You don’t have to be a rebel
You have probably heard of the great literary success called “Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls”.
It is a collection of stories telling the lives of “extraordinary women”, and it was compiled by two women, Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, who decided to challenge the stereotypical bedtime story destined to young girls: a princess being saved by a prince.
The idea was praised all over the world, and mamas started reading this book to their little girls, proudly sharing their endeavor with the world: they were not raising princesses, God forbid! They were raising future scientists, astronauts, Peace Nobel Prize winners! They were raising rebels!
As usual, when people want to get rid of a stereotype, the risk is going to the other, equally wrong, extreme.
First of all: Why should a little girl feel that she needs to be a rebel? This is unfair, just as it is unfair to expect that she wants to be a princess, have long hair and be dressed in pink. What if a girl does want to dress in pink? Isn’t she free to do so? Of course she should be free to do so, without thinking that there’s something wrong with her, without being blamed (and her mother with her) that she’s just living a patriarchal stereotype version of her real self. Can we just stop telling girls what they have to be? They don’t have to be princesses, nor only think about marriage and babies, but they sure as hell don’t have to be scientists or astronauts if they don’t have any inclination to be either! They don’t have to be princesses and they don’t have to be rebels. They need to understand they just have to be themselves.
Second: What if a little girl is inspired by a male figure? What if she grows up thinking she wants to be just like Einstein? Why not offer a book with 100 stories of extraordinary people? Hey, here’s an idea: why not offer both girls and boys that book, with mixed stories of extraordinary women and men of any given color under the sun? Why not offer such book as a book for everyone, and not as a book destined to rebels of either sex?
Third: The idea behind this book was to fight sexism in children literature. Do I have to spell out why this book is a complete fail, starting from the title? Despite the blue background of the cover (a rebellious act in itself, I guess), the book is addressed to girls. What about boys? Can’t they read it? Can’t they be interested in reading about the lives of extraordinary women? Reversed sexism isn’t no sexism. It’s still sexism, and it’s still wrong.
Fourth: This book was launched via a kick-starter campaign. It was a very well made campaign. Good marketing, it worked. The claim that most children’s books present the same, old pattern of a girl in need of saving by a man may be true, but this has been recently changing. There are more and more strong female characters, whose adventures interest also boys. Think of “Hunger Games”, for example, or “Shadowhunter”, “Divergent”, even “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was a girl! Moreover, this book was advertised as something completely new.
You know there’s hardly anything “completely new” under the sun, especially when it comes to literature, right?
When my daughter turned eight (A.D. 2000) she got a book as a present. It was called “Lives of extraordinary women”. It was bound in pink, I’ll give you that. But it wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular, nor it claimed you had to be a rebel to read it. You were free to just read it! Crazy, isn’t it?
Did my daughter read it? Oh yes, she did. And do you want to know something even crazier? My daughter never wanted to be a scientist, or an astronaut! She actually loved nice dresses and played a super sweet Cinderella when she was in kindergarten. My God, what a confused young lady, right? In fact, she grew up to become a manager in the male fashion industry. Terrible, right? Well, that’s hat she wanted to be, and her mother (my humble self) did not believe in trying to influence her one way or another. Bad mother.