Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Helping Empower My Daughters: Red Knit Cap Girl!

Given my strong feminist ideals, it may shock many people to know that I do not discourage my two-year-old daughters from their interest in dolls and princesses.  I make an effort to have other options available to them - and they love legos and puzzles, running around outside and all kinds of art - but I'm more fine than I thought I would be with having them choose to wear pink and purple and get excited over dressing and taking care of their baby dolls.  For any parent who is worried about their children in this area, I highly recommend Peggy Orenstein's book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter in which the author explores everything from the Disney Princesses to Toddlers and Tiaras in an effort to find out how much these messages are damaging our daughters, and how much, perhaps, our girls actually need them to grow into the empowered free-thinkers we all want them to become.  

My general belief is that no matter what, my girls are going to be exposed to media images of women and girls that aren't quite what I wish they would be.  And there are going to be aspects of these characters that my girls find fun or intriguing or dangerous or exciting.  All of that is part of growing up and experimenting.  But, to counter-balance all these models of behavior, I try to be a good role model and I know they are surrounded by so many inspiring women - from their grandmothers to their teachers to so many of my friends.  I am also
always on the look out for books and other media that feature empowering female characters - ones who go on adventures, save themselves, build, create, treat other girls well, and do more than simply wait around for Prince Charming.  To this end, I have relied heavily on the website A Mighty Girl, which bills itself as "The world's largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls."  I have found endless suggestions for books on this site - not just for my girls, but also for my son -as I see nothing wrong with also presenting him with books featuring strong independent and creative girls.  I also cull through countless reviews and other blogs and websites looking for the latest recommendations in children's literature on this front (and others).

Recently, we came across a girl character who definitely fits the strong independent bill.  Her name is Red Knit Cap Girl.  Some may argue that the fact that she is named after a piece of her clothing is already objectifying and disappointing.  Believe me, I had that thought.  But, I'm putting it to the side because I am enjoying her adventures and love the stories and how they are illustrated.  She has really appealed to my kids and I'm going with it.
Red Knit Cap Girl is the creation of Brooklyn artist Naoko Stoop.  She was introduced in 2012 in the eponymous Red Knit Cap Girl, in which our heroine lives in the forest with her woodland friends and embarks on a journey to talk to the moon.  The next year, she appeared in Red Knit Cap Girl to the Rescue in which she and her rabbit friend save a polar bear cub that has lost his way from the North Pole.  And most recently, in 2014, she appeared in Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree in which she and her animal friends find a hollowed out tree to hide and share their treasures.  I loved the line from a review which described Red Knit Cap Girl as someone who "celebrates friendship, bravery, and the importance of home."  These books teach wonderful lessons, but they also inspire active play.  Watching my girls "fly" around the house helping rescue their animals or go on journeys to the moon is definitely better than watching them wait around to be saved.

I'm happy we live in a time where encouraging our girls to be strong and independent is recognized as so important - there are resources everywhere for us to draw upon.  And yet...we still find ourselves wondering where the female Lego characters are or wondering why the "girl" version of toys always has to be pink.  I wonder why even in Frozen where the story line is supposed to be more about female friendship and empowerment, the newly independent Elsa is so risque (it reminds me of the Jessica Rabbit line, "I'm not bad.  I'm just drawn that way.").  But for every time I shake my head, there is a time when I smile because there is someone out there thinking differently.  Just one of these people is a childhood friend of mine, Dana Goldstein, who has recently combined her art talent and her frustration at the media and started Spirited Sparkle -" clothing for children that is both empowering and fabulous."  My Alice loves her Dragon Princess shirt and we're looking forward to the release of new designs very soon!  

Disconcerting images and messages are all around us.  We can and should only protect against so much.  But, I see no problem with making the empowering ones equally, if not more, available to all the kids in our lives.

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