I’m in Toys R Us with my five year old daughter looking for a superhero figure. We walk around and I’m feeling proud that my girl prefers playing with superheroes rather than Barbie dolls, when it suddenly hits me, (as we pass the third superman stand), that surely we should be getting a FEMALE superhero if were really going ‘girl power’ on this’. So off we go to find the girls’ superhero section (which is already a bit annoying to have to do), only you know what? There’s no such thing.
I’m in this massive store that literally has every type of toy under the sun, and all I can find are exactly THREE female superhero dolls. More ironically, all three of them are TINY compared to the male ones. Perhaps this is because five year old boys’ hands are so much larger than girls’ hands at that age? I think not.
This gets me annoyed. Like, really annoyed, so that night I do some research. I Google ‘female superheroes’ and at first I am happy to find there are quite a few. But looking at the pictures of these so-called ‘strong women’ another sad reality starts sinking in – they were all sexy.
Nearly every single one of them is wearing what looks like a swimming costume or a padded bra. They all have massive boobs, big plump lips, curvy figures and the tiniest waists I have ever seen. In short – in the battle of Barbie v Wonder Woman, they really are both the same shit, just in a different bra.
After that experience I asked myself what all of this could be telling girls that actually want to play with these characters and what I have come up with are two of the most depressing answers ever.
Firstly, that being sexy is part of these characters’ superhero powers. Unlike the male superheroes who have powers that have nothing to do with their sexuality, the female ones are all sex from the top of their perfect hair to the tips of their stilettos. You don’t see Super Man running around half naked do you? Of course not. He is fully dressed in a great suit which although tight is hardly raunchy, whereas the girls look like Victoria Secret models who have all forgotten to get dressed.
Secondly, the lack of options and the fact that the female dolls are slightly crap compared to the guys, does tell girls that playing ‘superheroes’ is not really for them and that they are better off sticking to dolls and Barbies cos that’s what girls are supposed to be into. I mean walk into any toy shop and tell me this is not true. Most stores are even divided into girl/ boy sections, telling kids from such an early age what’s ‘appropriate’ for them to play with.
It’s 2016 for fucks sake, how is this still happening?
The way I see it is that I am raising three girls, each a world of qualities, a combination of silly, smart, funny, loving creators, whom I adore. Although they are very different from each other – one likes to dance, the other ‘bends it like Beckham’ and the third one pulls the funniest faces I have ever seen, they all have one thing in common which is curiosity.
This is what makes them want to try out new things. They all want to experience things, have FUN, and I think this is the nature of most children isn’t it? You’re born, you’re clueless, you want to learn, you try things out, it’s called ‘life’.
If you think about it, then you will see how this basic nature most kids share is totally ‘gender free’. In fact, if you really think about it, you will realise that when we are born, we ARE in fact ‘gender free’. Because actually ‘gender’ is not a biological thing.
So when a three year old boy tries on a princess dress, it’s nothing more than an experience. He does not see this act as something inappropriate, strange, or different or even gender related. There is no difference in his mind between wearing a tiara and kicking a football around. Both are new experiences, and both are most likely fun.
Same goes for girls. My five year old doesn’t think there is any difference between her and her friends who are boys. Obviously she sees the biological differences but they have no meaning to her at this age and they do not prevent her from wanting to do stuff that they do – like play pretend ‘superheroes’.
It makes me so sad though knowing that my baby girl doesn’t really stand a chance. In our society, despite coming a long way, there are still so many barriers for girls and they are so deeply ingrained in everyday life that I honestly feel heartbroken knowing it doesn’t matter what I do, she will at some point come to a conclusion that being a superhero is best left for the boys.
I’m not over reacting in case that’s what you’re thinking. I see it all the time.
Just last week we were at a birthday party and the DJ who was playing musical statues with the kids said ‘when I stop the music all the boys need to freeze like superheroes and all the girls like ballerinas’. I sat there thinking WTF but for a few moments I froze thinking why even bother changing something that is just so deeply rooted.
But then I decided to do something.
I walked up to the DJ and whispered in his ear “my daughter really loves superheroes, I would really appreciate it if you could reverse the roles next time you stop the music”, which he did. I’ve never seen such a happy bunch of boys posing as ballerinas in my entire life. They ALL did it and had a great time too. The girls showed off their fierce muscles and everyone had FUN.
Those who know me know that I am a feminist. Not the burning my bra type (with my boobs I’d be lost without good support), but the type that simply believes that our capability as people has nothing to do with our sex. What I am sure of is that my girls deserve better than what we as a society has to offer them. They deserve to play with what the hell they want, they deserve to know that they can kick ass and that they don’t have to wear a bikini when they do so!
It’s haunted me this past week. I’ve thought to myself maybe I’ve been making a bad choice by reading to them all those princess stories. You know, the classic ‘girl is a bit helpless, gets into trouble, boy saves her, they get married and they live happily ever after’. Now don’t get me wrong by the way, my daughters love these stories, as did I when I was a child, but is it really the message I want to be sending them?
So in an attempt to balance the playing field, when I have read them these ‘classic’ stories, (teeth slightly clenched) I have always tried to follow up with a made up story about how a brave and strong girl saved a boy, they became friends, they dated other people and maybe just lived together without getting married… (Okay, so the last bit was just in my head).
My point is that I feel like it’s my responsibility as a mother to let them know that ALL the options are open. I want to make sure that whenever and wherever I can, I let my girls know that they can do and be whatever they want. It seems like such a simple thing to want to achieve doesn’t it? Only it’s not. Not with the constant reminders our kids are getting from everything around them telling them that their sex determines how they should behave, what they should wear and what they can play with.
Going back to our visit at the toy store, we ended up buying the Wonder Woman doll cos out of the bunch she was my daughter’s favourite. That afternoon she played with Barbie and Wonder Woman, they were both cruising in Barbie’s car on the way to the ball to meet the prince who was going to marry them. I wanted to kill myself.
But last night gave me some hope that maybe, just maybe, my efforts are making a difference. We were playing out ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and when we got to the end bit where the wolf chases Riding Hood around the house before she gets saved by the woodsman, it was my eldest that turned to me and said “mommy, I don’t have to wait for the woodsman, I can just fight the wolf”.
I just stood there in shock realising that even I had missed that. I can’t even tell you how proud I felt, and it’s not cos I am promoting violence, I’m obviously not. I was proud that my kid realised that she CAN. That she did not have to wait for anyone to save her, she could just save herself.
I do think it’s us adults that need to change and not our children. I desperately hope others feel the same and can relate to this. I have no doubt that our children will thank us for it.
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