SuperGirls: Beyond Disney

Inevitably, having a six year old girl, a lot of my thoughts around women and geekery concentrate on the impact of books, films and other media on girls. I think about how to keep my girl’s options open. I want to show her it’s okay to embrace strength, to be independent and to question and challenge the way things are presented to her.

"Superhero" by Lance Neilson, Flickr

“Superhero” by Lance Neilson, Flickr

It’s not hard to encourage a love of geekery.

At the moment, I’m the sun to her bustling planet – the centre of her world. So if I’m reading comics, she wants to read comics. If I’m pinning vintage Marvel comics to the wall, she wants a piece of it. She wants to know the back story of Star Trek. She loves Transformers and Ulysses 31. Damn it, she even reads the Marvel encyclopedia as her bed time story.

But it’s amazing how many barriers she has faced in exploring her own geekery:

Age 4: A boy in her class, having a superhero party: “You can’t come because you’re a girl. Girls don’t like superheroes.”  This happened twice, despite the fact she knew more about superheroes than any other kid in her class.

Age 5: Having the Narnian books read: “Mummy, aren’t Lucy and Susan allowed to fight? Why is it just the boys?”

Age 6: A boy toddles into the sitting room holding a pair of her dinosaurs. Another Mum: “Oh, do those belong to a cousin or something? You don’t have any boys do you?”  

This last one was just a week ago and the mum in question (a mum of three girls) quickly corrected herself. I explained that I’d grown up surrounded by “boy” and “girl” toys. I played with action men and barbies. I played with dinosaurs and My Little Ponies. I read Marvel comics and Judy Blume. I played with lego and bricks, and dolls and make up. My favourite colour was blue because not everything was pink back then.  As it happened, the mum also played with boys stuff. “Maybe it’s because our oldest was a girl,” she mused. “The house just became princessified.” 

It’s not inevitable – it’s about choice

When we write stories, paint pictures and make films we’re making active choices. When we put toys in our kids’ hands, we’re making active choices. I’ve got nothing against pink, as such. My daughter used to love pink (she’s moved on to purple). I’ve got nothing against princesses, though I’d rather they weren’t passive, cleaning obsessed victims. I just don’t want to close off my daughter’s options too young. I don’t want to limit the horizons of her imagination or her ambition. The world will try to do that soon enough.

So that means making sure she’s got a mix of toys. Sharing my passions and pursuits. Taking her to the science festival (this year she got to get dressed up in a lab coat to investigate a murder scene, made a scab and built a virus out of plasticine). Letting her try ballet, gymnastics and judo and football (soccer if you’re the other side of the pond) and letting her decide what she wants to pursue. She’s big into fairies. In fact, a lot of the time she is a fairy. She’s also a mean hand at Judo and enjoys nothing better than pinning grown ups to the ground. An ass kicking martial arts fiend fairy. What geek mum wouldn’t be proud?

But enough with the bragging and on with the serious stuff.

Question… And question again

In my view, the most important tool I can give my daughter to navigate her life is awareness – an ability to look at what’s happening all around her and to question it. This comes naturally to her and her friends, as evidenced by this: “Why do people say tomboy? I’m not a boy, I’m a girl? You don’t get tomgirls, so why do you say tomboys? I am NOT a tomboy. I’m a girl.” 

My job is not to dismiss it, quash it or brush it under the carpet. Something which it’s all to easy to do. So Mummy and Daddy Geeks, I counsel you to be vigilant and to pay attention to the weight of culture pressing down on your small folks. It’s shaping them day by day. And if we’re to support our girls into SuperWoman-dom, we need to keep an eye on what the world around us is saying to them.


Disney Princess Leia by Bewareitbites

Disney for example. Did you know Disney have bought Star Wars? And produced a range of toys? All except the Disney Princess we SuperWomen would truly love to see: Leia.  That’s right. You won’t find Leia amongst the Disney Princesses. You won’t find her lining up with Han and Luke in the Disney stores.

Leia has been deleted. Gulp.

To that end, the smart guy behind Man vs Pink (a truly fabulous blog) has launched a campaign: #WeWantLeia. If you’re interesting in ensuring girls have equal access to geek-dom and that Star Wars isn’t a boys only universe join him in making your voices heard.

In this month of May – our ONE YEAR anniversary – let our baby geeks thrive in equal opportunity.