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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STAR TREK™ & © 2015 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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.

Tara Binns – Books That Empower Little Girls to Dream Big

One of my issues with princesses has always been this. The role is not a career aspiration. I live in an actual monarchy, where there really are princesses, and there is even a possibility of our daughters becoming one. But I think we can all agree it’s a fairly narrow life path to target.

I suppose it’s a more realistic aspiration than being a superhero, but at least most of them have real jobs as journalists, lawyers, wealthy industrialists, Amazon princesses… er, where was I…?

Anyway, of the many characters aimed at children, male ones tend to be the only ones tied to a profession. Think Postman Pat, or Fireman Sam. Female characters are far more likely to be more fantastical.

In a clever twist, tying the two together, is the Tara Binns series. Created by Lisa Rajan and illustrated by Eerika Omiyale, these books have the tagline of “Giving Little Girls Big Ideas”. The format of each tale involves our eponymous girl hero playing dress ups in her attic, and being magically transported into a fantasy (or is it?) involving the profession one of her outfits.

Books that empower little girls, Tara Binns, female pilot, girl pilot
From ‘Tara Binns – Eagle-Eyed Pilot’ written by Lisa Rajan and illustrated by Eerika Omiyale

In Tara Binns – Eagle-Eyed Pilot, she suddenly becomes a jumbo jet pilot – in mid-flight – and quickly has to learn not only how the cockpit works, but also has to navigate a storm and wrestle with a moral dilemma involving old pirate treasure.

The next book is Tara Binns – Crash Test Genius, where she becomes an engineer who quickly learns how the application of science benefits us all, and is inspired to invent a new concept of her own.

Coming soon is Tara Binns – Double Choc Doc, where she has to deal with everyone’s winter nemesis – the common cold!

My 3-year-old daughter loves being read these books, and requests we revisit them regularly. She is full of questions about the professions themselves as well as the way Tara deals with the dilemmas and opportunities presented to her. She’ll often ask questions about them out of the blue, when we’re not even reading one. They have clearly made an impression, and an immensely positive one at that.

The prose is bright and snappy, and the illustrations whimsically delightful. Tara, as both herself and when she’s exploring her various professions, is a great role model. One that is thankfully a world away from fairy princesses.

These books would be terrific for any child – but parents of girls in particular may find these to be essential bookshelf additions.

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

Keep up to date with all the latest news about Tara Binns on Facebook and Twitter.

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Disclaimer: While I was not paid to write this review, we did receive these books free of charge.

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What profession would you like to see Tara Binns explore next? Please comment below.

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

“Girls Rule!” (Until They Grow Up)

Girls rule, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl, Girl Empowerment, Kids clothes, childrens clothes, tshirt, female superheroes, girl power, grrl power, tshirt, asda
“Girls Rule!” t-shirt, featuring Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl. (Photo courtesy of @UKToyCollector)

Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl all on the same kids t-shirt. As a geek dad it’s the kind of item I’m always on the lookout for. I don’t even mind (too much) that it’s pink. What’s troubling is the slogan, “Girls Rule!”. Because “Girls” don’t rule at all.

It’s a phrase synonymous with “Girl Power”, which probably has its origins in the Riot Grrrl feminist punk movement of the 90’s. While the progressive message of “Grrrl Power” was diluted when transformed into the safe and snappy commercial slogan “Girl Power” for 90’s pop phenomenon the Spice Girls, at least that version introduced many children to the notion of girl empowerment. However, the band also popularised the far more problematic “Girls Rule!”.

The girls who were fans of the band in the 90’s are now women in their twenties and thirties. What kind of world have they grown up in? Is it one where “Girls Rule”? The gender pay gap remains entrenched, and in the UK is even widening. Only 30% of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates in the UK are women, and just 17% of all professors in STEM are female. Both houses of UK parliament have only 23% women.

Globally, while there are high profile women in leadership roles at a corporate level, boards and executive committees remain 83%-96% male. The recent IMF report Fair Play: More Equal Laws Boost Female Labor Force Participation found that 90% of countries have at least one important gender based legal restriction. The UNDP states that “Gender inequality remains a major barrier to human development.

A slogan like “Girls Rule” seems little more than a lie in this context. It implies that women leaders are respected, listened to, and rewarded for their hard work, talent, and intelligence – when that is clearly not the case. Perhaps the slogan “Girls Rule!” was created as a way of hiding the sad reality of gender inequality.

The empowering messages we convey to our children are important, but they can easily backfire. As American comedian Sarah Silverman wryly observed, “Don’t tell girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. Because it would have never occurred to them that they couldn’t.”

Recent research on marketing to girls found that when “…girls hit the age of 13 they start to feel less confident and more worried about the world around them.” The reasons are unclear, but this would also be the time they experience the dawning revelation that the reality of being a woman, on the wrong side of the gender bias divide, isn’t quite how they imagined it would be when they were little girls.

Advertisers obviously know the power of a good slogan, and a source for a new girl empowerment one has come from an unlikely place. Always (makers of ‘feminine hygiene products’) found through their market research the same issue of girls suffering a significant drop in self-confidence around the time they hit puberty.

The company tried to address these feelings for an ad campaign, and a new slogan entered the girl empowerment lexicon – #LikeAGirl. They deftly took the former playground insult, and transformed it into plaudit. When you run like a girl, throw like a girl, fight like a girl – you are not doing it badly, you’re doing it incredibly. At least that’s the shift in meaning hoped for.

The fantasy of “Girls Rule!” seems tepid next to the optimistic reality of doing amazing things ‘like a girl’.

All I need now is to get THAT on a kid’s female superhero t-shirt.

Because little girls have big dreams of being superheroes too. #likeagirl

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I’m not going to pretend to my daughter that she’s growing up in a world where “Girls Rule”. She will have many challenges to face in life, and lying to her about them won’t help her deal with them.

But I’m buying Asda’s “Girls Rule!” t-shirt for her. Three awesome female superheroes, drawn in the classic retro style, on a kid’s sized top in the UK? Sold. I also want Asda to know that female superheroes sell too.

And my daughter can’t read. Yet.

What do you think about the slogan “Girls Rule”? Helpful, harmful or neither? Please discuss by commenting below, joining the conversation on the Facebook page, or on Twitter @manvspink.