How Can Our Kids Be Safe In Their Exploration of Broader Roles Beyond the Mainstream?
This morning, as I drove my daughter to daycare, an outdoor ‘bush’ kindy where she is allowed to be outside all day long and get as messy as she likes, she spotted a giant advert on a bus of a little girl doing indoor ‘clean’ play, wearing a dress and pigtails, and following the teacher’s directions, and said, “Mum, I want to look like that girl.”
It seemed fairly innocent. It was a fairly neutral perspective to take. She was just spotting a dress that she liked. Perhaps the pigtails. Perhaps the nice clean spaces somehow drew her too. I allow her to dress as she pleases. Depending on the day and her mood, sometimes in dresses, sometimes in boy’s pants, sometimes in superhero capes, or wearing fairy wings.
I am a self-confessed natural learning advocate. Yet, I follow a balanced perspective. We live in a consumerist culture after all. And I live in the middle of suburbia.
So, I allow her to play with what and where she pleases as much as possible. If she wants to go to the beach we go, she plays with boys and girls toys, she plays with bits of wood and leaves and flowers, sand, and she’s allowed to like whatever she likes and ask and even get it. Her Dad is all up on the toys and doesn’t hold back.
Yes. She is at an age where she is exploring perspective, role play, becoming other characters, and eventually integrating those other perspectives. And if an image of a ‘character’ from an advert is so hard for her to miss and live up to and follow, so freaky deeky gargantuan, and displayed over and over and over again all around her in real life and in media, then geez, yes, she will surely become THAT character if not given other options.
How will she grow into the barely existent images of girls wearing clothes other than dresses. Playing with toys other than dolls? Objects other than toys? Girls and boys roaming the countryside, messy and natural? Where is that imagery? Or why isn’t as prevalent?
I hope to all hell that when she grows up she will eventually want to look like and be like the empowered females that the media and society haven’t emphasised as much.
The image of the girl playing in mud, on farms, getting messy, exploring scientific experiments, riding a bike down a ramp, climbing trees.
The image of the woman as the central character, in positions of leadership, wearing a t-shirt instead of a bikini, taking a backflip off the jetty alongside her brother, getting messy, getting loud, getting free.
Since everywhere, especially in popular stories and nursery rhymes for children, it is super easy for young children to find female characters who are passive, disempowered, not in respected roles, or, if they are, to be subtly criticised for this. And so so super hard to find titles of books where the girls are empowered and creating amazing opportunities for themselves, the central character.
Even in ‘real life’, this can be the case, though this is thankfully changing. More and more women are leaving corporations where sexism is still subtly the case. Where you have to act like a man to make it in a man’s world. Where more and more women are becoming entrepeneurs for themselves and making a killing doing so.
Not to say the little girl in the pigtails and dress wasn’t an empowered character. She is after all at school, and learning, which goes above and beyond what’s allowed in many countries that still don’t allow girls to go to school.
But, we aren’t in the 1950’s anymore. Let’s bring on some variation in the way we perceive our women and girls.