when another child was called on to answer, who correctly said “Water”. I figured that was that. Yet, when bubble man asked what the second ingredient was, my daughter’s hand remained up, and this time she was called upon to answer.

“Soap” she replied.

“Correct!” said the Bubble Man, “Everyone give her a round of applause!”

They did, and my daughter was beaming from ear to ear – as was I.

For me, the fact she got the answer right had little to do with how happy it made me (she learned that it was soap from a Peppa Pig episode – which is really annoying because I can’t stand that show).

I was happy because she had had the confidence to say so, to a stranger, in a roomful of strangers. As only a parent can be, I was immensely proud of her.

She then jumped at the chance to be involved when more interaction was requested – such as helping with smoke filled bubbles, and being placed inside a bubble! She had an awesome time, and hopefully learned something about science. But I think it displayed something more fundamentally important – self-confidence.

Why it’s important to me to raise a confident girl

I strongly believe that much of what we achieve in life, or opportunities we fail to capitalise on, can be put down to confidence and whether we posses it or not. Overall, girls have a tougher time gaining and maintaining confidence. There are any factors, but one aspect is being ignored or dismissed by men simply because they are women.

Encouraging our daughter to believe in herself, and have the confidence to express her knowledge in the face of potential barriers is vitally important. On this occasion, it was a man in a bubble show inviting answers to an audience. In the future it could be a man in a work meeting trying to shut down her dissenting opinion because she’s a woman.

These small steps in childhood will help her confidence to grow, so she can face up to the challenges ahead of her, whether bubble related or not.

I guess I also have to face the fact that Peppa Pig isn’t all bad. Dammit.

In My Little Pony, Feminism as well as Friendship is Magic

For as long as I’ve been blogging about being a parent raising a daughter in the shadow of princess culture, I’ve had online feedback suggesting I check out the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic cartoon (aka MLP:FiM).

At first, I ignored them. What were they thinking? These people clearly didn’t understand I wanted to show my daughter content with themes of female empowerment and self-confidence; to find stories and characters that didn’t patronise young girls; that had imaginative female led tales of action and adventure yet with stimulating and thought provoking scenarios. My Little Pony was surely part of the problem – not the solution.

Yet, the recommendations kept on coming, from even the most feminist community members. Could it be true? Could My Little Pony – which in my mind typified the kind of content I was opposed to – really provide a substantive alternative to Disney Princesses?

So with some (many) reservations, one afternoon we took the plunge and watched it.

Is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic the princess alternative I’m looking for?

I couldn’t quite believe it. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a delightful, smart, funny, really well written & animated show – that most importantly treated its intended audience of young girls with respect and intelligence. I was rather gobsmacked. And an instant fan…

While it has the colours, the coiffed manes, the “cutie marks”, and the like from its 80s stablemate I was judging it from – it also has a ‘hip’ factor that really surprised me. But above all it is the core of distinctive female characters that make this show. There is a character here for everyone, but to be honest even the least favoured ones have endearing qualities.

Creator Lauren Faust was inspired by her love of the toys as a child, but how the cartoons of the 80s failed to live up to the adventures in her imagination and play. Well, this new incarnation is full of creativity and adventure.

The set up is this (some spoilers): Princess Celestia, ruler of Equestria sends bookish unicorn Twilight Sparkle to the town of Ponyville to study the magic of friendship. She forms bonds with cowgirl apple farmer Applejack, high-energy Rainbow Dash, party girl Pinkie Pie, animal lover Fluttershy, and fashionista Rarity.

It turns out each one represents one of the ‘Elements of Harmony’: Honesty, Loyalty, Laughter, Generosity, and Kindness. Twilight Sparkle is the last element – Magic. Also in the mix is Celestia’s sister Princess Luna, a dragon called Spike, and all sort of sub-characters and adventures…

It may sound confusing and/or convoluted – but my point in going through this is I think there’s real thought been put into setting the scene for female led tales of magic, adventure, and friendship.

Lauren Faust has admitted that while the show is riddled with pink, has princesses, and that she was somewhat at the behest of Hasbro’s needs to sell toys – she and her team tried to manage this with integrity and creativity. I think they succeeded brilliantly.

Isn’t My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic just a silly girly cartoon?

In an early defence of the show,  creator Lauren Faust said:

“…many people without even watching the show (will) label it girly, stupid, cheap, for babies or an evil corporate commercial. I encourage skeptics like this to watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic with an open mind. If I’m doing my job right, I think you’ll be surprised.”

I would take issue with one thing she said – that labelling the show ‘girly’ is derogatory. Why? Perhaps one of Lauren Faust’s achievements is that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic helps redefine the word ‘girly’ to no longer be an insult. ‘Girly’ should simply mean something that is of – or for – girls, and not judging because it is.

I have not mentioned the pony in the room – the brony. Male fans (of which I must now count myself) are collectively referred to as ‘Bronies’, and we are many. So while the show may have been made to for girls, this doesn’t mean that boys won’t like it either.

Is ‘My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic’ feminist?

Of course it’s feminist. Completely so. Unashamedly so. This is a show created by a woman, about female characters supporting each other, in a land ruled by a female, where the default for any additional character is female, in a show that absolutely doesn’t patronise the intended audience of little girls with an assumption of frivolous interests alone. Feminism – as well as friendship – is magic.

My wife commented on an episode the other day. It involved two ponies engaged in a sporting rivalry who faced off in a sporting tournament. She observed that when growing up she would NEVER have seen a cartoon or TV show where two female characters engaged in a testing physical sporting competition. She only ever saw males doing that. This is a show that resets the norm from the male default.

There are male characters (most notably Spike the baby dragon) but they are supporting cast – the norm is female. This is a cartoon that I cannot imagine has a single episode which doesn’t pass the Bechedel Test.

In many ways, the show reminded me of the cheery empowering tone of Amy Poehler’s Lesley Knope in Parks and Recreation – I think if Knope had a favourite cartoon, it would be My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

Lauren Faust’s involvement tailed off after season 1 (which we are currently watching). The reasons for Lauren Faust leaving My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic have never been made clear. Perhaps it was the struggles mentioned earlier – in trying to balance her desire to make a great show for girls with the desire for Hasbro to market the toys their way? Perhaps it was other ‘creative differences’.

I hope the adventurous empowering tone of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic continues in subsequent seasons. We shall definitely see, as my daughter and I are now hooked – so will continue watching the show despite Faust’s departure.

On a recent foreign holiday, we picked up our first MLP toys, something I NEVER thought I would happily buy for our daughter. My transformation to a Brony-dad of a daughter is complete.

=====

NB: Subsequent to her time running MLP:FiM, Lauren Faust created the short lived DC Nation animated shorts Super Best Friends Forever, about the team up of Batgirl, Supergirl, and Wonder Girl. If you haven’t done so already – please watch the five episodes in all their glory here:

=====

How Disney’s Zootropolis (aka Zootopia) Tackles Race and Gender Inequality

Do you want to have an age appropriate talk with your child about prejudice, discrimination, and identity politics – but don’t know where to begin? Well, take them to Zootropolis (aka Zootopia in the US) and talk about that.

Before we get into the meat of it, I just want to make something clear. Zootropolis (Zootopia) is a great kid’s movie, a brand new Disney classic to delight any age group – our family’s age range is made up of a 4, 40, and 44 year old and we all loved it.

It has a fun concept (animals have evolved into humanoid creatures, and have live in a society very much like our own), engaging characters, great voice work (leads Judy Hopps the Bunny-Cop and Nick Wilde the Con-artist Fox voiced brilliantly by Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman, plus Idris Elba as a gruff Bison-Cop), and a fun whodunnit plot.

What makes this film so great? Well, it has a terrific central character in Judy Hopps. She’s a gregarious bunny with big dreams, who doesn’t let the seemingly insurmountable obstacles she must overcome dissuade her. She is an awesome female character, and it’s still rare to have a non-Princessy Disney lead female. But that’s not the brilliant thing about this movie.

What makes it so great is the subtext. Well, to be honest it’s so near the surface, it’s pretty much ‘text’. Inequality and prejudice.

Racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination plague society. Children can be exposed to them early. However, I often hear of parents who want hide these ills of the world from their kids. Perhaps they feel the best way for us to progress is too ignore these differences, so that all children grow up free of prejudice. That even talking of these divisions to young minds is what fuels such discrimination.

Then there are other parents who want to begin discussions with their children about these difficult topics. Who feel that in order for them to counter the discrimination they will have directed at them or others in their lives they need to be able to identify it. As a brown skinned parent of a mixed race child, that’s my opinion.

With Zootropolis, the previously conservative Disney have created a wonderful zany and exciting children’s movie – that explores the themes, issues, and debates that surround modern forms of prejudice and discrimination.

How does Zootropolis (Zootopia) encourage your child to think about prejudice, discrimination, racism, sexism and identity politics? 

The underlying story explores the tensions bubbling under the surface – that this seeming ‘Zootopia’ is full of old rivalries and assumptions – Foxes are untrustworthy and always up to no good, bunnies are simply cute and prolific breeders, predators in general are the only ones capable of effective leadership.

The lead character of Judy Hopps is determined to break the mold, and be the first Bunny-cop – an idea that everyone – including her parents – think is ludicrous. She overcomes derision from her peers and family to achieve this, but is then dismissed as being merely the result of positive discrimination.

But this isn’t a simple ‘Oh why can’t we all just get along?’ story. That would be unremarkable. What’s so special about this movie is that it tackles head-on the many forms – and effects – that such discrimination can have.

Specific issues are referenced, from affirmative action, political propaganda, and negative assumptions based on race and gender. Even individual real-world scenarios – such as calling a co-worker cute (“It’s ok when other bunny says it, not anyone else”), or even touching the hair of another ‘ethnicity’ (“Ooh, it feels so different”) get referenced. It even touches on the war on drugs.

Are assumptions based on your biological type valid? Is intelligence, capability, even morality simply all about DNA? Is the prevalence of these stereotypes in the populace evidence of that truth, or of society only streaming citizens into the only roles they are assumed to be capable of?

This film is full of big and complex ideas for a kid’s movie. But remarkably, it pulls it off.

This is the last thing I expected to see from a Disney movie – instead of transporting us to a land far away, this thought provoking film inspires us to look at the world we live in instead. This film is an amazing way to get your kids thinking about these issues.

I urge you to show this movie to your children repeatedly. And if you feel you’re ignorant of the issues surrounding race and gender equality, then I urge you to see it too.

=====

Zooptropolis/Zootopia (2016) images ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. 

Two Dads’ Hopes For Their Daughters’ Future

For International Women’s Day, Oxfam approached me with an intriguing proposition. Knowing that I often write about my hopes and aspirations for our daughter, and the potential barriers in her way because of her gender, they put me in touch with another dad of a little girl.

He is Alex Namusokwe (37), who is the father of Ethel (7). They live in rural Zambia, about 200 km from Zambia’s capital Lusaka.

Like me, Alex is the prime carer for his daughter – but in his case it is because his wife passed away. While we are from very different cultures & parenting circumstances, there is much we have in common.

Caring so closely for his daughter has seen his awareness about women’s issues, the fight for gender equality, and a commitment to not limiting the aspirations of his daughter grow – just like me.

He says Ethel is “a very intelligent girl determined to make a difference in our society… I would love her to become a professional lawyer or medical doctor in future.” These are big dreams for a father & daughter like Alex & Ethel.

While there are many similarities, this makes the differences even more stark. I don’t have the to deal with issues like child marriage. I worry about gendered marketing – Alex is concerned about “high levels of gender based violence” in his society.

While I’m concerned about whether our daughter gets into our choice of the great local schools in the area, Alex is worried about Ethel’s future schooling – there are no high schools at all in his area (he is campaigning for one).

When Ethel finishes her education, the challenges continue. Alex says “Our traditional leaders prefer men in certain positions and politically women are threatened if they compete with men… Further when it comes to gender equity, girls are seriously disadvantaged in land allocations as only men are allocated traditional land.”

As a stay-at-home dad, I get narked about being referred to as a babysitter or giving mum a break. I was curious about how his community views him. “I receive a lot of criticisms especially from illiterate villagers… some have even gone to an extent of bringing a wife for me to re-marry just to make sure my daughter is taken care of by a female figurehead!”

But he also receives “a lot of praise from enlightened community members” and is “viewed as a good and caring, protective father”. He knows of only 2 other dads who take care of their daughters in the same way (who he tries to support as well).

But how has being so close to his daughter influenced him? He says “My experience with my daughter has really changed my personal views about girls and I now know that they can be anything they want to be.”

“People say she behaves like a boy” says Alex. I sense that rather than being something I would balk at, this is something Alex takes pride in. In the society that Alex describes, I get it – and would see this as a huge compliment, relaying it to my daughter as such.

Our Hopes For Our Daughters on International Women’s Day

So we both have big hopes for our daughters, but see many barriers in their way – however my issues have ‘First World Problems’ stamped all over them. But Alex is a committed dad, and passionate member of his community trying to affect change. While I can be thankful for the advantages my daughter begins with in life, Alex’s commitment is also inspirational in working to effect the change we seek.

And like Alex, I hope for nothing less than the best for his daughter in the future.

Oxfam's 'I Care About Her' project was launched in 2012 to tackle issues of gender based violence, rape, and early marriage amongst many other issues related to the inequalities women are currently facing in Zambia. Through the project 'champions' are identified in selected communities who are then responsible for working with up to 20 men, organising discussion groups, community 'Action Cards' and individual 'Action Plans'. Once a year all of the communities taking part in the project are invited to join a rally or march to spread the word about the project and reach out to a wider group of men. Over 1500 men took part in the 2014 march.

=====

Disclosure: This is an unpaid collaborative post with Oxfam

For more on International Women’s Day see their website.

Photos courtesy of Oxfam/Kieran Doherty

=====

About ‘I Care About Her’

Alex is an ambassador of a project called I Care About Her which educates dads about gender inequality, domestic violence, rape and early marriage. He is one of around 20 men working to raise awareness in their communities by organising discussion groups and other activities.

The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) has received funding support from Oxfam to implement the I Care about Her (ICAH) campaign in partnership with the Zambia Police, Zambia National Women’s Lobby Group, and Forum for Women Educationalist in Zambia since 2012.

The I Care About Her Campaign has emerged as a best practice in mobilising men and boys in preventing and ending gender based violence and has over the time of its implementation garnered massive support from men and boys from all walks of life.

Prevention of Violence against women and engaging men as agents of change is a necessary and strategic intervention in contributing towards eliminating this scourge. The Campaign has picked up momentum in creating a mass movement of men and boys taking action to create positive transformational attitudinal change that embrace gender sensitive norms which spurn violence as a means of resolving conflicts.

Some Dads DO Babysit. It’s All That’s Expected of Us

This time last year, there were a flurry of stories about my daughter and I published around the world. A US writer spotted an angle for a “sweet article about (my) daughter’s outfits”, and that got noticed by the likes of The Independent & Metro in UK, Buzzfeed and ABC News in US, and then various outlets across the globe. Radio and TV appearances followed. Perhaps you are reading this because you started following my blog after coming across one of those.

The premise was basically I was an at-home parent letting my (then) 3-year-old daughter choose what she wears every morning. And the outfits were kinda cool and not traditionally ‘girly’.

When I asked, the writers of those articles told me the same thing – what made this story ‘a story’ was the fact that I was a dad of a daughter.

While it was nice to bask in the mostly supportive comments (US conservatives aside – yikes), the fact people were reacting strongly to it highlighted an issue we have with parenting.

Is dad all there is?

Expectations for dads are so low, that fathers get plaudits for simply doing what mothers do as standard. Seriously, check out any of those articles I linked to. Have you ever read anything like that about a mother?

Some comments complained that this was another example of the patriarchy at work. That this was ‘the system’ congratulating a man for doing what women do on a daily basis, without any kudos.

I have often observed that I get compliments just because I’m a dad. When I tell people I’m a stay-at-home parent, the response is usually telling me what an awesome thing it is I’m doing. Are mothers routinely told that? No, of course not. When my kid was a baby, I used to get women stopping and telling me what a great dad I was – simply because they saw me bottle feeding my baby. What mother has EVER been congratulated for formula feeding their baby? By all means, take a moment to laugh that one out before reading on…

But I don’t think it’s the patriarchy at work. To me, it’s a symptom of the low expectations society has of men as parents. Dads get plaudits for just showing a little engagement, because our role has become so emotionally removed from the nurturing aspect of parenting. More often than not, we’re just expected to be breadwinners, playmates, drivers, and – yes – babysitters. It’s a role that begins early.

‘Dads Don’t Babysit’ (apart from when we do)

The ‘Dads Don’t Babysit’ movement will be familiar to anyone who follows dad bloggers. It’s a frequent statement thrown our way when we’re out with our kids – ‘Babysitting today are we?’, or ‘Giving mum a break?’.

It drives me nuts when directed at me. Sometimes I brush it off. But other times, I go into a mini-rant about how I’m the at-home parent, and my wife gives ME a break. Which is clearly unfair, because my wife’s role in our family isn’t ‘giving dad a break’ (ha!).

But I have to admit, ‘babysitting dads’ are real. That for some, their role IS defined by ‘babysitting’ their kids, to give mum a break. The thing is, perhaps this isn’t a role they want but it’s the role that life has given them.

Here’s a familiar narrative of a dad: They want a kid with their partner, who then becomes a pregnant. This is when their role as ‘supporter’ begins. All the dad can do is support their partner while their child grows inside them. Whatever the woman wants, whatever need or desire they express, we try and fulfil. During labour, we support however we can. After the child is born, we continue to do whatever the mother wants. They just pushed a person – your child – out of them for god’s sake!

The dad then fully supports the mother breastfeeding, knowing it’s best for your child. But this is more than simply feeding. This is the forming of a bond between parent and child, the primary point of connection between mother and baby, that is exclusively theirs. The mother has become the nurturer. What is your role, dad?

I experienced this, but for a very short time. There were post-birth complications so I (very unexpectedly) had our newborn daughter at home alone with me in week 2. A few weeks later, we made the decision to stop breastfeeding (for the sake of my wife’s recovery). I noted that the parental intimacy I felt bottle feeding my daughter was like no other aspect of my new found role as father.

This isn’t the case for most dads, and I am absolutely not advocating for bottle over breast.  But – in the best case scenario of a happily breast feeding baby – at what point does the dad become a nurturer too? How does he bond? When does he form an intimate, nurturing relationship with his child?

In this scenario, is it any wonder that so many dads become ‘babysitters’ – continuing this support role as the child gets older. Because that’s all that been expected – and allowed – of them since they became a father in the first place.

Don’t be a babysitter. Be a dad.

I think to stop this ‘babysitter’ mentality taking hold, dads need to find a more nurturing role in the heart of their new family as soon as possible. To do more than simply ‘give mum a break’.

Set the pattern early. Bathtime? Make it yours as default. Winding/burping? Do it whenever you can. Cuddle your child for comfort as much as possible. Start reading to them early – I know this is a thankless task at the start, but sooner than you think this will become a key source of interaction – so put yourself at the heart of it. When you start them on solids, feed them – but more than that, cook for them, delight in the delicious and nourishing foods you can create for your child. Create your own feeding bond.

From the very start, try and find ways to create a parenting space for yourself that isn’t defined as just supporting your partner. It is up to you as a dad to form a relationship with your child. No one else is going to do it for you. Your partner is too busy recovering from pushing a person out of her vagina, and dealing with an insatiable grub that sucks milk from her boobs on demand. You need to find a way to support the mother of your baby AND create a parenting space for you and your child.

Your partner will (I’m sure) recover from growing and pushing that new human out. Breastfeeding will end. But by then, your role in the family may have already been defined by being ‘the babysitter’.

Mothering and parenting are currently interchangeable terms, whereas fathering has it’s own different meaning, with frankly lower expectations. Let’s change that.

Female Star Wars Characters: The Importance of a lady X-Wing pilot

Here’s a game for you. Try and find a female pilot in the original Star Wars trilogy. Is there one in Star Wars? Nope. The Empire Strikes Back. Nope. Return of the Jedi? Yes! Well, kind of.

There’s apparently a female pilot in this scene.

female rebel pilot
From ‘Return of the Jedi’ © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd.

Full marks if you can spot her (click image for a larger version).

In fact three female Rebel pilots were filmed. However, two of them were relegated to the cutting room floor, and while one made it into the final cut in a speaking role – she was dubbed by a man. *sigh

Female rebel pilots from Return of the Jedi
Female rebel pilots, from ‘Return of the Jedi’. Top left made it to final cut, but was dubbed by a man. The other two were left out. © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd.

Many aspects of gender representation in Star Wars only became apparent to me as I indoctrinated introduced our daughter to the ways of the force. Leia – a strong leader who doesn’t take any shit from smugglers, gangsters, or Grand Moffs – is a brilliant character. But it’s sad that the world (galaxy) she exists in is almost entirely male, especially amongst the rebels fighters.

The Rebel pilots who attack the Death Star? Male. The ones she addresses in The Empire Strikes Back? Male. Strike team in Return of the Jedi? Male.

Leia briefing pilots in The Empire Strikes Back
Princess Leia briefs the all-male rebel pilots, in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ (1980) © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd.

My daughter has never really taken to the prequels. I’ve tried not to communicate my own lack of enthusiasm for them, but whenever I’ve suggested we watch one, she has insisted on an original trilogy movie instead. It was the downfall of attempting the Machete Order prior to seeing The Force Awakens.

While I broadly approve, all credit to that much maligned trilogy, which featured female pilots throughout the series – beginning with very first scene. The Clone Wars cartoon also frequently had female characters piloting ships that it stopped being noticed, similarly the currently airing Star Wars Rebels. Which is how it should be.

But for my daughter, Star Wars is really about the original trilogy, the continuity that begins with Star Wars (1977). And given the lack of women in these movies, and that when Leia is removed you have 63 SECONDS of women speaking, spotting a female X-Wing pilot in a Star Wars comic – who also speaks – was significant.

Female Star Wars Characters: A New Hope

The latest comics, from Disney owned Marvel under the supervision of Disney owned Lucasfilm, are filling in many of the blanks between the movies. The panel pictured is from the Princess Leia miniseries, set between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and features Leia dealing with the aftermath of the destruction of her home planet Alderaan. The ‘lady X-Wing pilot’ is Evaan, a fellow Alderaanian (?). My daughter was very taken with this image, and we put together our own LEGO version – reflecting this inclusivity in our toys.

I am impressed that this and other comics are retroactively adding female characters to the Star Wars canon. Another comic, Shattered Empire, sees Poe Dameron’s mother Shara as one of the most important fighter pilots in the attack on the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. Later in the story the memorable female trio of Shara, Princess Leia, and the Queen of Naboo take flight in starfighters to defend the planet from the ‘shattered empire’ attack on the planet.

This new gender inclusivity is reflected in the latest movie instalment. Away from Rey, Captain Phasma, and Maz Kanata, The Force Awakens has multiple times more women than the entire original trilogy. When I asked J.J. Abrams about this, he said: “We have wonderful cast of good guys, bad guys, pilots, stormtroopers, that happen to be female.”

Seeing so many female characters in these worlds ultimately prevents girls (and boys) questioning their right to exist in them, and helps me justify the passing on of my enthusiasm for the galaxy far, far away to my daughter.

====

Star Wars © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd.

Celebrating Disney Princesses of Colour

I want to celebrate some Disney Princesses…of colour.

You can’t escape seeing merchandise adorned with the likes of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Merida, Ariel, and Snow White – and of course the as yet unofficial Disney Princesses of Frozen’s Anna & Elsa.

But as well as being Disney women, they also have something else on common – all of them are white.

As parents of a mixed race daughter, it’s important we include representations of girls & women of colour in stories, films, and merchandise she is exposed to. As far as Disney Princesses are concerned, the women of colour tend to be far less prominent than their caucasian counterparts, so here are some Disney Princesses of colour that I have made a point of introducing our daughter to.

Princess Jasmine in Aladdin (1992)

Disney Women of Colour, Disney Princesses of Colour, Disney Women of Color, Disney Princesses of Color, Princess Jasmine, Aladdin, 1992
‘Aladdin’ (1992), Dirs: Ron Clements, John Musker
© Walt Disney Pictures

One of the early films in the Disney Renaissance, this sees Princess Jasmine as the female lead opposite the eponymous Aladdin. Of presumably Persian royalty, she is a character who is destined for an arranged marriage but is looking for more than a foppish or arrogant prince. Could Aladdin be the one?

The animation is classic Disney, the characterisation very American, and the songs are catchy enough. Jasmine has an independent spirit, but storywise she’s really there to support Aladdin – but she’s a visually as one of the Disney Princesses of Colour. And the fact is that the human characters are all upstaged my Robin William’s genie anyway – one of the first times a big star was cast in an animated movie.

Probably the best reviewed and most popular film on this list, it is a fairly safe choice. However, some scenes may be a bit intense for young children. I had lots of cuddles during the finale.

Pocahontas (1995)

Pocahontas, 1995, Disney Women of Colour, Disney Princesses of Colour, Disney Women of Color, Disney Princesses of Color
‘Pocahontas’ (1995), Dirs: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg
© Walt Disney Pictures

Imagine Avatar minus spaceships, plus songs. That’s kind of what Pocahontas is.

I’m doing this film a disservice. While it was cited as one of the main sources of theft inspiration for James Cameron’s sci-fi saga, it’s a far more involving movie than that.

A highly fictionalised version of the true story, this focuses on the romance between the Native American ‘princess’ Pocahontas and the English Captain John Smith.

Pocahontas shares similarities with one of the another Disney Princesses of colour, Princess Jasmine, in that she is expected to be married off to a husband of her father’s choosing – but she wants more.

Featuring some stunning design and animation, this was a far better movie than I remember. It was an engaging mix of comedy, drama, and action – and a great starting point for conversations about race, colonialism, and the consequences of the choices we make. The casting of Mel Gibson as John Smith, in this tale of racial tolerance, seems somewhat ironic in the light of later events

I also found myself humming the standout musical numbers of ‘Just Around the River Bend’ and ‘Colours of the Wind’ for many days afterwards.

Mulan (1998)

Mulan film, Disney Women of Colour, Disney Princesses of Colour, Disney Women of Color, Disney Princesses of Color
‘Mulan’ (1998), Dirs: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
© Walt Disney Pictures

Based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan (or Fa Mulan), and voiced by Ming-Na Wen (now well known as Melinda May in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Mulan is a woman who joins the Chinese army in the place of her elderly father, disguising herself as a man.

The film possibly tries a little to hard with the ‘women can do what men do too’ angle, and it perhaps falls into the trap of songs that pause rather than progress the plot – but the most memorable number of all, ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ navigates this adeptly.

Mulan is a welcome Disney Princess because she is a woman of action. We need more of those, alongside princesses known for dancing or sleeping.

Tiana in The Princess and the Frog (2009)

tiara film, Disney Women of Colour, Disney Princesses of Colour, Disney Women of Color, Disney Princesses of Color
‘The Princess and the Frog’ (2009), Dirs: Ron Clements, John Musker, © Walt Disney Pictures

With great fanfare, and high profile pre-release publicity – Tianna in The Princess and the Frog was all set to become THE Disney Princess of colour. With a simmering dress and sparkling tiara, she looked every bit the classic princess – but African-American.

While visually this hits all the right subversive buttons, in the actual film, in classic mismatch of movie and marketing, she looks like this for a small section of the film. In fact, she spend the majority of the movie as a frog! Yes, the first African- American Disney Princess isn’t even human for most of the story.

Also disappointing was the popularity of the film, which was far less than hoped for. Disney felt that have ‘Princess’ in the title put off boys, which is why their subsequent The Snow Queen became Frozen.

But visually, it’s good that the makers of cards and lunch boxes have this addition to the Disney Princesses of Colour to use alongside Cinderella, Aurora, and Ariel (not that they do very often).

Honourable Mention…

Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Esmeralda The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1996, Disney Women of Colour, Disney Princesses of Colour, Disney Women of Color, Disney Princesses of Color
‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ (1996), Dirs: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg
© Walt Disney Pictures

You probably won’t find Esmeralda on any backpack or water bottle at the Disney Store. She was never fully admitted to the hallowed ranks of the Disney Princesses, and has now all but disappeared from the world of Disney. This is a real shame.

Based on the book by Victor Hugo, the film liberally adapts many elements of the story, including this character. Voiced by Demi Moore, here Esmeralda is a dark skinned Romani Gypsy, who displays the exuberance of a woman who is confident and adventurous, as well as being kind and empathetic.

Set against a backdrop of the Romani people being demonised as subhuman criminals (sound familiar?), Esmeralda is both despised and lusted after by the villain of the tale Judge Frollo, who is waging a campaign against all Romani in Paris yet is having trouble dealing with some repressed feelings for Esmeralda. She is a trusted member of her community, who is older and wiser than most Disney females, a step ahead from the teenage heroines we are generally used to. But perhaps this lack of youthful innocence is why she has been cast aside?

Again, this film offers a good starting point for discussions about discrimination and injustice, while presenting a well rounded female character who is full of life and determination.

And I wish I could get my daughter an Esmeralda lunchbox at the Disney Store.

Disney Princesses of Colour – Representation Matters

Disney have made a decent effort over the past twenty or so years to be more racially diverse. While I appreciate there are overriding issues with gender representation and Disney Princesses (admittedly only two of these movies – barely – pass the Bechdel Test), that is something that I can address by talking to my daughter about these stories. But there is no substitute for her seeing women who look like her, or at least the woman she will grow up to be, on films, tv, and merchandise.

====


Lottie, a Doll to Inspire Our Little Girls

Lottie Dolls, little girl playing with dolls,My daughter has various dolls – Barbie, Cindy, some Phantom Menace Padme Amidalas, a Princess Leia, and a 90’s Storm (that I randomly found boxed at a local charity shop for £2). But I think she has found her favourite one yet – the Lottie doll.

I’ve been aware of Lottie ever since they launched their Superhero Outfit Set in 2014. It was notable to me because a) it was a female superhero doll, and b) was designed by a six-year-old girl, who created ‘Super Lottie’ as part of a global competition. Any misgivings I may have had about the pink, pastel, and sparkles are pretty much wiped out by the fact this outfit was created by a little girl herself. This is exactly the kind of creativity we’re trying to encourage in our own daughter, and the Super Lottie design looks pretty cool anyway.

What’s so different about a Lottie doll?

Stargazer Lottie, Lottie Dolls, Lottie Dolls uk, Lottie Dolls Amazon
Stargazer Lottie

Lottie differs from other dolls in a number of ways. Her body shape is roughly that of a nine-year-old girl, as opposed to the Giraffe like proportions of Barbie. She doesn’t wear jewellery or makeup. She has a wide range of clothes and interests that kids can still relate to. If you want to buy your child princesses and fashion models, you’re already well served by the market. Lottie Dolls offer parents and children wanting something else a delightful alternative.

For this review, we selected a range of dolls and accessories that reflect my daughter’s interests, tastes, or curiosity. Our choices were Pirate Queen (plus accessories), Robot Girl (plus Busy Lizzie Robot), Stargazer (with telescope), as well as the aforementioned Superhero Outfit.

Robot girl Lottie, Busy Lizzie Robot, Lottie Dolls, Lottie Dolls uk, Lottie Dolls Amazon
Robot Girl Lottie with her Busy Lizzie robot

Each ‘Lottie’ comes with their own backstory or scenario, and while these are interesting – such as reading about female pirate Grace O’ Malley – the characteristics of each outfit/persona are really for us to define through play. So, ‘Robot Girl’ likes robots, and this helped us talk about science and engineering; ’Stargazer’ (inspired by a real life star loving little girl) is obviously into astronomy, and again that helps us talk about that. My daughter loves looking at the moon, and enjoys stories set in space, so this reinforces it. ‘Pirate Queen’ inspires adventure, and also supports the idea that all things pirate are for girls as well as boys. And ‘Super Lottie’? Well, my daughter knows superheroes are for girls (and boys too I guess), so again this reinforces our parenting approach in this genre.

Super Lottie, Lottie Dolls, Lottie Dolls uk, Lottie Dolls Amazon
Super Lottie

I get accused, mostly by people who don’t know me very well, of denying my daughter ‘girly’ things, or trying to make her into a boy. That’s not true. I just object to the narrow vision of girlhood that commerce presents us with. While I’m of the mind that any toy is girly if a girl plays with it, these Lottie dolls help with framing different interests as ‘girly’, presenting us with a group of cute little girls who enjoy science, karate, ponies, and pirates! If you ever need to prove to someone that robots, superheroes, and pirates, can be ‘girly’ too – then just show them Lottie.

The thing I really love about this collection of Lottie dolls is that they support and reinforce so well our approach to raising our daughter. Lottie’s cool and quirky collection of clothing reflects my daughter’s own diverse wardrobe. We hope Lottie’s range of interests will also be mirrored in our daughter as she gets older.

Pirate Queen Lottie Doll, Lottie Dolls, Lottie Dolls uk, Lottie Dolls Amazon
Pirate Queen Lottie

What’s our favourite Lottie doll? While I love anything that involves girls and superheroes, my joint top pick is Pirate Lottie. Society still tends to categorise Buccaneer iconography as a boy’s look, and this demonstrates that girls make awesome looking pirates too. My daughter likes dressing as one but doesn’t see many other girls doing that too. By simply playing with her Pirate Queen Lottie, she is reinforcing her confidence in her decision to dress up as a pirate too.

Being interested in science and technology. Dressing as a pirate and a superhero. These Lottie dolls can help inspire a new generation of girls to claim these traditionally boy interests as theirs too, and aspire to reach for the stars or sail the seven seas. Or simply to be happy with whatever you choose to be. In fact, her motto is ‘Be bold, be brave, be you’.

======

Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this piece, we did receive all the featured dolls and accessories free of charge. 

======

a Rafflecopter giveaway

=====

This giveaway is over, but these Lottie dolls and accessories can still be purchased on Amazon (and other retailers)

IAmElemental – female action figures for girls (and boys)

Beginning as a Kickstarter that kickstarted the market for empowering female action figures aimed at girls, ‘IAmElemental’ toys finally hit the UK – and we finally got our hands on a set to see what all the fuss was about.

Ok, a brief history of IAmElemental: The brainchild of Julie Kerwin and Dawn Nadeau, the concept was born in 2012, which is also the year I became the father of a daughter. Like me, they were painfully aware that the market for superhero toys was pitched squarely at teenage boys and men – so the few female superhero action figures available were usually highly sexualised, with big boobs and skinny waists.

But unlike me, Julie & Dawn did something about it and IAmElemental was launched as a Kickstarter in 2014, becoming fully funded in just 2 days.

The IAmElemental line offered a clear point of difference. The anatomically correct female action figures were athletic, not sexual. They stressed courage, power, and wisdom over attractiveness. And they also discarded a convention of the action figure market, deeming that consumers (boys) liked very strict and detailed narratives.

IAmElemental offered no such world building, with each figure possessing power related to their character, and leaving much of the rest open for the child’s imagination.

I have always admired these figures from afar, but now the latest series, the Wisdom Warriors, are available in the UK I’m really happy to be finally able to see them in reality.

IAmElemental Series 2 – the Wisdom Warriors

 I am Elemental series 2 wisdom warriors, female action figures, action figures for girls and boys, anatomically correct female action figures
The Wisdom Warriors, female action figures named after the building blocks of wisdom: (L to R) Creativity, Ingenuity, Curiosity, Logic, Exploration, Mastery, and Oblivion.

The toys come wonderfully presented, in a special ‘lunchbox’ tin, that contains all 7 female action figures plus stands & shield accessories, a fact card for each, as well as a bracelet (for the shields) and a special wisdom workbook full of facts and activities.

It makes for a really attractive package that should impress any child on opening (and adults too – I was suitably wowed as well).

While it’s all well and good to have noble intentions for a toy, the final product needs to live up to the promise. Basically, it needs to be a good toy that children want to play with.

Well, it really does live up to the promise.

IAmElemental, female superhero figures, anatomically correct female action figures, female superhero action figures

These female superhero action figures are awesome. Well made, with 9 points of articulation (POA), they have stylish designs & sculpts with bold colours and imaginative outfits. They look magnificent, and it’s so great to see how well these designs work in reality.

My daughter was keen to find out the name and brief story behind each character, and was then off inventing scenarios and adventures. The figures articulation is great, as are the interchangeable accessories (wings, shields, etc.). The stands are great too – while the figures can stand on their own, it means imaginative playtime isn’t unnecessarily wasted on trying to get the figures to stand in the right positions.

For more about what’s in the box, check out our unboxing video:

IAmElemental – Do we still need female action figures for girls?

The mainstream female action figure market has improved since these toys came on the scene a couple of years ago, but only a little.

As far as I am concerned, there is still nothing like these around. This is an empowering action figure line aimed at girls (but not at the exclusion of boys) which encourages children to use their imagination. The women also exude strength, stature, and confidence.

I have no qualms about describing these as action figures for girls, as that is who they are targeted at. But that should in no way dissuade anyone from buying these for boys too. In many ways, it is just as important for boys to play with these too – creating stories involving strong powerful looking women.

These Wisdom Warriors are a great addition to our daughter’s toy box, and her adventures with them are just beginning.

If you like the look of these I Am Elemental Wisdom Warriors female superhero action figures, we’re really lucky to have a set giveaway – so please enter this competition below for your chance to win (UK residents only).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

=====

This I Am Elemental Wisdom Warriors Set has an RRP of £69.99. 

This set of female superhero action figures is also available directly from IAmElemental. Enter the code ‘UKFREESHIP’ for free shipping to the UK. We were sent the product for the purposes of this review.

=====

Who is your favourite Wisdom Warrior and why? Please comment below.

Sharing Minecraft with my daughter

Minecraft seemed to be one of those things I should know more about but didn’t. What I did know is that it inspires a passionate following, is set in a blocky virtual world where you build structures, was deemed worthy of a $2.5 billion purchase by Microsoft, and that opinion from parents is divided as you whether it’s something you should introduce to your kids or not. Pro: Incredible platform for creativity; Con – unhealthily addictive, to point of crowding out all other activities (including homework).

As someone who has grown up with gaming, I am all for games that encourage users/players to explore and be creative. I was also optimistic that the risk of ‘addiction’ could be easily managed (other parents warned me Frozen was an inescapable gateway into Disney Princesses).

It was also another opportunity to introduce my daughter to what has become a cultural phenomenon, but one that is still perceived by many to be something for boys. I never want my daughter to dismiss something techy and creative as not being for girls too. So Minecraft was something I was keen to explore with my daughter.

The perfect opportunity arose with our recent acquisition of the Xbox One S Minecraft Bundle – which comes not only with 2 versions of the game and an expansion pack, but also has some cool Minecraft themed packaging. If you’re looking to give the gift of Minecraft to your child/family this Christmas – this Xbox One S Minecraft bundle is the perfect way.

So WTF is Minecraft?

It’s what’s known as a Sandbox Game – where traditional structures and narratives are removed, and players are free to explore and create. They are generally open ended, with freedom of choice at the heart of the concept.

In Minecraft, the player creates structures out of simple blocks. But within that concept are many variables – the type of materials, gathering and managing resources, combining materials to create tools and structures (crafting), exploring – and survival.

On occasion I’ve read of purists claiming the console version does not provide an authentic Minecraft experience – but more have argued this is a great entry point, especially in a family setting.

To my untrained eye, the world of possibilities is obviously vast from the moment you begin.

What to do on your first ‘day’ in Minecraft

I recommend going into Tutorial Mode first, as this will guide you through all aspects of the game. But you may just throw caution to the wind and go for survival mode, which is also a popular place to start.

My first reaction to opening up Minecraft was WTF. You dropped unceremoniously into an environment of trees, running water, and farm animals. All seems calm, but don’t be fooled, this is also a place of bad weather, wolves, and monsters.

We quickly learned that the first task you must do is to build a shelter by nightfall – as this is when the monsters come out. My daughter was chased by a some kind of zombie who then burst into flames and set us on fire. After we respawned (Minecraft lingo for coming back to life), the first thing we did was figure out how to build a shelter.

The ‘mining’ aspect of Minecraft sees you dig, grab, or chop resources one 3D block at a time. Once ‘mined’ you can then ‘craft’ these in various ways. Eg. you can chop wood, craft it into planks, and then use these planks to build structures or items such as doors or sticks. This all happens in the inventory and crafting platform.

There are a number of ways you can build a shelter. The simplest is to dig into the dirt to make a hole, and then fill the top with more dirt. Or you could make a wooden structure crafted from chopped trees.

For example, to get wood head to a tree, and punch/mine it. Eventually the block will disappear and you will have acquired some wood. Do this for the rest of the tree (by tilting up/down to aim at relevant block), and then repeat for other trees.

Then you need to go into your inventory to craft this wood into planks, and then place these planks into a structure, including the roof. To build a door, you will need to build a crafting table first.

Anyway, in Tutorial Mode, there is a ruin of an existing structure for you to add to and create your first shelter – which is what we did.

our-first-minecraft-shelter-in-tutorial-mode, Minecraft screenshot
Our very first shelter, in Tutorial Mode. We added on to a ruin of an existing structure and installed a door.

If in survival mode, you can elect to chop down trees too. But instead, we mined into the side of the hill to create a sort of hobbit hole. We added a door, and a trap door on top so we could see when it was daytime again.

our-first-minecraft-shelter-dug-into-the-side-of-the-hill
Our first Minecraft home in Survival Mode – a kind of Hobbit-hole, dug into the side of the hill. We added a door to keep monsters out, and a trapdoor on top so we can see when it’s daytime again.

If you have time in your ‘day’ (which lasts about 10 minutes), it might be an idea to look for food. These can be fruit & veg, or meat. If you approach animals and start hitting them, you can kill them for meat. My daughter thought it was hilarious to kill the animals for food. “Daddy, there’s a pig! Let’s kill it!” was a typical utterance.

Raw meat is ok for now, but later you’ll be able to cook it and even create dishes in the crafting menu. Sheep are especially good to slaughter, because you also get wool – which you’ll need to make a bed (bed’s make nighttime go quicker among other things).

These all add up to the beginnings of taking charge of your environment. The first task is to survive, and to do that you need to create. It’s brilliant and engrossing.

Sharing Minecraft with my daughter

My daughter adores it, and is immensely enthused as we explore the ways we can build and expand this new world. It also offers an interesting way to talk about human development – building shelters, sourcing food, and crafting tools to help with both.

We have barely scratched the surface of Minecraft. I can see why it is considered ‘addictive’, but to me that implies that it is a pointless pursuit.  Minecraft is a great platform for creativity, problem solving, and collaboration.

While we may get other games for our Xbox One S, it will for the time being, and I predict for many years to come, be our family gateway into the wonderful world of Minecraft.

====
EXTRA: You have to check this out – Dave, who blogs as The DADventurer, did this wonderful unboxing video with his 2-year-old daughter. He has provided subtitles to give us an insight into how she perceives the world. Adorable 🙂

====

The Xbox One S Minecraft Bundle (500GB) has an RRP of £249.99.

If you are purchasing the Xbox One S Minecraft Bundle as a present, check out more tips and info on the Xbox One S Family Hub, and in this video:

**This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Xbox UK.**