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?

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*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.

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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”.

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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

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Dad’s Breakfast Club – with LEGO DC Superheroes

Dad’s Breakfast Club is a great London based meet up for fathers. This event included quality food, lots of LEGO, DC Superheroes and more.

The lure of either LEGO, DC Superheroes, or a slap up breakfast would be enough to get us out of the house early on a Saturday individually – but all combined for a Dad’s Breakfast Club meet up? Yes please.

The event tied into the release of LEGO DC Justice League Gotham City Breakout! on Blu-Ray/DVD, and was the latest Dad’s Breakfast Club event run by father Greg Stanton (aka London Dad on instagram).

It was held at Cau, St. Katherine Docks in London, a typical quality chain eatery (from the team behind the high end and similarly Argentina inspired Gaucho) that you get in this part of London  – so I knew we were going to get a nice brekkie.

There was a buffet of good English breakfast staples (pork & herb sausages, eggs, bacon, mushrooms, etc), as well as pancakes with maple syrup, and my favourite item – brioche bacon baps with lettuce, tomatoes, mayo & ketchup. I actually ended up having two of these. In fact I ate so much food I didn’t eat again until dinner.

 

LEGO DC Superheroes were represented by themed colouring and a giant LEGO Batman sculpture as we walked in. Most excitingly, every table also had unopened LEGO Batman sets for us to build. These ranged in size from the smallest sets available to some of the largest – such as this LEGO Batman Killer Croc Sewer Smash Set

Dad’s Breakfast Club is a great way for dads to join as a community to share time with their children. Greg and the other dads I met were warm & welcoming, and it was nice to see a collective of dads with their kids. As I often blog, LEGO is a great joint activity for parents to do with children, so it was awesome to see all these dads with boys & girls enjoying making Batman LEGO together.

We left the event with a goody bag, containing a Blu-Ray & DVD copy of the film (including a limited edition Nightwing figure) and LEGO superhero key rings. Additionally, we took home the LEGO set my daughter had constructed pretty much by herself (while I was busy eating successive waves of my delicious breakfast/brunch).

The Dads Breakfast Club 'LEGO DC Justice League Gotham City Breakout' goody bag
The Dad’s Breakfast Club ‘LEGO DC Justice League Gotham City Breakout’ goody bag

Also in the goody bag – and a little bit sexist – was a DVD ‘for all the mummas’ a stereotypical rom-com. It can be argued that an event like this is a bit sexist too. One the one hand, I know plenty of LEGO & superhero loving mums who would love this.

But then again, there are very few dad centric events and groups in the parenting world, so this one is to be celebrated. It’s probably aimed at a family set up that differs from ours. On a Saturday morning, my daughter is more likely to spend time alone with her mother given I have been home parenting all week while my wife has been at work.

Many of the dads I spoke to had been signed up to attend by their other halves. For some families, this can be a way to ensure dad and the kids get time together away from mum – who also has a morning all to herself. I know how important that is too.

But this Saturday morning was for me & the munchkin. Given the combo of LEGO, superheroes, and a quality breakfast – on paper this event seemed like a great way to spend a Saturday morning with my daughter – and that’s exactly what it turned out to be.

For more on Dad’s Breakfast Club, please follow them on Instagram.

Justice League: Gotham City Breakout is out now.

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Disclosure: I received a free ticket  to this Dad’s Breakfast Club event, which are normally £25.

 

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Video Game Review

The LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens game is a fun new way to explore the galaxy of Episode VII – with a few surprises along the way.

LEGO plus Star Wars is one of those combinations that would have obsessed me as a child. As an adult – and a parent – the synergy between these two brands is irresistible, and while we have plenty of Star Wars LEGO sets, we’re also fans of LEGO Star Wars games. The latest addition to the cinematic saga has also inspired the newest game – LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The game surprises from the opening. We fired it up expecting it to start the same way as the movie, but instead it begins 30 years earlier – at the Battle of Endor. So in an action packed opening, we fight with the Ewoks, bring Vader back to the light side, take down the Emperor, and blow up the second Death Star.

The story then movies back to more familiar territory with the First Order’s assault on Jakku, Poe & Finn escaping the First Order, BB-8 finding Rey, and so on. But as I’ve already referenced, the story unfolds in a slightly different way than the movie, and this stops it being a simple re-tread of it.

LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens Millennium Falcon
While the game faithfully recreates many iconic scenes from the movie – this is not simply a retread of the storyline

There are elements that will be familiar to fans of previous games – collecting coins, mini-builds, and knockabout humour. There is also a free play mode that is accessible as the game progresses.

One major difference is that this game uses actual dialogue from the movie. It also goes one step further – the main cast have all recorded additional dialogue. And when I refer to the main cast, I don’t just mean newcomers such as Daisy Ridley and John Boyega – the likes of Carrie Fisher and even Harrison Ford have also recorded new lines. Perhaps Harrison’s performance in this game will be the last time he ever plays Han Solo?

LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens harrison ford
Harrison Ford recorded original dialogue for LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens – perhaps his last ever performance as Han Solo

While the voice cast adds great authenticity – and occasional gravitas – it does detract a bit from the knockabout humour associated with previous titles.

But it is as enormously fun as ever to take charge of these LEGO Star Wars characters, explore these environments, fight off  the opposition – and smash the s**t out of everything. Rey and her staff make an immensely satisfying fighting combo.

Like the movie, Rey is probably one of the best characters in the game – and Daisy Ridley appears to have recorded a lot of extra dialogue for this.

LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens Rey
Daisy Ridley also recorded additional dialogue for the game – quite a lot by the sounds of it

There is added DLC available. We downloaded a set of playable droid minifigures, as well as a season pass which currently enabled us to access a set of playable Jedi characters (this was on the PS3 version). There will be further level and character packs released.

These LEGO games are a great way to play video games with my daughter. At 4, she’s still taking a fair bit of coaching – so I really appreciate the way the screen splits in 2-player mode so that I can continue completing a key task in my half of the screen while she’s mucking about on hers.

But the controls are easy to master, the gameplay is readily accessible, and the puzzles are a good challenge for her.

LEGO Star Wars The Force Awakens Rey BB8 Finn

It’s a real blast to see our already familiar LEGO Star Wars figures and sets in this game – from the minifigures to the vehicles and settings. If you love LEGO, The Force Awakens, and fun video games – then this is for you.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now available for PlayStation®4 and Xbox One (RRP £49.99); PlayStation®3 , Xbox 360 and Wii U (RRP £39.99); Windows PC (Steam) and Mac (RRP £24.99); and PlayStation®Vita and Nintendo 3DS (RRP £29.99)

Disclosure: We were provided with a free copy of the game and a season pass for the purposes of this review.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens © & ™The LEGO Group and Lucasfilm Ltd.

 

 

DC Super Hero Girls Action Figures – Supergirl and Batgirl

Ever since the DC Super Hero Girls line was announced last year, I have been waiting for the toys to be released. Well, we finally got our hands on a couple – these Batgirl and Supergirl action figures from Mattel.

The line is a DC superhero sub brand, that reimagines female DC characters as teenagers at an exclusive superhero school. This line offers a great way to bring girls into the stereotypically boys world of superheroes.

DC Super Hero Girls animated series, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Supergirl, Katana, Bumblebee, Cheetah, Hawkgirl, Catwoman!

One of the things I like about DC Super Hero Girls is the focus on them being a group of friends. Disney Princesses, while promoted as a collective, are essentially out for themselves as they’re individual characters in their own separate stories. No sisterhood there.

Added to that, superheroes are also often fighting – even with each other. But here, instead of Batman v Superman, here we have Batgirl with Supergirl.

These DC Super Hero Girls action figures are from the 15cm range. There are also 30cm action dolls, as well as assorted accessories (such as Batgirl’s utility belt) and other merchandise (like stationary, eg. we were also set a notepad).

As befits the high school makeover, the looks of these classic characters have been made more teen like. Tech expert Batgirl wears a geek chic hoody and chunky boots, whereas cheerleader-like Supergirl has what looks like Chuck Taylor All-Stars and a very short skirt.

Despite Supergirl’s skirt length, these toys for the most part avoid the sexualisation that is associated with so many female toy figures. To my mind, the figures look more athletic than anything, though they still have big eyes and pursed lips often seen in dolls.

The toys are pretty well articulated. One of the bold claims made on the packaging is how these figures can stand up by themselves. Well, this is just about true, though the choice of stable poses is more limited than I’d like.

They don’t really come with accessories as such. Batgirl has a backpack (Bat-Pack?) while Supergirl has a detachable cape – which is molded plastic instead of vinyl or fabric which would have been preferable. Same goes for Supergirl’s skirt, which prevents her from sitting down properly.

If you want to give Batgirl an extra accessory though, in a sneaky hack LEGO Batarangs fit perfectly into her hand.
If you want to give Batgirl an extra accessory, in a sneaky hack LEGO Batarangs fit perfectly into her hand.

Action Figures for girls (and boys)

The absolute best thing about these toys is frankly this – they are female superhero figures that will hopefully be highly visible and readily available in shops.

Try as I do to introduce alternative toys and brands to my daughter, it’s a lot harder when all she sees on the high street – and possessed by her female peers – are Disney Princesses and the like.

While this line may be cordoned off in their own same sex bubble universe, that doesn’t stop them sitting in the toy box alongside any other superhero figures.

DC Super Hero Girls Action Figures compared with Batman Unlimited
These DC Super Hero Girls action figures complement my daughter’s Batman Unlimited toys pretty well.

While these DC Super Hero Girls action figures are clearly intended for the girls market I hope this will lead to further blending of the pink & blue aisle too. They could quite easily sit in either. There is nothing to prevent boys playing with these toys as well. I hope parents of superhero loving boys encourage this.

For my daughter, these toys have enabled her to add these characters to her imaginative play (they are best friends) and have finally demonstrated that like daddy always tells her, superheroes are for girls just as much as boys.

DC Super Hero Girls Action Figures - Supergirl and Batgirl playing

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These DC Super Hero Girls Action Figures are available to buy in the UK from July 1st, RRP £9.99 each.

Disclosure: We were provided with these toys free of charge for the purposes of this review.

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.

Do Dads Encourage Their Daughters as Much as Their Sons?

I like to think I’m pretty good at encouraging my daughter to explore the world away from traditional gender stereotypes – but a recent survey about dads & daughters got me thinking. It seemed to indicate that fathers treated daughters significantly differently to sons – when it came to Football.

It found that dads are less likely to play football with their daughters, or even watch it with them compared to sons. Only 1% of fathers surveyed think their daughters would pick a career as a footballer, if given the choice. It also found that “fathers are far more likely to spend time playing computer games or tablets indoors with their daughters than go outside for a kick about”. Sounds familiar…

Dads and Daughters: Kelly and Bernard Smiths story

Women’s football is getting more and more attention, and the story of Kelly Smith and her father Bernard (pictured) is pretty inspirational. In the female game, Kelly is England’s all-time top goal scorer and six-time Women’s FA Cup winner (with Arsenal Ladies).

While her success is immensely impressive, the part of her story that touched me more than that was her relationship with her father.

Kelly cites her dad as the key influence that inspired her career, but they both also speak of the strength of their relationship that emerged during his encouragement that began in her youth.

Whether she had gone on to footballing success or something else, it seems clear that this bond would have been fundamentally important in whatever Kelly opted to achieve in her life.

While any English dad would surely cry like Bernard did at the sight of seeing his daughter in her England kit, singing the national anthem, on her international sporting debut, we would likely be just as teary over their success at anything we had supported them to work towards in their lives.

So, do dads encourage their daughters as much as sons?

There are no simple answers to this. I am not a fervent football supporter, so it is unsurprising that I haven’t been proactive in this respect. But it was the gender split that got me. I only have a daughter, so it’s a tricky one for me to answer myself – so when I see a poll like this, I wonder.

Football is such a big part of British life, that it is pretty inescapable. My daughter has watched a few internationals on TV with me – but it has been more about me watching it while I am looking after her as opposed to me introducing it to her.

And the issue is that while she is already learning football at nursery, she has only seen men playing it as adults – whether her sports teacher or on TV. She has yet to make reference to this, but I’m sure she will have noticed.

This isn’t about pushing her into a career in football. I simply don’t want her to dismiss football – or any other activity – as something that only males do.

I shouldn’t just rely on sharing my passions with her, but encourage her to explore areas outside my broad interests too. As this survey suggests, I AM more likely to do something indoors with her than go outside for a kick-about or similar.

So if I don’t want her to dismiss a career in STEM or other male dominated fields, I should probably introduce her to the Women’s Football game – so she understands that nothing is off limits to her because she’s a girl.

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This is a collaborative post with SSE Energy, who are sponsors of The Women’s FA Cup and the FA SSE Girls’ Football Participation Programme. They commissioned the OnePoll survey referenced in this piece.

Find out more about Kelly in the video below, and read more of her story here.

 

A Dad Looking After His Kids Isn’t Being a Mother. He’s a Parent.

Dads, here’s formula for how to make a post go on viral on social media…

Write a lengthy exposition on how difficult it is being a parent, but then add a bit of dad magic – write about how you didn’t realise how hard ‘mothering’ your kids is; apologise to all the mums for how tough their life is; apologise to all the mums again for how easy dads have it; plus try and look handsome yet tired in accompanying photo of you and your kid/kids.

Seriously, try it. Get it in front of the right eyes, and boom – a viral post that will get picked up by the Daily Mail, etc. in no time.

The most recent one of these has labelled himself DadMum, and his post falls back on a parenting myth/cliche that really needs to be consigned to the wastebasket of outdated ideas: The notion that a dad taking care of his kids makes him a mum.

There’s nothing wrong with being a mum. I’m married to one. She’s awesome. But as things stand at the moment, I’m at home with the kid while she’s working. I’m not ‘being the mum’ and she’s not ‘the dad’ for working. We’re parents – she’s a working one, I’m at home.

I’m going to venture that the majority of people who share these Dad-Apologist posts & memes are not fellow dads, but mothers. A scan of the thousands of comments on them tends to confirm this.

It’s tough being a mother. There is a whole genre of parenting posts by mothers about how tough it is being a mother. I’ve always seen it as an extension of the networks of fellow mothers they may have IRL. In tough times, it’s always good to know you’re not alone.

As a stay-at-home dad, you may think that these dad posts are the types I would share. Except, they’re not aimed at me – they’re for mothers too. These are dads playing ‘mother’, because they don’t see the term fatherhood as related to the sustained barely organised chaos of being a parent. They’re not alone – the term ‘mothering’ is still interchangeable with ‘parenting’ for much of society.

Sharing content on social media is a curious, post-millennial phenomena. Facebook, Twitter, et al are micro blogs – similar to what you’re reading this on now. But by sharing, an individual is publishing. Sometime people share things that have wound them up (the Mail Online business model). More often than not however, it’s a sign of approval.

With these parenting role reversal posts, it’s also a way of saying ‘look how cool this dad is – he gets it’. It helps if the guy is good looking too – a DILF if you will. But he’s a fantasy. He is not a Dad turned mother. He’s still a father. And this father really doesn’t get it at all.

Dad-Apologist posts reconfirm the view that the dirty, messy, grumpy, sleep deprived, stressful aspects of parenting are women’s work. Yet the ability to support your family financially by having a career, and the enjoying fun times with your kids, is ‘being a dad’. That ‘the struggle’ is a woman’s burden alone.

By all means, lets celebrate and support fellow parents who are battling through tough times, but let’s stop labelling dads who care for their kids as mothers. We’re not. We’re still dads, whatever we may post online to the contrary.

Review – Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray

How did The First Order rise from the ashes of the Empire? How did Princess Leia become a General? Why did her accent waver from English to American in Star Wars (1977). All these questions and more are answered in Star Wars: Bloodline, the terrific new Princess Leia novel by Claudia Gray.

The politics of the Star Wars movies have never stood up to much scrutiny. They were scarcely mentioned in the original trilogy, and superficially explored in the prequels. The politics of The Force Awakens are very much down the list of important plot elements.

But in longer form, such as The Clone Wars cartoon, the intrigue of the Senate, the Jedi Council, and the galactic infrastructure have proven to be a rich seam of drama.

Books are another format where this aspect gets a chance to be explored, and in Star Wars: Bloodline author Claudia Gray has crafted a terrific political thriller.

Despite being a childhood Star Wars fan, I never ventured into the world of the extended universe (EU) books. Growing up, I became frustrated that Marvel’s Star Wars comics had no relationship with the larger saga, and I felt the same about the flood of EU novels post-1990’s.

There is now a different approach to tie in books, comics, and TV shows – new stories are now part of Star Wars canon. If it happens in a book, it happened to the characters you see onscreen. So any secrets, background, or relationships revealed in these spin-offs are part of the larger Star Wars saga.

In short, this means is that these stories matter again. So whatever we learn about Leia in this novel – set a couple of decades after Return of the Jedi – happened to the character in The Force Awakens, and beyond.

In Bloodline, Leia is yet to be a General, but is an elected representative (not many princesses you can say that about) – a Galactic Senator. She is tiring of the divisions that have engulfed her time on Hosnian Prime, the new administrative center of the galaxy.

But Senator Leia is a highly revered figure – war hero, princess, and daughter of renowned enemy of the Empire, Bail Organa. But little is spoken about her other father – Darth Vader.

Two main plotlines emerge. Firstly, Leia – seeking a little more adventure – begins to uncover a plot occurring in the outer rim of the galaxy. It may be just local crime lords filling their coffers – but could be something more. There is also the intrigue of the new Galactic Senate, and how Leia emerges as perhaps the only person who can unite the divided house – who are split into opposing Populist and Centrist factions. Think Left vs Right, or small government vs big.

Of the main cast of Star Wars characters, Leia is the really only one to make much of an appearance. Han cameos – but is off-world (we learn he runs a very successful racing team). The book does offer glimpses of Han & Leia as a couple, the kind of pairing I had hoped to see in The Force Awakens. In Bloodline, we find a couple very much in love after many decades together – seemingly longing for an extended retirement together

Of the other main characters, Ben is away training at Uncle Luke’s School for Gifted Jedi (or whatever it’s called), but Threepio is a constant presence by Leia’s side. She is also supported by various new characters such as Leia’s assistant Greer, Joph an enthusiastic young X-Wing flier, Korry a 16-year-old intern, and most prominently ambitious rival senator Ransolm Casterfo – from the opposite side of the senate and a collector of Imperial memorabilia. His clipped tones and flamboyant wardrobe a bring to mind Tom Hiddleston (‘Loki’) – the author has admitted as much herself.

This is Leia as we have never seen her before in the movies – the protagonist: a leader of great intelligence, experience, and authority. That’s nothing against Carrie Fisher, but how her character has been written previously for the screen. Here she is at the heart of a story that no other character could have driven.

I don’t know what fans of previous Star Wars Legends/EU books will make of this, but for me this was a terrific Leia story. There was a recent Princess Leia Marvel comic, that despite being written by Mark Waid, was ultimately disappointing.

This book is a much more satisfying tale, allowing us to experience her keen political mind as well as the many other aspects of her character such as her charm, compassion, and temper.

There are many revelations that inform our understanding of The Force Awakens, and there are plenty of easter eggs that the keen eyed reader will spot. Even more tantalisingly, Lucasfilm have stated that “some of the story ideas and elements in this novel came straight from Rian Johnson (writer/director of Star Wars: Episode 8)”. After reading the book, I am excited to discover which of the many fascinating threads of this story will play out in Episode VIII.

Star Wars: Bloodline contains parallels with both modern and historical political upheaval. If that sounds a bit serious, let’s not forget, that one of George Lucas’s inspirations for Star Wars was the Vietnam War – where an economically and technologically superior power (America) was unable to overcome the Vietcong.

The pace and content of this book will not be for everyone. There are no lightsaber duels, very few dogfights, and only a couple of out and out action scenes. This is a mature, character driven, political thriller – and I hope for many more Star Wars books like it.

And the reason why Princess Leia’s accent wavered between posh Brit and Californian American? You’ll just have to read the book to find out.

Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray is published by Century (UK) and Del Rey (US). It has a UK RRP of £19.99.

A Review copy of the book was provided free of charge.

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes – Avenjet Space Mission Review

There was one simple reason I wanted us to have this LEGO Avenjet Space Mission set.

Yes, we love superheroes and I have a particular fondness for Marvel. We are of course big LEGO fans too. And it was a pretty cool looking spaceship version of the Avengers Quintet.

But there was one very small but important inclusion in the set – a Captain Marvel LEGO minifigure.

Captain Marvel LEGO minifigure, Carol Danvers LEGO minifigure, Captain Marvel LEGO
The wonderful Captain Marvel LEGO minifigure – happy, unhappy, and ready for action!

Why is a Captain Marvel LEGO figure so important?

Formerly Ms. Marvel (who in the 70’s & 80’s was probably my first introduction to feminism) as well as a few other incarnations, she is a hugely important character in the world of female comic book fandom.

There’s too much to go into here, but basically writer Kelly Sue Deconnick took a tier 2 Marvel character and propelled her to the A-List. So much so that Marvel Studios will release a Captain Marvel movie in 2018, with the character making her big screen debut a year earlier in the next Avengers movie.

So as soon as I saw this this set, I knew I had to get it for my daughter as I really wanted her to learn about and engage with the character.

But it’s not just about Captain Marvel…

The set also features 4 other figures. On the heroes side, we have Captain America with his mighty shield plus space accessories. He is teamed with Iron Man wearing what is presumably a white space armour.

Iron Man Captain America LEGO minifigures Avenjet Space Mission
Shell head & Cap in space gear

There is also Hyperion, a character who is literally Marvel’s version of Superman, from their riff on the Justice League, the Squadron Supreme. They’ve faced off against – and then with – the Avengers a few times.

Hyperion and Superman LEGO minifigures
Hyperion is Marvel’s deliberate homage to Superman (Supes is not included in this set in case you were wondering)

Plus there is a large sized figure of Thanos – the intergalactic villain already seen in a few Marvel movies. He’s shaping up to be the big bad guy of the next two Avengers movies.

He’s also been copied – in this case shamelessly ripped off – from another DC character called Darkseid. My daughter noticed the similarity – proud geek dad moment.

Thanos LEGO figure Avenjet Space Mission
Thanos – who my daughter correctly pointed out looked like DC’s Darkseid (he was a Marvel ripoff)

The actual Avenjet model is in fact 2 spaceships in 1 – the smaller ship slots into and sits atop the larger one. It has been keenly noted by my daughter that the Captain Marvel LEGO ship is much bigger than Captain America’s. Both come with the ubiquitous stud guns and missile launchers.

The set has over 500 pieces in 3 numbered bags, and the completed model is less than 1sq ft. The stated age range is 7-14, but my 4-year-old daughter and I happily built it over a couple of sessions, with her doing the majority of the construction (I think she mostly wanted the company rather than assistance).

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes Avenjet Space Mission Review packshot, Captain Marvel  LEGO

The only disappointment was the Thanos figure. While he looks great, he has very little articulation – the legs do not move at all and his arms only move in the shoulder and the wrists.

But it’s a minor quibble. My daughter is now enjoying playing out space adventures with familiar and new heroes – and with the Captain Marvel bug firmly planted in her mind she has yet another great female superhero to engage with.

The LEGO Avenjet Space Mission (76049) has an RRP of £49.99.


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We were provided with the LEGO set free of charge for the purposes of this review.

Family Fever

Does My Daughter Love Star Wars Because of Me?

People often wonder why I’m so enthusiastic about sharing my love of Star Wars with my daughter. For the most part, they’re questioning it. Familiar comments are “Why not just let kids be kids?”, “Why not just let her choose herself?”, “Why am I imposing my interests on my daughter?”, or worst of all “Why am I trying to make her into a boy?” (I’m not).

Although I feel it’s no different than a sports fan passing on their love of a favourite team, for me it goes beyond mere parenting nostalgia.

We live in a world where cultural life is formed increasingly by the market, yet only certain brands are actively marketed to girls. If I was to simply “let kids be kids” and merely encourage what my daughter responds to in the pop cultural landscape around her, all I am doing as is relinquishing my parenting influence to that of the marketeers, and beyond that letting them define to her what is and isn’t for girls.

There is nothing inherently male about Star Wars. As a child, I don’t believe I liked it because I was a boy, but because I was a child and it was insanely cool. I don’t remember it being overtly marketed to males, something that changed as I grew older. When I was a kid, the other biggest Star Wars fan I knew was a girl who lived around the corner.

As a giddily excited new dad, I enjoyed buying Star Wars onesies and baby toys, but as she grew up I was happily surprised she continued to enjoy engaging with it. As a toddler, she loved us to read Darth Vader and Son. When I brought home my old Star Wars toys from my parents attic, I assumed I would store them away until she was 6 or 7, and give them a go then. She spotted them, wanted to play with them straight away, and they never made it past our lounge.

So am I imposing what I love on my daughter? You may have read this and other posts and think I am. I disagree. In a way, I am marketing to my daughter. I am trying to give Star Wars, seen widely as a ‘boy’ interest, the same chance of taking hold as the dozens of other ‘girl’ brands being presented to her. I do the same with superheroes. I’m just trying to level the gendered marketing playing field. She’s already accepted that Star Wars is for both boys and girls (and will often tell her friends this). Whether it will stick, I have no idea.

While I admit I will find it slightly sad if she decides that Star Wars isn’t for her when she is older, I will completely respect that choice (and not try to change her mind!)

But in the meantime, Star Wars is something we enjoy together as father and daughter, and today we have a day of Star Wars toys, dress ups, and watching The Empire Strikes Back ahead of us. Fun times that I shall always remember with joy.
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Star Wars: Episodes I-VI, The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels are all available to watch on NOW TV

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Disclosure: I receive free access to NOW TV in exchange for blogging about the service.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Prequel Series You’re Looking For

If like me you’re a Star Wars fan who’s no fan of the prequels, have no fear. There is a series worthy of the saga and much better than Episodes I to III – Star Wars: The Clone Wars is the prequel you’re looking for.

In the original Star Wars trilogy, the hints to what had gone on before were as tantalising as they were brief. One of the key moments was in Star Wars when Obi-Wan tells Luke about his father Anakin, who was “the best star pilot in the galaxy… a cunning warrior, (and) a good friend.”

This enigmatic description set the tone for what I imagined any prequel movies would be like. I saw Anakin as a dashing heroic man, a brash and intelligent Jedi Knight who somehow lost his way, was tempted by the dark side, and became Darth Vader.

This is not the Anakin Skywalker portrayed in the prequel trilogy. A precocious child who becomes a petulant teen, prone to sulking and tantrums, he never grows into the man we believe could potentially be the most powerful Jedi in the galaxy, let alone the most feared agent of the Empire, Darth Vader.

By the time I walked out of seeing the third and final prequel movie Revenge of the Sith in 2005, I had had enough of this pre-Imperial galaxy far, far away. My fandom for the original trilogy remained, but I was done with tales of Anakin, the Republic, and the Clone Wars.

Which is how I, and many similar lapsed fans, missed the subsequent prequel series that we had been yearning for – Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars is the prequel series you’re looking for”

Set between Episodes II and III, it centres around the galactic wide conflict that began at the end of II and was wrapped up in III. It takes many familiar concepts and characters from the prequels, but uses them in a way that is a lot more interesting, exciting, and satisfying.

Anakin is the dashing hero,  a cunning warrior, renowned pilot, and good friend of General Kenobi (who’s wry sense of humour is also more evident).

Other characters from the bookend movies also feature. The Jedi council includes the familiar faces of Yoda and Mace Windu. The Chancellor continues to pretend to be nice. Count Dooku (previously Christopher Lee) is the intimidating villain he was supposed to be in the movies, and to a lesser degree the cyborg General Grievous.

The clones that gave the war its name were mostly namelesss copies of New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison in the movies, have distinctive looks and personalities in TCW – most notably Captain Rex (who my daughter identified as a character way before I did).

But the greatest addition to the Star Wars canon, one that changed Star Wars forever and probably the main reason I love this show so much, is Ahsoka Tano.

Ahsoka Tano and Anakin Skywalker Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Ahsoka Tano and Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Clone Wars

A central character, she was introduced from the very beginning of the show. A 14-year-old Padawan to the newly knighted Jedi Anakin, she is a smart, feisty, swift and talented warrior. While learning the ways of the force in the proper way, she is also inspired by Anakin to regularly push the boundaries of expectation and authority.

Before Rey, Ahsoka was the character who demonstrated that the galaxy far, far away was just as much a place for girls as boys. My daughter adored Ahsoka – not just a female Jedi, but a girl – from pretty much the first moment we laid eyes on her, and her love of the young padawan has only grown. She is even her imaginary friend.

Elsewehere, while female characters were often given short shrift in the movie galaxy, they are prominent and well realised in this show. Padme Amidala is more of an intelligent and skilled diplomat than depicted in the movies; Female Jedi Knights feature far more heavily (including some kickass lightsaber battles); the villain/anti-hero Asajj Ventress – who was almost a character in Revenge of the Sith – is a regular guest star, with her distinctive raspy voice, pale bald head, and two red lightsabers. Plenty of other female characters ranging from bounty hunters to heads of state, witches, and military leaders are also featured.

While ostensively a kids show, the long story arcs of 4 or 5 episodes, often involve a sophisticated range of political and and emotional depth. Some are also downright scary, such as a story involving Jedi children being hunted to death for sport, or the return of Darth Maul (yeah, the guy who was chopped in half in The Phantom Menace), though I should point out that my 3-4 year-old daughter was fine with them – and she tells me when something scares her.

One of the good things about getting my daughter into this now, is that there is so much tie-in merchandise available second hand. We have found everything from figures, puzzles, books, model kits, and my daughter’s prized Captain Rex computer (which can double as a mask 😉 )

Captain Rex reporting for duty. #clonewars #clonetrooper

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

This is a great show if you’re a Star Wars fan, and almost justifies the existence of the prequels – and while those are only 3 movies amounting to about 7 hours, Star Wars: The Clone Wars has over 120 episodes for a whopping 45 hours of content!

If you’re currently watching Star Wars Rebels and haven’t seen this, then you really need to check it out. Ashoka and Captain Rex – key characters in Rebels – both have history that can only be understood from watching this show.

And just in case you haven’t got the message, let me be clear Star Wars: The Clone Wars is better than prequels. Now all we need an animated remake of Revenge of the Sith for the circle to be well and truly complete…

All episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels – as well Episodes I-VI of the movies – are available to watch on NOW TV

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Disclosure: I receive free access to NOW TV in exchange for blogging about the service.

Star Wars © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd.

Family Fever

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?

In recent months I spotted that Netlix had the first 4 seasons of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. 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 stalemate 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.

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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:

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Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.

Family Fever
My Little Pony® is a registered trademark of Hasbro, Inc.

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Star Wars © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd.

Girls Long to be Princesses… and Superheroes, and Monsters, and More

This week we finally had our daughter’s 4th Birthday party. It was two and a half weeks after her actual 4th birthday because we couldn’t book our hall of choice earlier. But this had been on our minds for a while. For months, our daughter has been very specific that she wanted Hulk and Yoda cakes (she loves green). My wife, the baker of the family, did a great job with that.

The party was the same venue and format as her 3rd birthday party (free play, food, play, songs, play, cake, play…), only this time she wanted it to be fancy dress. For her own costume, she had also spent the past few months insisting she was going to dress up as a fairy, but a few days before the party she changed her mind. She wanted to go as Princess Leia.

She dressed up in the costume she got for Christmas from my parents, and as she often does with her Leia LEGO figures, a lightsaber (also from my parents – who probably can’t believe they’re still buying Star Wars toys) was an essential accessory. Green of course.

What was interesting to me were the costume choices of the other children. The only boy who came wore a pirate outfit, and none of the girls did. But there were a great range of outfits that the girls did wear – there was Tinkerbell, Gruffalo, Cinderella, a Knight, Supergirl, a fairy, Snow White, and our very own Princess Leia.

Every year, I fear that the dreaded ‘Age of the Princess Party’ will fall upon us. People speak of the ‘Princess Stage’ as if it were an actual stage of a girl’s development, as if an obsession with all the trappings of Princess culture is as inevitable as puberty.

A sub-party theme of recent years has been Frozen – which technically can’t be classed as a Princess theme because Elsa is a queen. While that film has a lot of positive things going for it, it is immensely ironic that Elsa’s plea for individuality and freedom of choice (‘Let it Go’), has inspired millions of little girls (or their parents) to dress in the same outfit.

Our daughter has a few Frozen fans among her friends, so I was surprised there were no Elsas at our party. There were also no double ups on princesses either. It was nice to see such a diversity of choices.

Speaking of diversity, of the 3 princess dress ups, while all were white characters, the girls dressing up as them were not. Of the little girls who are white, two opted either for a male character (Gruffalo) or a traditionally male dress up (knight). Another one wore a Superman outfit – but was adamant she was Supergirl. Fair enough.

What does this mean? I don’t know. I certainly wish my daughter knew more boys, but that’s probably more to do with the parents I’ve befriended than anything. But I am really happy my daughter is surrounded by such a diverse group of friends. Not only whose parents are from a variety of cultural, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds, but girls who also have such a diversity of interests – and yet they all have a great time together.

Long may it continue.

The Lonely Dad in the Corner

You are there with your child, but you feel alone. You also feel awkward, perhaps a little shy, but try not to show it and smile.

All around you are mothers with their children, who all seem to know each other. You smile as you make eye contact, hoping for a hint of a connection – but nothing.

You try making conversation, but none develops. Your hopes of meeting new people, making new friends, forming bonds with other parents for the sake of your child are dwindling.

You end up sitting alone in a corner, watching your child play alone while all around you a community you long to be a part of continues on oblivious.

I know this dad. Once upon a time, it was me.

Whether in parks, cafes, playgroups, or classes, when we moved to this area gone was our network, our antenatal group, the mothers who didn’t bat an eyelid at the stay-at-home dad in their ranks. Looking back, I realise their unconditional acceptance empowered my self esteem as a father.

Hoping for the same, I found it lacking in my first forays into the local community. While I am more than happy in my own company, for the sake of my child I knew I needed to form new friendships and networks.

And I did. It all worked out fine. I found the right groups. I got to meet mothers and fathers who wanted to engage. We have formed good friendships, and so have our children.

Which is what makes what happened this week so disappointing. Part of my efforts to engage in my new community saw me volunteer to help out at a local playgroup, that a mother with a girl the same age as mine had just agreed to take over. It was the first group I attended where mothers – like this one – talked to me.

However, this group was struggling with numbers, mostly lacking promotion and awareness. It was also the last non-church run group in the area, and for me that was something worth saving.

We changed that, and it is now one of the most popular in the town. So popular, that instead of having time to meet and chat to new people when they arrive, I often only have a chance for a brief hello and explanation of how it works (a very short conversation) while I continue chopping grapes, washing dishes, topping up paint pots, and making sure my now 4-year-old kid is ok.

So when the new dad came along this week, I didn’t have the chance to speak to him. Often new mums arrive with a friend. If alone, and not chatting to anyone, I’ll try and have a brief conversation with them. I usually see them chatting to someone as the morning progresses. But it was particularly busy this morning.

I should’ve talked to this dad, but I didn’t. When it was all over, and people shuffled home while we tidied, I didn’t see him.

It was only later that the image popped into my head. Of him sitting alone. Surrounded by empty chairs. Staring at his child, playing alone.

I had failed him, this dad who had come along – just as I had a couple of years ago – looking to engage with other parents.

I hope that this snapshot memory I have of him was unrepresentative of his morning. That this was simply a brief respite for him from chatting to other parents. But I fear this was not the case.

When I had a similar experience, I stopped going to that particular group. Who could blame me, and who could blame him if he doesn’t return next week. But I really hope he does, to give us another chance.

Next time you see a dad alone with his child, especially at a playgroup or class, please don’t ignore them. Try and chat to them if you can, but at least smile if you catch their eye. It could make all the difference to them, and their child.

The Female Focus of Star Wars: The Force Awakens Was Planned From the Start

As the father of one of the many girls who like Star Wars, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to quiz the cast and filmmakers about the prominence of female characters in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

As much as I love engaging with Star Wars with my daughter, I am always painfully aware that it is centred around male characters. But girls who like Star Wars – like my daughter – deserve to be able to see themselves in these stories too. Princess Leia is great, but it is her father and brother that the story focuses on. Ashoka is awesome, but the stories she’s in are usually driven by others.

No longer. There is much to admire about Star Wars: The Force Awakens – reuniting the original cast, the compelling new characters, using practical sets and effects. But the most glorious new aspect of the movie is the central role of Rey, and the greater prominence of female characters overall.

A new generation of Star Wars women

girls who love star wars, female star wars fans,
Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens – she will inspire a generation of little girls

Having previously stated that he wanted to make a movie that “mothers could take their daughters to”, Director J.J. Abrams told me that “the idea was always to have this female character at the heart of the story”.

From the moment we meet her, Rey is the one who drives the story forward and in a way that was surprising and moving. When she had her ‘moment’ I felt like crying and cheering at the same time.

Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm, has been a vocal advocate of the Star Wars fangirl community and the need to bring a gender balance into all areas of the Star Wars industry.

She observes that “(Princess Leia) was a very cutting edge character in the 70’s, so we really used that as a springboard to bring in Daisy Ridley and make her such a powerful female presence.”

This intention was echoed by Disney CEO Bob Iger, who made reference to the fact that “Women are heroes too,” so why wouldn’t they have a female Star Wars lead.

Daisy Ridley gives a bright and engaging performance as Rey. She will inspire millions of little girls, and I asked her how that felt. For her it came down to the way Rey has been written.  “J.J. is an incredible writer, especially of females in a kind of male dominated world… if people look up to her, then I’m very happy with that.”

General Leia and Captain Phasma – Star Wars women’s changing role in the intergalactic military

Princess Leia is now of course General Leia Organa, leader of the Resistance. It is a logical progression from the character’s more militaristic role with the Rebels in The Empire Strikes Back, and (to a lesser extent) Return of the Jedi. Of the change of Leia’s title, Carrie Fisher quipped that “Women are a lot better than men really, especially in wartime. We look better in the outfits.”

One of the best outfits in the movie is worn by Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma. She was impressed with it from the start. “I Ioved that it was purely practical armour, that it wasn’t sexualised in any way,” she said, adding that “I’m utterly thrilled to wear the costume… It’s very empowering.”

Captain Phasma became a female character very late in the casting process, in part because of internet chatter about the (at that time) low level of female cast members. It’s great that the filmmakers listened, and also looked for other ways to normalise the inclusion of women in a way that had not been done in previous Star Wars movies. JJ Abrams said that “…we have wonderful cast of good guys, bad guys, pilots, stormtroopers – that happen to be female.”

Empowering little girls who like Star Wars

It’s difficult for me to know exactly what characters will help empower my daughter. I have encouraged her to engage with a range of fictional females from Katie Morag to Batgirl. Her interest in Star Wars has been fairly organic, and she naturally gravitated towards Leia, the most prominent of all.

But I have a strong sense that Rey will resonate with her. Daisy Ridley beamed when I told her I bought a Rey figure for my daughter straight after watching the movie. “That is so cool! How old is your daughter?” When I told her she’s 4-years old (which she will be when she sees the movie), her expression changed. “She’s a bit young for this don’t you think?”. I shrugged, and so did Daisy. “Depends on the child I guess?” she said. It does indeed.

Should my young daughter see Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

In this story, set a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…. there was a girl who never lost hope, who cared about the plight of others over her own, and never backed down from a challenge.

I can’t wait for my daughter to experience Rey’s resilience, her exciting journey, and a defining moment that will bring many a fan close to tears.

Mark Hamill said something quite beautiful, about how much he loves Star Wars fans, and how privileged he feels to have been a part of so many of their lives from childhood to adulthood and even parenthood.

So despite her young age, and questions over age appropriateness, I think my daughter needs to see this now.

I want her to have this new saga woven into her childhood the way Star Wars was into mine. So she can look up to the stars in wonder, and imagine intergalactic adventures involving heroic girls (and villainous chrome armoured women).

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Star Wars © & TM Lucasfilm Ltd.

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’.

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

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

Top Five Awesome Alternatives to Disney Princesses

When I became a father of a daughter, I quickly became aware I needed to seek out alternatives to Disney Princesses. If you’re raising a girl, there’s no escaping the reign of them over their generation. Frozen’s Anna and Elsa have only strengthened the power that the princess industrial complex wields over their developing cultural lives.

If you’re tired of all the trappings of princess culture cluttering up your little girl’s childhood, or just wish to expose them to alternative female led films, TV, books, and toys – here are my top five Disney Princess alternatives to inspire and empower your little girls.

1. Studio Ghibli

Alternatives to Disney Princesses, Disney Princess alternative, My Neighbour Totoro, My Neighbor Totoro, Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, Disney Princess alternatives, Disney Princesses alternatives, alternatives to Disney Princess,
‘My Neighbour Tototo’, Dir: Hayao Miyazaki, © 1988 Nibariki – G/Studio Ghibli

My search for alternatives to Disney Princesses struck a rich seam in Japan. The animated films of Studio Ghibli, and Hayo Miyazaki in particular, should be a part of everyone’s cinematic childhood.

My Neighbour TotoroKiki’s Delivery Service, and Whisper of the Heart are particular favourites of ours and they boast a wonderful range of female characters, any one of whom is a great Disney Princess alternative. Scarcely a day goes by without my daughter requesting to see at least one of them.

Totoro centres on the gentle adventures of two young sisters in fifties Japan and their encounters with kind hearted forest spirits; Kiki is an entrepreneurial 13-year-old witch who leaves home and earns a living by starting the small courier business of the title; Whisper of the Heart also features a teenage girl, who is an aspiring writer seeking inspiration.

I have seen them all more times than I could possibly count, and I still find them moving, inspiring, and utterly delightful. There is plenty official and unofficial merchandise around. We picked up some Totoro soft toys when we passed through Japan a few years back, and bought the 3yo a much loved Kiki dress up for Christmas.

For other movies, also check out Miyazaki’s pre-Studio Ghibli Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind for a wonderful female led eco-adventure, Ponyo for younger kids, and Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke for older ones who can take more intense scenarios. But perhaps save Grave of the Fireflies for another time – it’s possibly one of the saddest films ever made.


2. Wonder Woman 

Wonder Woman, Ms. Magazine, Gloria Steinham, Disney Princess alternative, Disney Princesses alternative, alternative to Disney Princesses,
Ms. Magazine issue 1 and 40th Anniversary editions, featuring Wonder Woman on the cover. © Liberty Media for Women, LLC, wholly owned by Feminist Majority Foundation. Wonder Woman ©DC Comics

One of the few female superheroes that non-comic fans know about, Wonder Woman remains a pop cultural feminist icon and an awesome Disney Princess alternative.

Conceived in the forties by American psychologist William Moulton Marston, he wanted to “create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman”. Hmm.

Anyway, Wonder Woman is a warrior, and – yes – a PRINCESS, but she refuses to let being a princess define her, and it’s something she successfully rebelled against in her very first appearance.

The character’s continued fame goes back to the fondly remembered seventies TV show starring Lynda Carter. The show tied into the popular feminism of the decade, typified by the likes of Gloria Steinham – who had previously launched Ms. Magazine in 1972, with none other than Wonder Woman on the cover.

‘Retro’ Wonder Woman imagery continues to adorn all manner of merchandise today, and this iconic cartoon look is as visually appealing as any Disney Princess.

There is a LOT of merchandise out there if you hunt for it, but be warned – it’s far easier to get hold of a Wonder Woman t-shirt for a woman than a little girl. In addition to Wonder Woman, also be on the lookout for Batgirl and Supergirl gear. DC licensees are much better than Marvel in creating merchandise with their female heroes.

It’s time to “Woman Up” Marvel.



3. The Wizard of Oz

Wizard of Oz fancy dress, dorothy gale fancy dress,
3yo daughter in her Dorothy outfit

While Frank L. Baum’s original book has been eclipsed by the colourful 1939 movie, both feature the engaging Dorothy Gale and her adventures in Oz with her three male sidekicks.

While the film is wonderful, Dorothy is certainly more proactive and determined in the book, for instance not relying on her male friends to rescue her from the Wicked Witch but rescuing them instead.

However she is an appealing character in both, with an iconic eye catching look that makes a nice change from glittery pastel dresses – and because the book has been out of copyright for a long time there are lots of affordable merchandise out there, ranging from dress up outfits to apps.

Perhaps start with one of the books adapted for first readers, or of course there’s the wonderful film – the technicolour reveal of merry old land of Oz still remains one of the great moments of Hollywood magic, that will leave your little one on awe.

Film & Video:

Books:

Dress up:

4. Katie Morag

Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted, Alternatives to Disney Princesses
From ‘Katie Morag and the Tiresome Ted’ by Mairi Hedderwick, published by Red Fox Picture Books

Set on the fictional Isle of Struay, off the west coast of Scotland, this series of books (and now a TV series) feature the independently minded little girl Katie Morag.

Wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick, the stories see our young red-headed hero in her trademark white jumper, green tartan skirt, and wellies, on her everyday adventures involving her family and fellow islanders.

The spirited Katie is a great role model for little girls – our 3yo daughter has been inspired by this Scottish girl to be more independent herself. The books offer lots of other great female role models too, from her mother who runs the Post Office while also breastfeeding her new baby, to ‘Grannie Island’, Katie’s no-nonsense dungaree wearing, tractor driving grandmother.

I really enjoy both reading these to my daughter and watching the TV show with her.


5. Star Wars

LEGO, Lego star wars, Princess Leia, We Want Leia, Amidala, Padme, Alternatives to Disney Princesses
From ‘LEGOS Girl Problem’ published on ‘From Bricks To Bothans’

The galaxy far, far away is just as much a place for girls as boys – it just hasn’t been marketed that way since a long time ago. But the female characters offer great alternatives to Disney Princesses.

Top of the list of great female characters (showing my aged bias) is Leia, who is a great Disney Princess alternative. A royal in name only, she is a rebel fighter, political leader, and social activist. She is a central character in the Star Wars universe and there is a ton of merchandise out there – HOWEVER, there currently isn’t much new stuff at all.

Despite Disney buying Star Wars, and churning out all kinds of new Star Wars goodies, don’t go to a Disney Store expecting to find anything much with Leia on it. If that bothers you, please read more here, and complain to them here about that.

For other more recent characters, check out Padme/Amidala from the prequels and The Clone Wars cartoon, Ahsoka Tano also from the Clone Wars, or Sabine & Hera from the new Star Wars Rebels animated TV series.

These are great empowered women for any child to look up to, and a terrific way into Star Wars and the wider area of sci-fi for little girls. Things are looking very promising in terms of female characters from The Force Awakens, but let’s just see how things go with that.

Geek culture is synonymous with the STEM worlds of our children’s future, so if we don’t want to lose vast swathes of the next generation of world builders – because they’re girls who think this is boys stuff – then get them some Star Wars toys. You may even have some in your parents attic. 🙂

Princess Leia:

Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels:

 

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What do you think about this list of alternatives to Disney Princesses?

What about the princesses themselves? Are they harmful or harmless?  I’d love to read about any additions you have to this (short!) list, or why you think Disney Princesses are fine. Please comment below, join the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.

You Baby Me Mummy

LEGO Marvel Superheroes – Spider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle (76057)

This intricate and imaginative LEGO Marvel Superheroes Spider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle set exceeded all expectations.

We first saw this set at the London Toy Fair 6 months ago, and have been keen to get our hands on it ever since.

As I’m constantly searching for female superhero toys for my daughter, so I’ll admit the biggest draw for me initially was the inclusion of a certain minifigure.

Pre-nursery LEGO building session. We got this set pretty much for this Spider-Girl minifigure!

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But Spider-Girl aside, once we got into building it was very clear that this a brilliant, intricate, and imaginative set, and certainly the best Marvel Super Heroes LEGO set we own.

It was fun to construct, respected the source material, and has proven to be a great toy for imaginative play.

The Minifigures

The has a great collection of minifigures, 7 in total, that should please any Spider-Man fan.

On the side of the heroes we have the original wall-crawler Spider-Man, the aforementioned Spider-Girl, and the Scarlet Spider – who fans will recognise from the infamous Spider-Man Clone Saga. These web warriors come with LEGO webbing and web blasts.

LEGO Marvel Superheroes Spider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle 76057 hero minifigures

We also have Peter Parker’s Aunt May, presumably to add some distress.

pider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle 76057 Aunt May minifigure

And of the villains, we have three classic Spider-Man nemeses – Kraven the Hunter, the Green Goblin & his goblin glider, and the Scorpion.

LEGO Marvel Superheroes Spider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle 76057 supervillians minifigures

Kraven looks every bit his comicbook counterpart, with a spear, leopardskin leggings, and a Lion’s head waistcoat with a mane for his collar. The Goblin has a pumpkin bomb and a satchel plus his glider has stud shooters. The Scorpion has his distinctive stinger tail.

The Ultimate Bridge Battle set

With over a thousand pieces, in 8 numbered bags, this is a big set.

Recommended for ages 8-14, this was a great one to make with my 4-year-old daughter who remained engaged throughout the construction process.

The set is a section of a New York bridge – most likely the Brooklyn Bridge, but could be inspired by one of the others. It’s an evocative design, reminding me mostly of the Gwen Stacy/Green Goblin classic Spider-Man story.

But the real genius of this set is just how many features and details are packed into it.

The bridge sits on two hollow pillars (with graffiti and flyer style stickers).

One has a space where Spidey has webbed his camera, so he can take the selfies and other snaps he sells to the Daily Bugle. The other contains a hidden lair for Kraven the Hunter – the entrance is covered by lichen and a ladder, but inside is a spear holder, a computer tracking Spider-Man, and even a hiding place for a crate full of diamonds with a pop out door.

LEGO Marvel Superheroes Spider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle 76057 secret lairs
Left: Spider-Man has webbed his camera ready fro snapping; Right: Kraven the Hunter’s secret lair where he tracks Spider-Man

The road of the bridge is constructed with a series of black tiles and pieces – but this is not a simple road. There is a trapdoor the is activated by a lever, that drops villains into the space with Spidey’s camera – another photo op to sell to the Bugle perhaps?

Another hidden feature of the bridge is a hinged wall that swings out to stage a vehicle crashing through the side.

LEGO Marvel Superheroes Spider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle 76057 taxi

You get two road vehicles with the set – a distinctive yellow New York taxi, and a police quad bike with accessories. No drivers however.

Also on the road there is a kind of see saw that launches debris at the action (such as the included trash can), and road signs that can be staged in various forms of damage. It also indicates it’s only 6 miles to the Daily Bugle – a nice touch for the fans.

LEGO Marvel Superheroes Spider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle 76057 details
The set has some nice details for fans, such as this date stamp (1962, the year of Spider-Man’s debut appearance) and a sign post to fictional newspaper the Daily Bugle.

Another nice touch was a printed date plaque for the bridge – 1962, which is the year Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s webbed hero made his debut (in Amazing Fantasy #15). It seems clear that this set was created by a fan.

Moving up to the tower, it has traffic light indicators – the levers of which also trigger two collapsable walls. The top of the tower has a Green Goblin flag, that also functions as a lever to release a Spiderweb net. There is also a mechanism to launch and swing a minifigure.

There are then two suspension tethers connecting the tower to the bridge – and these like the rest of the bridge are covered with exposed studs, that enable you to position your wall crawling web warriors wherever you like.

The sheer level of features and detail in this set is amazing. The designer has packed so much into it, that this is definitely one of those sets that far exceeds the sum of its parts.

LEGO Marvel Superheroes Spider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle 76057 packshot
This intricate and imaginative LEGO Marvel Superheroes Spider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle set exceeded all expectations.

As a Spider-Man and LEGO fan I can’t recommend this set enough. My daughter is a big fan too 😉

LEGO Marvel Superheroes Spider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle 76057 playing

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LEGO Marvel Superheroes Spider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle set (76057) has an RRP of £89.99.

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Disclosure: We were provided with this LEGO Marvel Superheroes Spider-Man Web Warriors Ultimate Bridge Battle set free of charge for the purposes of this review.

Grand day out: Visiting the London Eye and SeaLife London Aquarium

I had a revelation recently. These last few weeks before schools break up for summer will be the last chance, in weekday term-time, I get to go on day trips with my daughter.

Oh sure, there’ll be sick days, inset days, and the like – but with playgroups winding up, and pre-school graduation this definitely feels like the end of a parenting era.

I was also keenly aware that I had not taken full advantage of the chance to visit London family attractions – without the crowds of families at weekends and schools holidays at least.

So I moved swiftly to rectify that, and in recent weeks we have made a few trips into London. This day, we went to the South Bank and visited the Sea Life London Aquarium and The London Eye.

Visiting the Sea Life London Aquarium

A London attraction since the late 90’s, it has had a refurb since I first visited in the last decade.

Set in County Hall, the home of the old GLA, the aquarium is a great way to introduce your child to all sorts of sea life.

As you enter, you walk across a glass panel that reveals a shark tank below. It felt like you were entering a classic Bond villains lair. It was a cool way to start.

Completely unplanned, we had just seen Finding Nemo the day before, and there were at least 3 tanks that had the distinctive clownfish in them.

Found him 😊

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While it was a little contrary to the themes of the film (Nemo is trying to escape captivity after all), it was to be expected, and kids loved it.

The tanks rage in size from the small to the very large. My highlights were the tanks containing the larger creatures – Rays, Turtles, and – yes – Sharks. These sharks ranged in size, but some were pretty big. So big that my daughter found them a bit too scary.

But the range of sea life here is incredible, and she got to see so many other creatures for the first time too, such as octopuses, sea horses, alligators, eels, and so many more.

The aquarium is fairly linear as an experience, and entry is staggered every fifteen minutes – so while it is a very popular attraction, the crowds were fine. There were a few bottlenecks, such as the Shark Tunnel (as cool as it sounds), but nothing troubling.

Our trip was slightly truncated as everyone was evacuated because of an alarm. While we had seen most of the Aquarium we didn’t see the penguins – which was a shame, because it was the hottest day of the year!

The whole aquarium was a pleasant cool temperature though, but once we were evacuated into the harsh midday sun we decided to have an early lunch instead of baking in the heat waiting to get back in.

So we found a nice shady spot nearby for our picnic.

Lunchtime – found some precious shade in sweltering central London.

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Then we cooled down with an ice cream before our next attraction.

Visiting The London Eye

Another attraction that was opened in the late 90’s, the former Millennium Wheel has become an internationally recognised London icon since then. Anyone who has walked past it cannot have failed to have seen the hordes of people wanting to go on it.

My daughter has spotted it from afar – and close up – many times, so I was glad of the opportunity to go on it with her. She frequently asks when we can go on the big wheel, so she was incredible excited about finally being able to do so.

We were fortunate to have fast track tickets, and with a moderate amount of guilt  on my part we bypassed that mass of people via the special fast track entrance. If you feel comfortable paying out a little extra for your ticket, it probably is worth it for not baking in the sun like the rest of the crowd were.

Thankfully, the pods are fully air-conditioned, important given this was the hottest day of the year.

The ride lasts about 30 minutes, which is plenty of time to walk around the spacious capsule and take in the sights.

The experience was exactly as expected – wonderful high views of the city, and the chance to talk about various landmarks with my daughter. Previously, I had lived in London for over a decade, so it’s wonderful to be able to share my love of it with my daughter.

After our 30 minute trip, we ambled back to Waterloo station enjoying the entertainments of the South Bank along the way.

Bubbles!

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All in all, a grand day out. 🙂

Tickets for both the Sea Life London Aquarium and The London Eye can be booked in advance. If you’re travelling by train into London, take advantage of the National Rail 2 for 1 ticket offers.

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Disclosure: We were provided with fast track tickets to both attractions for the purposes of this review.

Disney Life: Streaming Service and App review

Disney movies and TV shows are available on many different streaming services. So is there a place for DisneyLife, their very own streaming service?

So, you decide it’s time to finally show your kid Sleeping Beauty. You then search your subscription streaming services, which all have Disney sections, and it’s nowhere to be found. What to do? Enter, DisneyLife.

If there’s one brand that dominates childhood, it continues to be Disney. As well as films, they also have TV shows, books, music, and now apps. All of that comes together in DisneyLife.

For £9.99 a month, the (UK only) app not only allows you to stream their films and TV content, you can also stream soundtracks, as well as access interactive books. Limited content can also be  stored on your tablet/smartphone. You can download one free Disney app per month as well.

The big draw for me was the access to movies. While some are available on the other streaming services we have, it’s not complete and subject to the whims of whatever deals are made. Here, you get (as far as I can tell) all classic Disney (including our sought after Sleeping Beauty) and Pixar movies.

I admit, without doing my research, I just assumed I would be able to download the app to my PS3 or Apple TV and stream content to our TV that way. However, the app is only for compatible Apple and Android tablets and smartphones.

So I downloaded the app to iPhone and iPad – and it turns out I could stream content to our TV via the Apple TV. It was a bit more fiddly than I would have liked, but ok.

Settling down to watch a movie, you get a decent quality HD stream. Playback was mostly ok. It didn’t buffer into a low quality feed like others do, however it was a little buggy – we grew to expect a handful of picture freezes during a movie (sound always continued).

While this was annoying, I’ll be honest and say that this could be down to the ageing iOS devices we have. I own an iPhone 4S and iPad 2, which are older than our 4 1/2 year-old daughter.

Tablet screen time with my daughter is pretty limited, but this had so much content that she was (a little to easily) immersed in this. There are simple age restrictions if desired, so that was no problem.

Content can be navigated via various sections, such as categories, characters, or brand. Disney Classic and Pixar were well populated. Marvel had lots of books and cartoons, such as 3 seasons of Ultimate Spider-Man.

Star Wars Rebels only has the first series of the show but plenty of other media such as BTS videos and best of all the Early Reader books. There was a Disney Princess section that was full of everything I dislike about Disney.

I think these kind of apps come into their own when travelling. I know from experience how much of a lifesaver these can be during long haul travel, when coping with endless flights and jetlag. The ability to store content to the device, when access to wifi can be limited and/or expensive, is a great option to have.

How to deal with jet lag in a pre-schooler – watching Sofia the First on the iPad at 2:30am.

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Is it worth £9.99 a month? Well, that will depend on how much Disney you have – or want – in your family life.

For me, I was glad to be able to show my daughter the likes of Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella during the free trial – without us having to own them, as I hope I never have to see them again.

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Disclosure: We were given a 6 month subscription to the service for the purposes of this review.

DisneyLife © Disney. All rights reserved.
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