Is It Ever Too Early for Feminism? || Blogmas Day 7

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We are 7 days in to this month and on the posting of this I have succeeded in one full week of blogmas! Today is another discussion type post and it is on picking books for children and what a minefield it can be. Also I’ve included a few kids books for children in your life (and also yourself if you want something fun to read!). This one is going to be lengthy, but I think it’s an important topic and I want to hear your opinions on it!

Recently, I had the experience of buying books for a friends daughter and it was a lot tougher than I was expecting. I had no idea that in this day and age, where we live in a (supposedly) equal society that children’s fiction is still so overrun with the age old idea of boys being heroes and girls sitting at home with no ambition waiting for a prince/hero/male to come and rescue them.

I’m not a parent, I have no intention of becoming a parent, and while I only have a small part to play in the childhood of my friends children, I absolutely do not want to reinforce gender stereotypes. I always tell her how smart she is, when we play she can be whoever or whatever she wants to be. I’m not her parent, but I adore her and I don’t want her to grow up with a skewed idea of what women are in society. I see this kid once a month and she is growing in to an amazing little girl – she’s a little firecracker, and bright as a button, and I will always encourage her to be that – but sometimes I worry that society, even in this modern day, will squash her down and shoehorn her in to a box of what she is expected to be by antiquated standards.

I was adamant I wanted to buy my friends daughter books for her 4th birthday as she loves reading. Now she’s starting to sound out words and read herself, I wanted to get her some picture books aimed at the 4-5 age group and it’s a minefield – so many of them are just not something that would build her confidence as a person. Books with female main characters often focus so much on things like beauty and innocence that is it any wonder that, subliminally, children get warped ideas about what they look like from such a young age?

The view of females in children’s books is something that is so dated and antiquated that I found myself getting frustrated – not only did I not want to impart that oh-so-gentle misogyny on to my friends 4 year old, I didn’t want it to then become okay for my friends 1 year old son when he inevitably read the same books in a couple of years. I wanted him to have positive representations of females too. If there is one thing I’m certain of it’s that the books you read when you’re first starting out stick with you – the stories, the underlying messages they have a profound impact.

So, on my mission to find Good Representation of Women In Children’s Fiction I found these two gems (below) and when I read them I could have cried. I was elated, because not only are they kickass girls, there’s representation of race, gender, and they’re not just ‘girls books’ – I know my friends son will get just as much out of them as her daughter. I certainly enjoyed them when I proof read them and I’d highly recommend them for any child in your life because they’re fantastic!

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I recently read an article which said something along the lines of 50-something % of children’s books have male protagonists, only 20-something % have female protagonists. The reason being a girl will read a ‘boys’ book, whereas a boy is unlikely to read a ‘girly’ book – there shouldn’t be genders in literature at any age in my opinion, but kids books are reinforcing stereotypes of men having all the action and girls having quiet, homey stories. Even books with animals as protagonists have primarily males at the core of them. Boys need feminism as much as girls do – male characters who cook, clean, are sole parents, are scared or cry – from my memory those things rarely happen in children’s books and that needs to change.

On to the topic of the day which is “is it ever too early to introduce a child to feminism?” – my answer is no. It doesn’t have to be shoved down a child’s throat, it can be subtle, but just simple things like books with female protagonists who don’t sit around and wait for a prince can have a huge impact on a child – male or female – and the same for male characters who aren’t always the hero.

My friends children are lucky – they have incredible parents who encourage them to be whoever and whatever they want to be, even at the ages of 4 and 1. They’re going to grow up to be wonderful human beings because their parents treat them equally and will teach both of them to respect themselves and other people, regardless of gender. I’m not trying to condition my friends daughter in to a “militant” feminist, she is only 4 after all, but I want her to see that she can be the superhero in her own story if she wants to be.

Review: Fantastic Mr Fox – Roald Dahl

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Rating – 4*

I’ve been having a few really rough days with my illness lately. I’ve been in chronic, constant pain, struggling to sleep, struggling to do anything if I’m honest – especially reading. When I’m feeling under the weather I love nothing more than picking up an old favourite, and now I enjoy audiobooks I’ve discovered a new found love for them that I didn’t have before. So, when I was unable to sleep one night last week, rather than lay there with the light on (keeping me awake) or stare at my ceiling counting down the hours until it was once again acceptable to get out of bed, I decided to use up one of the credits I have on audible and listen to one of my childhood favourites – I wasn’t disappointed.

Most people know the story of Fantastic Mr Fox – let’s face it – I don’t feel I need to tell you the plot here, or even how it pans out, or how much I love the characters (long suffering Mrs Fox I found a new appreciation for after this reread!). What I will tell you is that these audiobooks are incredible. I’ve previously listened to Matilda (narrated by Kate Winslet) and loved it, this narration by Chris O’Dowd – an hilarious Irishman if you don’t know who he is – brought a whole new life to a book that I already loved, and still love even at the age of 23. Highly, highly recommend this audiobook – and this book in general if I’m honest. It’s by no means a perfect book, but it’s an enjoyable one (with nostalgia attached to it), and one that I can’t find much to fault with even after all these years.

I will also say that after this reread (or listen. Or whatever) I finally watched the 2009 movie adaptation with George Clooney as Mr Fox and Meryl Streep as Mrs Fox. One the cast was incredible, two it brought a more modern twist to an old favourite, and three, I really enjoyed it. So while it looks a bit off-putting, and has been a wee bit Americanised – it’s totally worth a watch for a cozy afternoon, duvet snuggling kind of movie when you feel like being childish (or you’re ill).

Review: Black Beauty – Anna Sewell

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Rating – 3*

Most people know the story of Black Beauty, or at least an overview of it. It’s the story of a horses life as told through his eyes. Interestingly, I always assumed this was a children’s classic, however it wasn’t intended as one. The primary purpose of this book was to induce kindness, sympathy, and understanding – particularly in the treatment of horses but I think it just applies to anything who doesn’t necessarily have a voice of its own. Not having a voice does not mean an animal does not have feeling, which I think is the take home message of this book.

It’s a very simple book, which is probably why it has ended up becoming a children’s classic. I think I would have enjoyed it much more had I actually got around to reading it when I was a child myself. The fact it’s narrated by a horse is quite a fun one and I really enjoyed that aspect of it. I love a story told from an unconventional point of view, but whereas – for example – Flush by Virginia Woolf had an animal with a very mature voice, Black Beauty is told with a simple and more childlike quality. I feel that it could have had more expanding to make it a more ‘adult’ book. Instead, I found it was more a collection of moments in the life of the horse, which is perfectly fine, however it did become a little repetitive.

There were a vast array of characters, which was something which surprised me! The animals were much more well rounded than the humans, that’s for sure. Out of all the characters, the one who was most fleshed out for me was Ginger. The back story to Ginger really tugged at my heart strings!

It was a very enjoyable read though, and a nice one to read one evening as it’s quite short and easy to follow along with. I really wish I had read this when I was younger because I think I would have got so much more enjoyment out of it. I would recommend this if you haven’t read it, and maybe if you haven’t read many classics – or children’s classics at least – this would be a good one to pick up as it is quite easy to read.