So there's this book that I have seen advertised regularly through the 'A Mighty Girl' Facebook page. It's called Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. It was written by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo and contains 100 stories about extraordinary women throughout the ages.
I'd often thought about buying the book for my kids but just hadn't got around to it. Then yesterday at a friend's house, I saw their copy and saw how inspired their five year old was by what she was reading and decided it was time to buy our own book.
On the walk to school this morning I told my five year old son that I had ordered a copy. He immediately scowled and informed me that he didn't want to read a book all about girls. As I tried to explain to him that the book was about interesting women who have done brilliant things, I saw I was getting nowhere. You can probably imagine how I was feeling. My son, yes, my son, my amazing, kind and gentle boy thinks he doesn't want to read a book about 'girls'. What hope do we have? My son is five, he lives in a feminist and thoughtful household and this is his reaction?
One of my favourite anecdotes about my beautiful son is as follows: we were chatting in the park and he was telling me about a boy in his school who wanted to wear a princess dress to a party and how terrible this was. When I responded by telling him off, because anyone can wear whatever they like and boys can jolly well wear dresses if they please, he looked at me as if I were mad, and told me the point wasn't the dress but that it was a princess dress because he knows how his dad and I feel about undeserved power and equality!
So if that boy doesn't want to read stories about women, my heart is heavy. We are in the midst of an international awakening for men (I hope). Harvey Weinstein has been outed and women are standing up and saying 'me too' in whatever form they can. Whether it is 'me too' in Hollywood, university, on the tube, walking through the park or even at home, women are saying 'me too'. #metoo
And on this day, my son does not get to put his hands over his ears and tell me he doesn't want to read about girls.
So I tried another tack. I calmly reminded him that his daddy and uncle are amazing men, really special people and part of what makes them special is their unswerving belief in equality and justice and that our job is to ensure he grows up like them. This got his attention. I explained the word 'misogyny' to him. He was shocked to learn that people would ever think less of someone because they're female, and he was shocked to learn that there could be people who would not like women because they're women (to be fair, he did know that women aren't always been seen as equal to men) and he began to open up to the idea of the book. I didn't even need to remind him about all books with female protagonists that we have read, and enjoyed. We talked about how history has been primarily recorded by men and so has been about men, omitting the achievements and contributions of women. I explained that this book is celebrating women in the way most other books celebrate men, redressing an imbalance that sorely needs redressing.
His response? 'Yeah, like Ada Lovelace, she wrote the first computer program, she's amazing'!
I imagine the book was written primarily to inspire little girls. I'm thrilled that it exists, my three year old daughter will enjoy reading about strong women who achieved great things. I hope it inspires her and millions of other girls around the world. But, for me, I'm more currently more concerned about ensuring my son grows up to be a 'gentle, kind feminist sorta guy'. I know how to raise a strong woman because I am one. Raising a compassionate son who doesn't abuse his male privilege, who understands it, is the trickier prospect. Thankfully, I have a grown-up one of those in the house to help on this journey.
This article has also appeared on my personal blog: yacasillegamosblog.wordpress.com