This is a crucial year for our daughter. She turned 4 in January, and that means she will be starting school in September.
For her birthday this year, one of the presents I chose for her was the anime Wolf Children. From director Mamoru Hosoda (who also made Summer Wars, The Girl Who Lept Through Time, and the forthcoming The Boy and the Beast), it’s a wonderful fantastical coming of age tale, that has become one of our daughter’s favourite films.
Thematically, it has much in common with our Studio Ghibli favourite, My Neighbour Totoro. But the tone is skewed older as the plot progresses into more challenging areas.
One of them is the way the children of the title – a pair of half wolf/human siblings – find their place in the world, making choices based on their background of mixed heritage. For the sister, she becomes focussed on the need to fit in with her female peers.
Her struggle is whether to adopt more traditionally ‘girly’ interests, in order to fit it – because she has a fundamental instinct driven desire to find her own ‘pack’.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m troubled by the marketing directed towards girls. That it focuses on appearance over achievement, that topics become gendered at a very young age so the likes of STEM are seen as masculine pursuits before they even start school. That passive princesses rather than active adventure heroes are seen by everyone from parents to retailers as default role models for girls.
But most of our daughter’s female peers engage with these brands, compared to the handful of girls we have encountered who like Star Wars or superheroes.
While I advocate for non-traditionally ‘girly’ media and merchandise, I also don’t want to overly restrict my daughter’s ability to socialise with other children. She needs to feel confident in her choices, to give her the ability to find her own way in the mass of messaging directed at her. To find her own pack.
We’re currently on a big trip, involving multiple long haul flights, and we’ve relied on the vast library of inflight entertainment available for a 4-year-old to watch on 12 hour flights.
Browsing the kids section, our daughter chose the Disney cartoon Sofia the First. She had never seen it before. I took some heart in this choice. I had read that the creators were looking to make a show with a more progressive princess.
This is true to a certain extent, but it still has the same sparkles, colours, and royalism – as well as frequent guest stars of familiar (to her) Disney Princesses – such as Ariel, Merida, and Cinderella. She quickly became a bit obsessed, and watched dozens of shows on flights & 2am jet lag induced Netflix sessions. I have since characterised it as a bit of a Disney Princess gateway drug.
Ever since she has been much more interested in looking ‘pretty’. This used to be countered by saying whatever she was wearing was pretty – while also stressing that being pretty isn’t important. Well, that’s not working as well anymore, as she has a clear idea that a) it is important, and b) of what she thinks is pretty – and it generally doesn’t involves leggings and a t-shirt.
So in the spirit of letting her choose what she wants to wear, I just had to suck it up. As we’re travelling, the options were limited, and it seems to be wearing off a little. We’ll see how that develops when we return home.
On one of the flights, I was happily surprised to find The Force Awakens available, and I admit I was slightly disappointed that she had no interest in watching it. Despite my thinking that perhaps a 5th viewing (for me) might be excessive, I simply couldn’t resist, while my daughter continued on with her viewing.
Part way through, my daughter tapped on my arm. “Daddy, I want to watch The Force Awakens like you”. Yes, there was a geek dad surge of joy in my heart, so I put the movie on for her.
As we’d started the movie at different times, our viewing was out of sync with each other. At the same moment I was watching THE scene between Han and Kylo Ren, while on my daughter’s screen Han’s ship was being piloted in spectacular fashion by the new young female hero, Rey. Out with the old, in with the new.
I can’t force my daughter to like Star Wars, nor do I wish to. I know she loves it for now, but that could easily change and I have to be ok with that. I’ve done my best to offer up alternatives to the usual content directed at girls, but by the time she gets to school she needs to find her own way. I have to be ok if she chooses Princesses and ponies over Jedi and superheroes.
Actually, I have no issue with ponies any more. After many followers recommendations, we have just started watching My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic on Netflix – and I agree, it’s really good.
On this trip, she has met her slightly older cousin for the first time (well, since she was a baby). They have got on great, and our daughter looks up to her already. Her cousin is very into princesses, and my daughter is already asking for a pink tiara like she has. However, they have also bonded over a shared interested in My Little Pony. But we’ve also introduced lightsabers into her playtime repertoire. Pony Princesses with lightsabers sounds pretty cool to me.
So in conclusion, here’s Star Wars reenacted by MLP 🙂
Main picture by “rainbowdashjedi’ by roguedarkjedi