The Women’s FA Cup and beyond: Empowering girls with football

Playing football has been a rite of passage for British boys for generations – whether at home, in school, at the park, or in the streets. But this has not been the case for girls – which is a shame, as we should be empowering girls with football. Continue reading The Women’s FA Cup and beyond: Empowering girls with football

Reinventing Princesses: The League of Extraordinary Ladies

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

4yo: “Played princesses.”

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

But I was curious, as I had a suspicion it might not be what I feared. Continue reading Reinventing Princesses: The League of Extraordinary Ladies

Female Empowerment: Raising a Confident Girl

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. Continue reading Female Empowerment: Raising a Confident Girl

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.

Empowering My Daughter via Star Trek and the Supermarket

I had a quiet moment of parental pride this week, and it was over something seemingly trivial.

As anyone with kids who shops at Waitrose will tell you, one of the most important parts of any shopping trip is the chance to pop in the green counters into their Community Matters box.

The supermarket donates £1,000 to 3 local charities or community groups each month, and the amount of counters in each box indicates the proportion each one will get.

What’s supposed to happen is that you choose the one you think should get the money. What I and many other parents of young kids do is give our sprog the counters and let them put them in whichever box they like. I figure they’re all deserving of a bit of overpriced Waitrose cash.

My daughter took her standard five counters, and was going through her process of divvying them up, when 3 older boys bundled over. They had spotted that one of the boxes was for their local school, and were excited to add to the counters.

Upon seeing that my daughter had a collection of counters to distribute, they proceeded to hector her into placing them where they wanted – namely their school.

My daughter has a tendency to back away for any potential conflict. At playground she will usually let anyone waiting to go on the slide ahead of her. In playgroups, if anyone tries to take a toy from her, she will let them have it. When it comes to songs, she will back away from the instrument box until everyone else has taken one (with only crap ones left).

Letting people go first, and have things they want, is in many ways a positive. I’m pretty strict on manners, and when we have playdates or guests, I make sure she realises that their needs come first – so if they want to play with a toy, they can. If they want to do something else, they can. Our role as host is to make them feel happy and comfortable. It’s worked, as she is great when we have people over.

But this is just for when we have guests. In life, she also needs to put her own needs first from time to time. She needs to be selfish.

The dilemma of embracing our ‘bad’ side reminded me of a classic Star Trek episode (geek alert!) when Kirk is separated into good and evil versions.

While the ‘bad’ Kirk was running amok on the ship, acting on his uninhibited aggression, ‘nice’ Kirk was being… nice, like he normally is. Only he begins to realise he needs the aggressive side of him to be an effective Captain of the Enterprise. Sometimes. we need our ‘bad’ side to do good. It’s a story that’s stayed with me since I was a kid.

So while I teach my daughter that being selfish is wrong, for her to be empowered she needs at least a dash of selfishness, ego, aggression, and any number of other less seemingly desirable traits. It’s a nuance that I feared would be lost on a pre-schooler.

So it was with great pride that I saw her stand her ground with the 3 older boys. Under repeated badgering from them to do what they wanted, she simply said “No thanks” and put the counters where she wanted – which included the collection for their school.

Afterwards, she relayed the event to me finishing with “They tried to tell me what to do, but I don’t have to do what they tell me.”

Further discussion emanated from that. Adding to the nuance, I followed up by explaining that it’s ok for them – or others – to try and persuade you to do something. But if you don’t want to do it, then you don’t have to.

It is a lesson that is incredibly important for the rest of her life, encompassing moral & ethical dilemmas, sexual consent, workplace bullying, and more.

There’s a quote attributed to Louis CK (whether correctly or not) that we’re not raising children, but the adults of tomorrow. I want my daughter to grow up to be what sounds on paper like a mass of contradictions – sensitive and assertive, strong and tender, humble and confident.

I have no real idea how to achieve this, but I’m trying my best. In the meantime, I have also learned from writing this that while I adore the thrill and adventure of Star Wars, perhaps I need to show my daughter some classic Star Trek too.

Kirk out.

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