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

International Women’s Day: 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.
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Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

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

Miso Eggs and Udon Noodles with Chilli Recipe

This dish had become the breakfast of choice for my daughter and I, and we’ll have it 2-3 times a week.

We kind of made it up ourselves, and it was born from solving a problem: Despite our daughter generally being a very unfussy eater, eggs were something she didn’t like – whether fried, scrambled, boiled or as an omelette.

This was annoying because I really liked eggs for breakfast, and is was also a really convenient joint breakfast. While I could still make them for myself, making separate breakfasts for you & your toddler is a real pain. So how to get her to eat eggs again?

I was probably inspired by this recipe for Miso Scrambled Eggs, but the eggs in this dish are not scrambled – more they are a thickening agent for the sauce to bind it all together. Y’know, like the force.

This dish has been great for a) Enabling us to have a convenient and tasty joint breakfast of eggs, b) Getting her to eat chilli*, c) Getting her to eat with chopsticks**.

Serves: 1 adult and 1 toddler/preschooler 

Ingredients

  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 small red chilli/tsp chilli flakes
  • portion Udon noodles
  • sachet/portion of miso
  • 3 eggs

Method

  1. Cook noodles as per packet instructions.
  2. In a large frying pan, fry the chilli on a low heat.
  3. In a bowl, mix miso with a little water. Add eggs, and lightly whisk.
  4. Pour egg & miso mixture into the pan, then add drained noodles.
  5. This is the crucial part. This needs to gradually thicken into a sauce, not cook into scrambled eggs. Start on a low heat, then whack it up for short blasts of high to get it going. Keep stirring all the time, to make sure the eggs cook evenly.
  6. Divide into bowls (we go 2/3 adult, 1/3 child) and serve immediately.
  7. Eat with chopsticks (but it’s ok to use you finger to get the last bits of sauce from the bowls).

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*How to get your kid to eat chilli

As a kid – and even a young adult – I never ate chilli. I hated it. Didn’t see the point of it. But once I finally embraced it, I loved it and realised what I’d been missing. So when I had a kid, I knew I wanted to get this chilli indoctrination out of the way early.

So I started gradually at about 2. It clearly wasn’t pleasant for her, but I offered an incentive – a piece of chocolate afterwards. And eventually, she stopped asking for the chocolate and started to enjoy it. One time, I forget to put chilli in this, and she got very upset, crying “ButI want the tingle!”

I also championed the soothing power of eating chilli when you have a cold, and she agreed. Now she requests chilli in her food whenever she has a cold.

**How to get you kid to eat with chopsticks

This was also something I learned late in life, so I wanted to try and get my kid in the habit early. Easier said than done I though, but I had a great ally in the films of Studio Ghibli.

These Japanese animated movies have frequent scenes of people eating with chopsticks, so I merely encouraged her to eat with chopsticks like her favourite characters in My Neighbour Totoro, Whisper of the Heart, etc. and this was motivation enough. She is now completely at ease using them.

It also helps to have an awesome pair of Lightsaber chopsticks, that we picked up in Japan. My daughter and I take turns in who gets to use them. 🙂

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For another toddler friendly noodle dish, also see my Teriyaki Udon Noodles with Chilli and Egg Recipe.

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Win a Cross Marvel Tech2 Collection Pen worth £30

The movie Captain America: Civil War pits Cap against Iron Man in a long brewing conflict that began in The Avengers in 2012. It also features the first appearance of Spider-Man as part of the official Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

To celebrate this exciting cinematic event which sees these iconic characters together on the big screen for the first time, CROSS have created this set of three special pens, inspired by the trio of heroes Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man, and we have an Iron Man one to give away (RRP £30). The Tech2 series of pens are finished in a shiny metallic lacquer, which probably makes the Iron Man one the most appropriate!

The pens are dual use – they are a ballpoint as well as a stylus pen for use on touchscreen technology.

My daughter loves to draw on our iPad, and this pen will be a useful way for kids (and adults) to use drawing, colouring, and painting apps in a more effective and satisfying way than just using their fingers.

For your chance to win an Iron Man Marvel Tech2 Pen, please enter the giveaway below using as many of the options as you wish.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’ve been a Marvel Comic fan since before I could read, and my favourite superhero has always been Spider-Man. As a child I identified with him because like me he was a shy and insecure, but it was empowering that he grew into a confident, smart, and selfless adult. His origin, involving his own selfishness leading to the death of his de facto father Uncle Ben, has always resonated as a great morality tale.

Because I love the character so much, CROSS were kind enough to send me one of their Tech2 ballpoint & stylus pen Spidey pens (they also have the evolutionary Century II rolling ball style that retails for £95).

The Cross Marvel collection can be purchased online at www.cross.com and at select retailers. You can access the online store locator for more detail

This is a sponsored post.

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Which one of these three superheroes featured in Captain America: Civil War is your favourite and why? Please comment below.

 

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Pinkie Pie Slumber Party Bedroom Set and Cartoon Review

We were mistakenly sent this My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Minis Pinkie Pie Slumber Party Bedroom Set.

We have recently discovered the awesomeness of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (FiM). I was keen to check out some of the toys and we were supposed to be reviewing one with the FiM version of Pinkie Pie – however we received this one instead.

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls - Pinkie Pie Slumber Party Bedroom Set packaging

We hadn’t watched the Equestria Girls spin-off yet – and to be honest, I wasn’t keen to. The concept transforms the familiar FiM pony characters into girls at High School, and seems similar to many other tween properties – including issues surrounding the sexualisation of young girls.

But despite communicating my lack of enthusiasm, they were still keen for us to review the toy. Before we did I thought we should at least check out the tie-in cartoon, which – like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic – is available on Netflix.

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls review

The My Little Pony: Equestria Girls cartoon is currently a series of feature length TV movies. A direct spin-off from Friendship is Magic, the set-up involves Twilight Sparkle and Spike heading through a mirror portal to another world, to retrieve her stolen crown – or else the elements of harmony that protect Equestria will no longer do so. This will either sound crazy or as expected depending of how much FiM you have watched.

This ‘other world’ is much like ours, with human-like characters and a high school setting. Twilight Sparkle and Spike respectively transform into human and dog versions of themselves and undertake a mission to find the crown. The thief is masquerading as a girl at a local high school, and human Twilight finds it populated with some familiar faces from Equestria – only now they’re human.

This first film (of three) is made and voiced by the same team as Friendship is Magic – and many of the things I love about that show are present: the focus on female friendships; the magic and adventure theme; the individual characters.

But by almost literally humanising the characters, something special has been lost. While fairly true to their pony versions, they now have real-world high school interests. This concept limits the characters, so for instance instead of the colourfully adventurous speed freak Rainbow Dash (our favourite), she becomes simply a sporty type instead.

But most troubling, the look of the characters – while being on the surface coyly cute – seems deliberately sexualised. All the girls have the same combo of short skirts, long bare legs, and tight fitting tops. The relative conformity of their look reminds me of the peer pressure to dress a certain way – which increasingly for young girls can involve a move towards sexualisation and objectification, whether they realise it or not.

As well as what they wear, the plots also include boys, parties, and music. The trappings of modern Tween mass media overwhelm much of what makes Friendship is Magic such a great show for kids. I also can’t help but think that the rise of the Brony – the young males who are enthusiastic MLP fans – has in some way influenced this sexualised schoolgirl look.

It’s fair to say the enthusiasm I had for Friendship is Magic has not been replicated towards Equestria Girls.

So, on to the toy….

My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Minis – Pinkie Pie Slumber Party Bedroom Set

The toys are of course the real reason this spin-off line exists. This set is one of the  Equestria Girls Minis – as their name suggests, they are smaller than the standard sized dolls. The sexualised look is not quite as obvious in these smaller versions.

My Little Pony Equestria Girls Minis figures dolls
My Little Pony Equestria Girls Minis from the packaging artwork.

If your kid (or you) is a fan of the Equestria Girls series, and especially the teenage girl version of Pinkie Pie, then this is a fine set to get.

It features a posable figure of Pinkie Pie, the high school party planner. As befits the slumber party scene, she is dressed in PJ’s with slippers. The playset features numerous essential slumber party accessories such as a bed, a laptop, and smartphone…

Who are My Little Pony: Equestria Girls for?

Other than my suspicion of appealing to the Brony market, perhaps this spin-off does serve another purpose?

Obviously, it’s an attempt to sell more My Little Pony toys, probably to an older market. But I can also see it as a way of continuing engagement with the themes and ideals of Friendship is Magic when children get older, and the focus of their lives changes from childhood fantasy to pre-teen high school reality.

So as the trappings of impending teenage life – such as how they dress, forming intimate relationships, and navigating the school hierarchy & cliques – takes over, it could continue to encourage and reinforce the positive messages of Friendship is Magic.

But for now Equestria Girls is not something I will encourage my pre-school daughter to engage with, whether onscreen or through play. We’ll happily stick to life in Equestria and the residents of Ponyville.

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Disclosure:

We received this toy free of charge (and in error). After watching the cartoon, I decided not to give it to my daughter for the purposes of this review.

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.
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Family Fever