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Editing my daughter’s life chances (er, or her Fairy Tales at least)

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I joked once about how we have changed the words to “This Little Piggy went to market” – creating a more liberal, less Capitalist version. We did that with vegetarian tongue firmly in hippy cheek but as Ramona grows older I find myself doing it with quite a few things and intentionally too. I’ll sometimes change the gender of the leading boy characters in books, and will improvise the fate of the girl in the fairy tale (“She went on to be the President of the Free World…”)

I am fairly committed to giving Ramona a sense that she can do or be anything, be it a poet, a plumber or a Prime Minister. I feel as if there could be a way of providing a foundation of opportunity for her, even though the stats are stacked against her.

Little minds start whirring young, eh? Interpreting the world, and people, and their roles.  The next door neighbour toddler lads throwing our ball back over in disgust because it dared to have poor pink Peppa Pig on it. The boys in the playground telling Ramona she can’t kick, as she is a girl.

As if those interactions aren’t shaping her enough, I then snuggle in bed and read her yet another book with some naff sacrificial role for the lady, while the men fight for justice, but because I am a bit sleepy I can’t be bothered to ad-lib it. Tonight it was a story about a daughter being sent to marry an evil giant and she didn’t want to go.  “No Go” Ramona kept repeating, jabbing her finger at the girl, as if she could see how unfair it was. Whoah. She is totally getting this storyline. “She went because she was brave!” I began adlibbing again.

And then when she drifted off I got the paper, pens and glue out and fixed the tale right up.

Some pages needed the odd word, and others whole paragraphs. The patriarchy won’t catch me snoozing again!

I know, I know. It’s only minor. But isn’t life mostly just a collection of small stuff, layered on top of each other, gently kneading who we are and what we think and what we do? Ramona’s not going to think women are just the weak bystanders, guileless love interests, not on my watch. Not on your nelly.

How do you make sure your kids grow up with a strong sense of gender equality and justice?

PS Some cool Tweet mates have created an awesome reading list- so if you are out to buy a feminist friendly story check here first!


40 responses »

  1. Love this post. Because a few days ago I was thinking exactly the same, but about the immensely popular Julia Donaldson books. In the ‘Smartest Giant’, the only female character is a mother (the sailor, camper, walker etc are all obviously male). In ‘Squash and Squeeze’ the female character is a silly old lady who defers to a “wise old man”. However! I’ve found that any Usborne book makes a really really good bash at reflecting more balanced gender roles. In their ‘Thousand Words in (foreign language) they show a kitchen scene where its the man doing the dishes or in ‘Little Dragon’ its the girl who confronts the dragon. In their little mini books, one of which is ‘We go Camping’ (or something like that) its the girl again who confronts whatever is hanging outside the tent and scaring her and her brother. I love this!

    • Oh my goodness, of course, i hadn’t even thought about Donaldson’s books this way as too busy thinking how ace they are in other respects, booooo! Sadness! I am going to write to her.
      We have a version of the Three bears, where the daddy makes the porridge, the mum fixes the chairs and Goldilocks goes off to slay dragons 🙂

  2. Like it. I have a five year old Disney princess ( the iPad has automatically put Disney with a big d)….she loves them, any thing with a princess in ….. I don’t remember the time when she watched the first one, but I wish she hadn’t.

  3. Love this post. And what you say about life being a little collection of small stuff layered on top of each other is very true. Every little way you can confound the gender stereotyping (and other restrictive stuff) is good.

  4. I completely agree. This stuff isn’t minor at all, it’s the sea your girl will swim in.

    I’ve found A Mighty Girl a good resource:

    I also hate how in so many kids’ songs – even new ones (or ones I didn’t know growing up) – the default is that all characters will be male. Our playgroup does one about five little aliens, who are all ‘he’, and every frog or sheep in a song is a boy. And how many teddy bears have girls’ names?

    I like your editing! Thanks for this!

    PS I found your blog through my friends Dave and Michelle C in New Plymouth, and have been subscribing and linking to you ever since. Thanks for all the hard work you put in!

    • Oh thanks for that link, I look forward to having a grand old scroll through. Thanks for your comment and for reading too, Dave and Michelle are the best eh?! So inspiring.

  5. Loved this blog, especially after all the discussion regarding gendered marketing and stereotyping last week. I used to work for Child’s Play, so may be a little biased, but can I recommend some of their Flip-Up Fairy Tales for good gender balance?
    Three Little Pigs – The third pig is female
    The Frog Prince – The princess and the frog become friends rather than get married
    Aladdin – The princess and Aladdin actually get to know each other before deciding whether they want to get married
    The Little Mermaid – The mermaid is fascinated by the land, rather than the prince
    The Magician’s Apprentice – The magician is female
    Donkey Skin – The princess has ambitions to explore the world

    They aim to challenge gender stereotypes through the books they publish so it’s worth checking out the First Time and Helping Hands, Little Drivers and Little Explorers series, as well as picture books such as Star Gazers, Skyscrapers and Extraordinary Sausages.

    And check out Letterbox Library for more fabulous books that promote equality.

  6. My husband and I had this discussion the other day on gender equality. It seems to be a running topic since giving birth to our little girl (12 weeks ago today) *cue the Awww’s* I’m determined that Mila will grow up knowing that she to is capable to being or doing anything. One thing that struck me when I found out I was pregnant was how everything from clothes, books, toys, COLOURS! Hello…COLOURS!!!! Are gender specific. I have a real issue with this…that I cant walk into a supermarket without there being an aisle of blue stuff and an aisle of pink stuff. Its not that I’m adverse to either but I have an issue with the fact that our babies are defined especially in these early days by the colours they wear. “But how will people know if you’ve had a girl or a boy then? You dont want them having to ask, its embarrassing for you both” (genuine conversation) Ehh, no actually its not. Well atleast it isnt for me or for Mila. Babies when they’re born tend to look like, well, babies, not really like boys or girls just yet. So I personally have no issue with people asking or guessing wrong. It really is no biggy!

    Yeh gender equality is a constant topic of conversation in our house and one which I never realised I felt SO strongly about until becoming a mummy. I want Mila to grow up knowing she can be more than just the princess in a fairytale. Your right, it all the little things, all the layers and as a parent there are SO many layers!

    (Thanks for another great post Lucy and for sharing the ‘stuff’ in your life.)

    • Yes, yes, yes! That’s why I was so astonished at the recent Netmums poll where only one in seven identified with feminism- for me it became so much more apparent once I was a mother?
      Look forward to hearing how you deal with it… 🙂

    • Oh gosh…I HATE the color stereotypes especially since originally PINK was a masculine color and BLUE was feminine. Even as recent as Lady and the Tramp…that baby of Jim Dear and Darling is a boy and he is in pink long johns (no diaper by the way when he starts crawling). I can’t stand the rows and rows of pink in teh “girl” section, nor the drab, dull, borning, dark uninspired colors in most of the “boy” sections. Why do the boys get the puppies and dinosaurs, and the girls get the flowers and kittens!? The most beautiful birds are male, there are male flowers, and brightly painted male butterflies. Man…it really chaps my ass (to quote a movie.)

      • Yes, re the colours. When we were young everyone was in browns and oranges and multi colours. Now you have to look incredibly hard to try and find any thing that both a boy or girl could wear. Ramona is mostly in hand me downs, so the extreme pink girls stuff goes to the charity shop, and more often than not she is in her cousin’s very boy-style clothes. Her favourite is a tee that says “chairman of the board” hehehe

  7. Love this. We try to be careful with our language – not calling our daughter anything we wouldn’t call our sons and vice versa. We give them all snuggles and cuddles and rough and tumble. We’re also yet to buy a single ‘girl toy’ – we’ll see how that goes!
    I also know that we’re probably not as aware of the subtle things as we should be – must try harder!
    Would recommend ‘The Night Pirates’ as a fun non-sexist read.

  8. What a good post, you dont realise how sexist some stories really are. Mind you my daughter likes playing with the boys skateboard, so maybe I have another star in the making!!!! We just call her wee splat, as we have a little splat and a big splat. And I have to say when willow was a baby I liked to dress her in light blue as it suited her blue eyes. Why on earth people say lemon and white are safe colours, it just means they are boring!!!!!! Even my Teenage son wears pink t-shirts!!!!
    There is a lot of sexism about and its about time we turned the tables!!!!

    • Colours are another small thing that is actually fairly significant, potential to be so limiting and also repressive for boys and girls who like the “wrong” color.

  9. have you seen Baby Boom? with Diane Keaton. The idea that a generation of girls growing up had been told to marry drs and lawyers and instead grew up to become drs and lawyers. The idea that you couldn’t be a high powered business women and be a mum? well she prooved them all wrong when quite out of the blue she inherits a toddler she has never met! during the film she reads A sleeping beauty to her little girl and changes the ending to “thanks for waking me up. Lets make a date to meet back here after graduation” fits perfectly with what you are doing 🙂 I think thats the way to go 🙂

  10. There is a great book I’m sure you and your daughter will love. It’s called “The Paper Bag Princess” by Robert Muncsh. Not often seen as he is a Canadian writer, but available if you search, even at the library. The princess fights the dragon, saves the prince, then refuses to marry him, because he’s “a bum.” That was the only word I ever had to change! My children were bought up on his stories. (I have Canadian cousins who passed them on from their children) Hope you enjoy it.

  11. Ramona is maybe to young for it, but have you got any Babette Cole. And in particular “Princess Smartypants” – turns the whole Princess thing upside down. She’s great, we love her.

  12. as the child of two feminists and the mother of two I totally agree. luka is obsessed with choosing the ccharacter “[I] will be” in stories…it’s always a female and usually pathetic. I make a point of choosing to be someone male / old etc to.combat her preference for young and female… but that doesn’t fix the female/pathetic relationship. we read a great one about two wee toothfairies but I can’t remember who the author was?! lots of people can’t handle when I refuse the extreme gendering” – it gets really exhausting!!! it’s sneaky, endemic and totally disruptive …

  13. Now here is a spanner in the works. A friend of mine, slightly older than me (I am 42, so I am guessing late 40s), said that we were told by our mothers in the late 60’s, early 70s that we could be anything we want to be (because that was the start of the breaking down of gender specific jobs as they knew it). It turns out, the choice was too dazzling so many of us chose to to be ‘nothing’ at all, and that is why our generation is know as the first generation with no work ethic. True or false? I doubt its 100% true, but still, I wonder about it from time to time.

    • Hmmm. Controversial!
      On the other hand, your generation are being current role models in new industries, business, balancing parenting and careers. Just not enough of you able to break through glass ceiling yet….

      • Its going to take a long time for things to even out. I just wrote a blog post in response to some slightly negative comments on Facebook about my 3 year old son being dressed as a witch and also Velma from Scooby Doo. Someone helpfully suggested I buy him a superman outfit (remember this is from family). If we are talking about gender equality and also in context to Ramona’s stories I think there is a long way to go for some people 😦

  14. Thank you so much for your blog, for talking about stuff that just doesnt usually get a platform, even amongst mothers. I had seriously begun to doubt my own convictions, My little one is 13 months and I relate to everything folk are saying here. She has very little amounts of very blonde hair and I dress her in lots of blue, and nearly every stranger refers to her as a boy. I really don’t mind except that -why? Why do they assume she is a boy cos she doesn’t wear pink and why should I dress her in pink just so other people can tell she’s a girl?
    When I get really gender specific toys, I give them away, I am sure my family think I am highly strung, I recently asked that Millie not be bought a doll as I can’t stand the fact that they are ALL ( unless anyone can recommend one I haven’t seen) dressed in pink, i wanted to make her one, but she has been bought one anyway. ( and btw why do kids need quite so many toys anyway….?)
    My biggest thanks though has to be for the breast feeding stuff i have found since reading this post, am just this week weaning Millie off, admittedly mainly due to the comments I receive nearly constantly. I have been told stuff like i must have only water left and I should give her a nice bottle. I have read your posts and been close to tears, as BF is the best thing I have ever done and I love being so close to my baby, but I cannot believe how much negativity that breeds! I co sleep for part of the night every night and that also gets some interesting comments.
    Anyway, before being too negative, I just wanted to say how happy your posts and the comments on here have made me feel, even if this particular post also makes me angry!
    Claire x

    • Thanks for your comment : ) I totally get it, it’s so, so sad that doing the thing that comes most naturally can receive such derision. It makes it hard to do the intuitive thing. But you are doing best by you and your baby by following your instincts. Keep going!
      Have a breastfeeding post due… on weaning actually. Would love to hear your thoughts when it comes… x

  15. Ps sorry for the long rant 🙂 you can read and delete, just wanted to thank you! C x

  16. I love that you edit the books- fantastic!

  17. My Daughter got called a lovely little boy today in the doctors!!!! As she was wearing her camos and her Red hoddie!!!! That made me boil and even the Doctor said what a lovely little boy you have, Are you hoping for a little sister! She then turned round and said how many Boys do you know Williow Sennia!!!! That shut her up!

    • Hehehe, love that she is boldly letting them know. Ramona has whole days when no one will know she is a girl. Sometimes I like her looking like a boy at the park as it means more boys will play with her, which is sad.

  18. Pingback: Favourite posts this week - Bake 'n' Shake

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