Widely publicised as the final feature film from legendary Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli, the gothic and mysterious When Marnie Was There shows what a great loss this would be.
The studio is most notably associated with co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, both of whom have announced their retirement. While neither of them have any credit on this, it is unmistakably recognisable as a Studio Ghibli movie (I cite my 4-year-old daughter’s reaction as proof).
This film is based on the Norfolk set novel by English writer Joan G. Robinson, and transposes the story to Sapporo in Japan. Anna is a 12-year-old who suffers from asthma and sometimes crippling anxiety. To aid her mental and physical health, she is sent to a seaside town to stay with relatives for the summer.
Her loner instincts initially remain, but she begins to form an intense relationship with the mysterious blonde girl Marnie, who lives in a mansion across the tidal marshes.
Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi – a Miyazaki apprentice – directed a previous Ghibli feature Arriety, also based on a classic English novel by a female author (The Borrowers by Mary Norton). But this is a far richer and more powerful tale, that will likely bring a tear to your eyes by the end.
Keen to offer my daughter alternatives to the princesses of Disney, Studio Ghibli has been a beacon of wonderful female characters. The troubled, timid Anna and the ethereal Marnie are both worthy additions to their range of engaging girls such as Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service), Satsuki & Mei (My Neighbour Totoro), Shizuku (Whisper of the Heart), Nausicaä (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind), Chihiro (Spirited Away), and more.
This emotionally intense tale will also fire the imagination of young minds, and despite it’s U certificate is a story of loss, resentment, heartbreak – and love. My 4-year-old daughter was visibly moved, and full of questions about the often melancholy tale at the end.
If you have yet to experience the wonder of Studio Ghibli, this is not the best place to start – depending on age, I would recommend any of the films mentioned above. But rest assured, when you come When Marnie Was There this will not disappoint.
‘When Marnie Was There’ is available on DVD and BluRay in the UK from STUDIOCANAL. We were sent a DVD copy for the purposes of this review.
Four years ago, I was living in New Zealand, enjoying my first few months of being a stay-at-home dad.
Like many, I had an interest in the US Presidential race and given the NZ/US time difference I remember watching the presidential debates live in the afternoon – my then baby daughter transfixed by the screen (we didn’t tend to have the TV on during the day).
Four years later and we’re back in the UK. I’m just as keen to watch the debates, only they are now in the very early morning. I record them and watch before my wife and now 4-year-old daughter wake up. Only for the second debate, my daughter woke up early.
When she came downstairs, I turned the TV off. I didn’t turn it off because I thought she might be bored. On the contrary, she would likely be asking me lots of questions about it.
That was the problem.
I would have to discuss issues of sexual assault, objectification, male privilege, and fat shaming. With a 4-year-old. And I would have to explain why a man as reprehensible as Donald Trump is in contention to becoming the most powerful elected leader on the planet.
My wife and I like to engage our daughter in the political process. For example, I have always taken her to vote with me (and we always vote). If this were a ‘normal’ US election, I would happily let her watch and listen to news reports and the like, and answer any questions. But not this time.
It isn’t just the debates. We like to listen to BBC Radio 4 in the mornings. My daughter always requests we turn it to Radio 2 (middle aged before her time), so we usually compromise and I keep listening to Radio 4 for a while. Not anymore, the radio’s on the music filled Radio 2 before she’s in the room.
Mitt Romney’s ‘binders full of women’ gaffe seems so quaint now, sexism from a bygone age. Yet it was just four years ago.
The thing I finally noticed about Trump in the last debate is that he acts like a badly behaved toddler. He’s petty, impatient, sees unfairness everywhere, and constantly complains to mum and dad (the moderators) about everything. He also gets frustrated at his inability to win arguments with valid reasoning, so resorts to lies, bluster, and bullying.
In answer to the question posed in the title – I simply can’t explain Donald Trump to my daughter. Or more to the point, I don’t want to just yet. So I’m going to let her sit this one out.
There will be a time to talk to her about men like Trump, and the way they view women. But hopefully it will be in the context of how he failed to become US president. Because if not, that conversation is going to be a whole lot tougher.
Writing this post, I was reminded of these Hillary Clinton campaign ads:
Now, this answer should horrify me. I hate princesses, and their pastel domination of our girls’ childhoods. As a brand, they represent everything I don’t want for my daughter.
But I was curious, as I had a suspicion it might not be what I feared.
Me: “So how did you play princesses?”
This was where the fun began.
She played with two of her friends, pretending to be Elsa, Rapunzel, and Jasmine. First surprise: Who’s who. Jasmine wasn’t my brown, dark haired daughter – she was the coveted Elsa. Her very blonde friend was Jasmine. Her other blonde friend – previously a Frozen obsessive, and most likely Esla – went for Rapunzel.
My daughter wanted to be Elsa because a) she has superpowers, and b) she’s a Queen, i.e. a leader. Her friend wanted to be Rapunzel because she’d just seen Tangled. My daughter encouraged her friend to focus on the Tangled Rapunzel’s own superpower of Medusa-like hair.
The set up of their game was that they were a team of crime fighting heroes, and while Elsa and Rapunzel were off on a mission to capture Hans and bring him back to prison, Jasmine was going to look after Elsa’s kingdom of Arendelle. Adventure ensued.
A few things occurred to me after hearing this:
a) While not encouraging Princess fandom in my daughter, they’re not banned either – and knowing the characters and stories has been vital in helping her bond with other girls.
b) The princess characters themselves are often far more empowered than portrayed in merchandising. I’ve frequently highlighted to my daughter their achievements and power (whether it’s leadership, skills, or actual superpowers), and dialled back on how pretty they look, or how lucky they are to marry a prince.
As parents, we can easily reinvent princesses to present them as far more powerful than the imagery used on t-shirts and lunch boxes.
c) Introducing my daughter to other female hero stories – whether Batgirl, Korra, or My Little Pony – has given her different, more active female-led scenarios to use in her play and share with friends.
d) How awesome would a super team of Elsa, Rapunzel, and Jasmine be? A League of Extraordinary Ladies… Over to you Disney.
The Amazing Colouring Book for Awesome Girls is welcome addition to the raft of kids’ activity books. The premise of the book is simple – 20 b&w pictures for colouring, of girls & women doing a range of activities and roles not traditionally associated with girls.
Is there a place for a feminist colouring book for girls? I would answer a big yes – the marketplace unfortunately remains saturated with “girls’ colouring books” dominated by lazy stereotypes of princesses, flowers and pretty dresses.
The simple line drawings make this just right for younger children – a great way to introduce young minds to images of women in roles ranging from knight to palaeontologist.
The book is a great conversation starter – my 4-year-old daughter was asking me about all the different things the women were doing. Some, such as Astronaut and pirate were obvious to her, but the likes of sculptor or chemist less so and gave us a chance to talk about them. The image of a female artist – splashing paint on her canvas – even lead to a discussion about Jackson Pollack (just to reiterate, my daughter is 4).
Another nice detail is that each picture is on a separate page, so no need to worry about colours bleeding through to an image on the other side.
Some may object to it being called The Amazing Colouring Book FOR Awesome Girls, phrasing which excludes boys. I get that point, and have some sympathy with it.
However, I also think that while more people are becoming aligned with the gender neutral ideal when it comes to shopping for kids, there are still those who will only buy things for girls that are labelled as such. These are the people that still need to be reached, and a book like this can do that. I feel any misgivings about the wording of the title are completely overshadowed by the empowering nature of this project.
The book is by Rachel Garlick, a London based illustrator who’s also worked as a storyboard artist on high-profile films & tv shows such as Peaky Blinders, Call the Midwife,Broadchurch, 24, and Galavant. Hopefully, she’ll continue to create content for children too – perhaps we’ll see a similarly subversive colouring book for boys from her next?
In the meantime, I’m glad my daughter gets to use The Amazing Colouring Book for Awesome Girls.
The Amazing Colouring Book for Awesome Girls has an RRP of £4.99 ($7.49 in US). We were sent a copy free of charge for the purposes of this review.
My 4-year-old daughter likes pink. She likes Frozen. She likes My Little Pony. But she also likes green. She also likes superheroes. She also likes Star Wars.
One of her latest dress up outfits is Rey from The Force Awakens. She makes a really awesome Rey. I even tied her hair in Rey’s distinctive three buns, and got her a proper Rey lightsaber toy (a blue one – the pink FX in the picture is courtesy of DorkDaddy).
The reaction she got wearing this outfit was amazing. Shop assistants, little girls, little boys, older girls, parents – all were smiling or commenting on how cool she looked. We don’t see many little girls running round in Star Wars outfits here. Lots of Annas and Elsas, very few Leias and Reys (basically, my daughter).
But one reaction was interesting. It was from a man, younger than me, probably in his twenties. He was also admiring her outfit. Said she’d be great at a comic-con. But then he started to ask her questions. Questions he obviously knew the answer to.
He pointed to the lightsaber.
“Do you know what’s inside there?” he said.
“A battery.” she answered.
“Haha. No, I mean a real lightsaber?”
She paused. He was about to say something, but then she said “A crystal.”
He was surprised. “That’s right!” he said, then continued “But do you know where they get the crystal?”
“The Jedi temple.” she answered.
“Uh, wow – yes, that’s right.” He’s a bit stunned now. What else can he ask?
“But do you know how they put lightsabers together?”
“By using the force.” she quickly answered.
He was dumbfounded, and looked a little in awe.
He may have merely been trying to make conversation. But my daughter gets this reaction from men a lot, never from women.
He was testing her.
The Fake Geek Girl trope – an assumption that women only pretend to like geeky things to get male attention – is male fandom at its most insecure and pathetic. This disbelief that girls can like geeky stuff too bleeds into wider perceptions of women and girls.
So guys, stop assuming a girl doesn’t know her shit because she’s a girl. This applies equally to little girls and adult women.
Try sharing your fandom. It’s more fun than trying to defend it from those pesky females.
How a girl chooses to engage in a fandom is her business, and there’s as much room for overweight men in tight t-shirts as for women in Slave Leia outfits.
We were watching an event on TV recently, and I noticed William and Kate, aka the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, our future King and Queen, in the audience.
I said to my daughter, “Look, there’s a princess.”. *
“Where?” she replied.
I pointed out Kate, wearing sunglasses and what I am sure is a perfectly nice dress – but a world away from the sparkly tiara and ballgown clad ladies of Disney and other princess fiction. I could see our daughter looking confused.
Explaining the concept of a constitutional monarchy to a child is tricky, but the fact remains that we have a Queen, Princes, and Princesses. I’m one of those mildly hypocritical Brits who’s an anti-Royalist yet also thinks we are incredibly lucky to have someone like Queen Elizabeth as our head of state.
But when I analyse my anti-royal feelings, it’s not because of any resentment of their wealth. In fact I think I only realised why when William and Kate’s children were born.
I felt sorry for them. Especially Prince George, but Princess Charlotte too. I felt sorry for their lack of opportunity. That try as they might, their parents will have very little impact on how they eventually lead in their adult lives.
The British royal family exist in a bubble of scrutiny and pre-destined duty. Sure, there’s privilege attached too, but their role is rigidly defined and any life choices are endlessly criticised – who they date/marry, any work they undertake, what they wear, how they relax. Doing military service is a given, however they may feel about armed conflict.
Their path in life is decided from birth, with a duty to serve the people of Britain and the Commonwealth. It is in many ways a life of servitude.
I am baffled why so many parents of girls encourage them to dream of being a princess. Why would we want to promote such a pre-determined life to our children?
Princesses aren’t banned in our house. They are not encouraged either. But they are ever present in products and media targeted at girls. While many Disney Princesses have admirable qualities in their own stories, the branding reduces them to posing in sparkly dresses with empty smiles to match. So I have always been keen to introduce other fictional princesses who subvert the stereotype.
There is the superhero princess Wonder Woman (Princess Diana no less), the space princess Leia. Others have been useful such as Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke as well as Princess Nausicaä in their Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
These are women who are princesses in name only, and have much more admiral qualities than looking pretty, wearing fancy dresses, and getting a prince to fall in love with them. Most importantly, compared to most of the real life Windsors, they have chosen their own paths in life.
Another interesting fictional princess has been the character of Princess Pearl in Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler’s children’s book Zog – where she relinquishes her royal role to become a flying doctor.
This was recently mirrored in real life in our hometown, right next-door to my daughter’s nursery. Prince William paid a literal flying visit – landing his Air Ambulance helicopter in a field next door. Someone nearby had been injured, and William and his team arrived to help.
Much like Princess Pearl, William has chosen to work as an aviator to help those in need of medical assistance. By all accounts he enjoys the work immensely. But he isn’t able to devote much time to it. And as he nears his ascension to the throne, he will have even less. His destiny – since birth – has been to be King.
Like most parents, I want to provide our daughter as many opportunities to find her own way in the world as possible. William – and his children – have very little say in theirs.
Princess culture endorses this pre-determined life, where only birth and/or marriage defines your existence. The British Royal family are living proof of this.
Is that the kind of future we really want for our girls?
*Note: Despite the title of Duchess, Kate is still a Princess. In fact her occupation on the birth certificate of her children is stated as ‘Princess of the United Kingdom’
When my daughter was about 2-years-old, on a trip to the local soft play centre a rather confused looking older boy asked me “Is she a boy or a girl?” about my daughter.
Resisting the urge to point out he’d already answered his question I simply replied “She’s a girl.”
“Why is she wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt then?” he retorted.
“Because she likes Spider-Man”.
The boy pondered, until his older sister (I assume) joined in telling him “Yeah, girls can like Spider-Man too y’know!”.
With a satisfying sense of “Our work here is done”, we went on our way.
I often recall this incident. I hope every time my daughter wears superhero or Star Wars clothing, she is similarly influencing or subverting other children’s (and parents) ideas of what is and isn’t for girls.
She’ll be starting school in a few weeks, and she still needs to gain confidence in making new friends. Luckily, she knows 4 other girls in her class, but I am concerned she will find it too easy to just stick with them.
I’m encouraging her to venture outside her immediate social circle from time to time, but I’m not sure how effective I am being. I’ve asked her nursery to work with her a little on this in her final weeks there, as they have noted the same.
At the local playground, we bumped into one of the girls she knows, as I was explaining my concerns to the girl’s mother while they ran off and played.
With perfect timing, as I had just finished telling her, my daughter bounded over saying excitedly “Daddy, daddy, I’ve just made a new friend! This is James!”
Turns out they got talking because of her t-shirt – showing Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, and Black Widow. James is a fan of Iron Man. I encouraged my daughter to talk to him about the others. With practically a sigh, she said “I’ve already told him who they are daddy”.
The kids ran off and played. I was happy that our daughter’s confidence with people is rising – and hopefully this is one boy who will now assume ‘Superheroes are for girls too”.
One thing I’ve noticed happening from time to time is that when we meet men for the first time, and they see my daughter wearing a geeky t-shirt, they have a tendency to ask her about it.
The reactions vary – most think it’s cool. Some are actually jealous (“My wife would never let me dress my daughter in that”), but others are incredulous.
These men tend to test my daughter’s knowledge, by asking her who the characters are, possibly buying into the fake geek girlidea.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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 😉 )
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…
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 wassurely part of the problem – not the solution.
Yet, the recommendations kept on coming, from even the most feminist community members. Could it be true? Could My Little Pony – which in my mind typified the kind of content I was opposed to – really provide a substantive alternative to Disney Princesses?
So with some (many) reservations, one afternoon we took the plunge and watched it.
Is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic the princess alternative I’m looking for?
I couldn’t quite believe it. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a delightful, smart, funny, really well written & animated show – that most importantly treated its intended audience of young girls with respect and intelligence. I was rather gobsmacked. And an instant fan…
While it has the colours, the coiffed manes, the “cutie marks”, and the like from its 80s stablemate I was judging it from – it also has a ‘hip’ factor that really surprised me. But above all it is the core of distinctive female characters that make this show. There is a character here for everyone, but to be honest even the least favoured ones have endearing qualities.
Creator Lauren Faust was inspired by her love of the toys as a child, but how the cartoons of the 80s failed to live up to the adventures in her imagination and play. Well, this new incarnation is full of creativity and adventure.
The set up is this (some spoilers): Princess Celestia, ruler of Equestria sends bookish unicorn Twilight Sparkle to the town of Ponyville to study the magic of friendship. She forms bonds with cowgirl apple farmer Applejack, high-energy Rainbow Dash, party girl Pinkie Pie, animal lover Fluttershy, and fashionista Rarity.
It turns out each one represents one of the ‘Elements of Harmony’: Honesty, Loyalty, Laughter, Generosity, and Kindness. Twilight Sparkle is the last element – Magic. Also in the mix is Celestia’s sister Princess Luna, a dragon called Spike, and all sort of sub-characters and adventures…
It may sound confusing and/or convoluted – but my point in going through this is I think there’s real thought been put into setting the scene for female led tales of magic, adventure, and friendship.
Lauren Faust has admitted that while the show is riddled with pink, has princesses, and that she was somewhat at the behest of Hasbro’s needs to sell toys – she and her team tried to manage this with integrity and creativity. I think they succeeded brilliantly.
Isn’t My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic just a silly girly cartoon?
In an early defence of the show, creator Lauren Faust said:
“…many people without even watching the show (will) label it girly, stupid, cheap, for babies or an evil corporate commercial. I encourage skeptics like this to watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic with an open mind. If I’m doing my job right, I think you’ll be surprised.”
I would take issue with one thing she said – that labelling the show ‘girly’ is derogatory. Why? Perhaps one of Lauren Faust’s achievements is that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic helpsredefine the word ‘girly’ to no longer be an insult. ‘Girly’ should simply mean something that is of – or for – girls, and not judging because it is.
I have not mentioned the pony in the room – the brony. Male fans (of which I must now count myself) are collectively referred to as ‘Bronies’, and we are many. So while the show may have been made to for girls, this doesn’t mean that boys won’t like it either.
Is ‘My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic’ feminist?
Of course it’s feminist. Completely so. Unashamedly so. This is a show created by a woman, about female characters supporting each other, in a land ruled by a female, where the default for any additional character is female, in a show that absolutely doesn’t patronise the intended audience of little girls with an assumption of frivolous interests alone. Feminism – as well as friendship – is magic.
My wife commented on an episode the other day. It involved two ponies engaged in a sporting rivalry who faced off in a sporting tournament. She observed that when growing up she would NEVER have seen a cartoon or TV show where two female characters engaged in a testing physical sporting competition. She only ever saw males doing that. This is a show that resets the norm from the male default.
There are male characters (most notably Spike the baby dragon) but they are supporting cast – the norm is female. This is a cartoon that I cannot imagine has a single episode which doesn’t pass the Bechedel Test.
In many ways, the show reminded me of the cheery empowering tone of Amy Poehler’s Lesley Knope in Parks and Recreation – I think if Knope had a favourite cartoon, it would be My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
Lauren Faust’s involvement tailed off after season 1 (which we are currently watching). The reasons for Lauren Faust leaving My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic have never been made clear. Perhaps it was the struggles mentioned earlier – in trying to balance her desire to make a great show for girls with the desire for Hasbro to market the toys their way? Perhaps it was other ‘creative differences’.
I hope the adventurous empowering tone of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic continues in subsequent seasons. We shall definitely see, as my daughter and I are now hooked – so will continue watching the show despite Faust’s departure.
On a recent foreign holiday, we picked up our first MLP toys, something I NEVER thought I would happily buy for our daughter. My transformation to a Brony-dad of a daughter is complete.
NB: Subsequent to her time running MLP:FiM, Lauren Faust created the short lived DC Nation animated shorts Super Best Friends Forever, about the team up of Batgirl, Supergirl, and Wonder Girl. If you haven’t done so already – please watch the five episodes in all their glory here:
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.
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.
Disclosure: This is an unpaid collaborative post with Oxfam.
For more on International Women’s Day see their website.
Photos courtesy of Oxfam/Kieran Doherty
About ‘I Care About Her’
Alex is an ambassador of a project called I Care About Her which educates dads about gender inequality, domestic violence, rape and early marriage. He is one of around 20 men working to raise awareness in their communities by organising discussion groups and other activities.
The Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) has received funding support from Oxfam to implement the I Care about Her (ICAH) campaign in partnership with the Zambia Police, Zambia National Women’s Lobby Group, and Forum for Women Educationalist in Zambia since 2012.
The I Care About Her Campaign has emerged as a best practice in mobilising men and boys in preventing and ending gender based violence and has over the time of its implementation garnered massive support from men and boys from all walks of life.
Prevention of Violence against women and engaging men as agents of change is a necessary and strategic intervention in contributing towards eliminating this scourge. The Campaign has picked up momentum in creating a mass movement of men and boys taking action to create positive transformational attitudinal change that embrace gender sensitive norms which spurn violence as a means of resolving conflicts.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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 Lottieever 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?
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.
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.
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.
What’s our favourite Lottie doll? While I love anything that involves girls and superheroes, my joint top pick is Pirate Lottie. Society still tends to categorise Buccaneer iconography as a boy’s look, and this demonstrates that girls make awesome looking pirates too. My daughter likes dressing as one but doesn’t see many other girls doing that too. By simply playing with her Pirate Queen Lottie, she is reinforcing her confidence in her decision to dress up as a pirate too.
Being interested in science and technology. Dressing as a pirate and a superhero. These Lottie dolls can help inspire a new generation of girls to claim these traditionally boy interests as theirs too, and aspire to reach for the stars or sail the seven seas. Or simply to be happy with whatever you choose to be. In fact, her motto is ‘Be bold, be brave, be you’.
Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this piece, we did receive all the featured dolls and accessories free of charge.
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
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 Totoro, Kiki’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
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
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:
4. Katie Morag
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
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 TheClone 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. 🙂
Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels:
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.
Furby Connect review: Hasbro’s cute kawaii toy has come of age in this latest version with its increased interactivity, range of sounds, and brightly animated LCD eyes.
Our daughter has been regularly bugging us for 2 things, for what seems like forever – a baby sister, and a pet. To her great disappointment, we are not planning on having either. She also has a rich entourage of imaginary friends.
She clearly has a great desire to have some kind of pal at home with her, so when Hasbro sent us one of their new Furby Connect toys to review, I thought it would be a hit with her,
First impressions: Thankfully, despite being listed on their database as a girl, Hasbro sent my daughter a blue Furby – they also come in Pink, Purple (more hot pink), and Teal (greeny blue). So basically, blue and pink.
Batteries are not included. You have to unscrew the Furby from the packaging to get at the battery compartment (it takes 4xAA batteries). Be prepared – as soon as you put the batteries in, the Furby will come to life.
Yes, come to life. Despite the fact know this thing isn’t alive it’s difficult not to feel that it is. The Furby moves and wriggles when you touch it, talks to you in a kind of English-Furby patois, and most alarming of all is its eyes. The technical explanation is that they are animated full colour LCD screens, covered with motorised eye lids. However, the effect is of incredibly expressive eyes – the classic window to the soul.
However, as they are illuminated screens – in low light they can look downright spooky.
The Furby can start to act like a kid on too much sugar after a while. Like an overactive child needing to be removed from stimuli, the Furby can be put to sleep (not a euphemism) by placing the provided eye mask on. Alternatively, just leave it alone for a while. We put it to sleep while watching TV, because it just wouldn’t shut up.
It also gave me a surprise when it woke up – delivering an in-joke for Blade Runner fans…
I didn’t make it up btw – it actually said that….!
Be warned, if you’re easily offended by toilet humour you might want to stay out of earshot of this creature. It constantly – and loudly – farts and burps. My daughter and I find it more amusing than my wife.
This is called the Furby Connect because of the smartphone app you can link it too. We found this to be problematic, and continue to have issues with the app. It only works on one of our devices, and constantly crashes. When it is running, it often loses connection even when right next to the Furby.
To be honest, if you can avoid the app for the time being, I would recommend it. It’s a pain, seems full of in-app purchases, and – more than anything – why give the kids another reason to stare at a screen, especially when they have this pretty cool tactile toy to play with in reality.
Despite the fact it comes (so far) in variations of pink and blue, this is essentially presented as a gender neutral toy. My daughter says it’s a girl, but that tends to be her default for anything where the gender is unclear. I like that Hasbro are using both boys and girls to advertise it.
This toy isn’t cheap, but it is likely to be a hit with any kid. Our daughter has really taken to it. First thing in the morning she will wake it up. When she comes home from school, she will do the same. She laments that I spend more time with her Furby than she does.
Which is true. 🙂
Hasbro’s Furby Connect has a UK RRP of £99.99. We were sent this item free of charge for the purposes of this Furby Connect review.
The LEGO DUPLO Backhoe Loader is the perfect toy for any digger loving child – which let’s face it is pretty much every child.
Kids love diggers. It’s basically a fact. What’s also a fact is that this love is not the preserve of boys, as girls loves them too. Our daughter is always fascinated by them and what they are being used for when we see them while out and about.
There’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario with digger toys – do kids find them fascinating because they love the toy which leads to them loving the real life ones? Or are they interested in seeing real ones in action, which then leads to them loving the toys?
Truth likely includes either, or both – but there seem to be a few ways children connect with a construction toy such as this. There is the fascination with the mechanics of the completed model; There’s the interest in how it is put together & customised; And there is also imaginative play – acting out scenarios of what the digger, and the operator, are doing.
This LEGO DUPLO Backhoe Loader set offers the chance for children to engage with the toy in these multiple ways. The finished set has a digger with two shovels, plus and operator and various extra bricks for the building site.
I love how there are bricks printed with things that may be found in the ground of a digging site such as earthworms and even an animal skull! Most children will likely assume this to be a dinosaur. LEGO stop short of including an ancient human burial ground, but that would have been an authentic touch 😉
The set range is 2-5. For a child of the upper age range (like our 4-year-old daughter), this will offer less interest as a construction toy compared with LEGO Juniors or the next level. But it’s still a dependable way for them to build and play.
LEGO has improved greatly in including a mix of male and female characters in what used to be far more gender divided toys, but this set includes one male figure only. So my only real criticism is that I would have loved to have seen a female figure included too.
The LEGO DUPLO Backhoe Loader has an RRP of £12.99. We were sent a set free of charge for the purposes of this review.
The Power Surge Optimus Prime (with Aero Bolt Figure) is one of the latest incarnations of the famed robot-to-vehicle toy line.
The Transformers emerged in the 1980’s as part of a wave of toys that used cartoons to help sell them to kids (see also My Little Pony, and He-Man). They remain as popular as ever, thanks in part to the Michael Bay movie series, but also endless cartoon shows that continue to support new lines of merchandise. The latest cartoon is Transformers: Robots in Disguise, and features this particular toy version of Autobots leader Optimus Prime.
The figure comes with a couple of accessories – a sword, and most importantly the Mini-Con Aero Bolt Figure. This is what unlocks the various modes: robot mode, vehicle mode, flight mode, and Power Surge mode. Each mode has accompanying sounds and/or different elements unlocked within the figure.
The figure also unlocks features on the standalone app, by scanning the shield (which the Mini-Con figure converts to).
But what about the key aspect of the Transformers – transforming?
While my daughter really liked the idea of the robot turning into a truck, she seemed much more into the robot. I was a little disappointed about the transforming part of this toy. The vehicle seems more like an afterthought, as Optimus the truck is not a very convincing disguise.
I could be charitable and suggest that perhaps the mere 5 step transformation is easier for younger kids to master. Even then I don’t think it’s that simple, as it’s hard to tell what it’s supposed to look like. We finished and were like “Is that it?” Also, some bits seem to fall off rather easily – but at least this is better than them breaking.
However, the robot version looks awesome – like the cool Japanese style giant robot he’s supposed to be, with sword, shield and wings. And the sounds are kind of cool.
To be honest, I think at nearly £50, this is priced high for what it is – but the little Transformers fan in your life may disagree.
====== The Power Surge Optimus Prime, from Transformers: Robots in Disguise, has an RRP of £49.99. Recommended age is 5+, app 9+. We were provided with this toy free of charge for the purposes of this review.