Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Avengers: Age of Ultron and probably won’t until it comes out on something more than the big screen many months from now. I also did not know the plane in this movie was called the Quinjet. I’m a superhero movie fan without knowing too much about the universe they come from. So are my daughters. They like Superman and Spiderman and Wonder Woman but don’t know much more than what they look like.
I must also confess that when growing up, many of the toys I played with were men superheroes or wrestlers. I know I had Junk Yard Dog and G.I. Joe. I also remember having Stinkor, He-Man, and Man-E-Faces. There is an extremely remote possibility I had an Evil-Lyn character as well. But since I can’t remember her, I imagine she never played a large role in any of the Battles at Grayskull.
With this is mind, after reading about two very significant toy manufacturers in Mattel and Hasbro replacing Black Widow from a scene in the movie mentioned above where she rides a motorcycle out of the aforementioned Quinjet with Captain America and Iron Man, I asked my five year-old daughter if she would have preferred that the toy made about that movie scene feature a man or woman superhero.
But, she did add that boy superheroes are awesome to play with too.
And right there is the problem. As women superheroes are erased from the toy aisles because boys, the apparent target audience of the movies and the play-things that come of it, would identify better with Superman or Captain America, our girls are left to play with the same nearly all-men superhero lineup and expected to enjoy them.
And many will because superheroes are great fun to play with. And superheroes have great characteristics. And they triumph over evil. And they’re wicked smart. They have a lot of things our kids look up to.
Unless they have all those things but are also women. Then boys can’t possibly be expected to look up to or idolize them, right?
Boys simply aren’t capable of seeing a strong woman and then thinking, “Hey, I like science too, this scientist is awesome.” A boy can’t be inspired by a superhero who identifies as a woman. Can Ronda Rousey not be an inspiration for both women and men? Can boys not look up to Megan Grassell, who founded Yellowberry as a teenager because they don’t wear bras? Can a boy not stay out in his backyard until the sun goes down trying to perfect his Mo’ne Davis fastball?
Because if we aren’t raising our boys and our girls to be able to find amazing characteristics in model men or women, then we’re failing them significantly.
That there are fewer women superheroes than men superheroes is an issue we’re not nearly at the point of exploring further. Could there be more? Probably. Should there be more? Probably? Are our daughters happy that there are at least a few right now? Yes. That the women superheroes that do exist are being erased from play by the time it gets to our young children though, is altogether rage-inducing.
I can only imagine the deep conversations that must have surrounded this decision at the many boardrooms this was debated.
“Remember that scene with Black Widow and the motorcycle? We should make a toy out of that.”
“Well yeah, we should but there’s a pretty obvious flaw in that scene that I can't believe even made it in there."
"Yep, no penis.”
“Oh shit, that’s true. Could we add a penis decal to the motorcycle? Are there other ways we can get boys interested in this?”
“Well the scene itself was pretty well received by the millions of men who watched the movie. Maybe we could just keep it with her.”
“Oh my god, lighten up, I was just kidding! Yes, penis the scene up. Add Captain America. Or Iron Man. Are there other penis people? Add one of them.”
“What about Black Widow?”
“Too much vulva. Girls like Captain America anyway.”
So the question remains, why are we raising girls to be able to identify with the strengths of the men superheroes but not raising our boys to be able to identify with the strengths of women superheroes?
Because they’re too weak, right? It’s because they’re always late to save the day because they have to put on makeup, isn’t it? It’s nonsensical bullshit that this happens time and time again. My daughters like superheroes, they like baby dolls, they like Barbie, they like all kinds of things and that’s wonderful.
So, Mattel, Marvel, Hasbro, and whoever would like to play a role in more equal play opportunity for kids, please give them a few more choices. Let them see themselves on motorcycles and jumping out of planes because I can tell you right now that our floors at home are often filled with lava. Ours girls love being superheroes too and they want to be inspiring to both halves of our population.
Stop telling boys that women are too delicate to survive a day of being thrown off couches into pretend volcanoes. Stop telling them that you understand it’s hard to see a woman as a superhero.
Because I’ve looked, there are billions of them out there.
Congratulations! I hear you have a Charlotte of your very own now! I sort of figure us as members of the same exclusive club, as I too have a Charlotte. Let me then offer you some friendly advice on raising a Princess Charlotte.
This is a Charlotte:
Ours is what we call three and a smidge years old and she is wonderful. For quite some time, the only Charlottes we knew were her and the spider Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web. And then Royal babies came along and squatted on that name and in the hours since her naming, I’m sure there have been millions more Charlotte’s introduced to families all over the world.
Well, there are a few things that parents, including you, William and Kate, should know about Charlottes. These learnings are hard-earned. They are also very likely universally true.
Think Cinderella. Only think Cinderella speaking a language she made up, that only she can understand and in which she makes very aggressive demands. So think that, but then think about her doing so while running around with a big smile on her face shaking her head from side to side asking when you’re going to listen to her. She’ll say that part in your native tongue but will never clarify what it is she wants. Nevertheless, you’d best get it for her.
It’s also worth thinking about the lovely kind of dresses you see on princesses in cartoons and then imagining those dresses scattered to the corners of your living room while a nearly-naked Charlotte spins around in the middle of it.
And please, for the love of all that is good, do not give her access to glass slippers. She's dangerous enough with craft scissors and glue, I can't imagine what she could do with those.
The Charlotte you see in your house will be different from the one everyone else sees. You’ll spend hours inside with her trying to get her to stand still for “very literally one second,” while you try to clip her bangs. She won’t ever stop. She’ll run and she’ll play and she’ll make up stories, but she will not stop running.
Then you’ll go out in public with her and she’ll hold on to you like her extremities were covered in super glue.
“I sometimes wish my kids were so quiet but they’re always running around,” other parents will say to you. “They keep me so active. I actually have more defined calves now than I did when I was 17 just because I have to chase her so much. But you don’t have that problem.”
Charlotte would be able to prove them wrong if they just waited another five minutes. Because Charlotte has no Middle Mode. She’ll go from super shy to crazy-running-around-girl.
“…I just can’t believe how quiet and well-behaved she is. My ids would never just sit at my fee doing nothing. You’re so lucky to have a little girl who…”
And then suddenly Charlotte is climbing up the leg of the other parent.
Girls marry girls, boys marry boys, girls marry boys and bears marry giraffes. It’s wonderful.
Her smile is absolutely irresistible which is wonderful. She knows it is, which is dangerous. Do you remember how three minutes ago you told her you’d never, ever give her that third piece of chocolate from her Halloween candy stash? She remembers too, and she has the brains to turn that harsh memory into a wide smile on her face.
She will have that chocolate and you will be left wondering how she ended up getting not only that piece but also the piece you had stored in the back of the cupboard, well out of the sight of children, that you had been planning on eating once the kids were asleep.
And as she walks away, her face covered in chocolate, she’ll flash that smile again. And give you a wink for good measure. And when she’s out of sight, you’ll wish you could see that smile again.
That they are bigger than her is only an advantage for so long. Charlotte watches, studies and uses the weaknesses she finds in her older siblings to her advantage.
Do they have a favourite stuffed animal that they simply cannot go without even if it means giving up three other things they kind of want? Well, Charlotte will find that one thing and use it to get the three things. She’ll do this until she was everything in the house under her control and then barter it back for favours. Or fishy crackers.
There is nothing more rewarding or comforting than a Charlotte snuggle/nuzzle. Always leave one arm available for quick snuggling access because you never know when it may come and you never want to miss out on it.
Image Source: Twitter
Our daughters have a large fascination with babies. They push them around in strollers all day, they put them in time out for swearing, and about 23 times a day, they put a baby under their shirt and eat food, telling us that "If I take one more bite, I'm going to have a baby."
The bite is always taken and the baby always drops to the floor. They ooh and aah and give the plastic dolls names like Samalaia and Samalaiamaya.. They cuddle them for three seconds and then push them and put them into timeout for swearing game rotation. Within fifteen seconds on this earth, they have their babies swearing. In 15 minutes, these babies are toddlers and beyond.
How different would parenting be if kids were born acting like they were already 4 years-old instead of the current "I squirm and yell and poop," attitude they seem to take from birth through 18 months?
Would we still be as eager to share our stories and our pictures online from day one? Would our Instagram feeds be full of hospital room shots of kids with spilled yogurt running don their face with a dramatic caption "FIRST WORDS: it wasn't me, it jumped out of my hands!." Would we see a dramatic decrease in the number of multiple children families? Can you possibly imagine having a baby and then three hours later spending three more hours at the door of your hospital room trying to get them to put on their goddamn boots instead of running back upstairs to put on their 18th outfit?
"Oh my god, look at my little girl, she's so beautiful," my partner would say to the midwife seconds after the delivery. "Could you please bring her to me for some skin-to-skin contact?"
"No thanks. I'm going to sit in this chair in the middle of the room," our cute, seconds-old little daughter would tell us, looking straight into our tear-filled eyes.
"Oh I love you," I'd say, walking towards the chair, trying to get a closer look at her.
"I don't care, I'm busy with..." and she'd look for something, anything to keep from needing to talk to us. "...with this dirt."
"Dad, the rest of the world is only going to see me for the first time once. The clothes you gave me look the same and are so boring. But this tutu and this Star Wars 'I (heart) Chewie' shirt look perfect. Oh wait, maybe I need pants."
I love my girls. I love them more than chocolate covered almonds dipped in vanilla pudding. But as they get older, I'm more appreciative of the time we spent together with them not being the age where everything we do, even if it's exactly what they asked us to do, is wrong. For a while, they needed us, and for a while they couldn't a) ignore us because they were incapable of moving and, b) tell us why we were wrong because they didn't have words. I feel so unintelligent for wasting so many hours thinking to myself "it's going to get easier when they can walk around themselves and when they have enough words to tell us exactly what is bothering them." As if them knowing words would mean they'd be able to use them in rational sentences.
The first months - maybe even the first years - are such natural developmental stages in human life. We know this about our kids and we remind ourselves of this every day when we use the parenting mantra of "This will get easier" but I don't think we realize thee same about ourselves as parents.
Put simply: parents new and old need time to develop too. It doesn't matter if you have one kid, three kids, or 34 kids, we need development time to prepare ourselves for three, four and five year-olds. Where kids learn to walk, we learn to walk away. Where kids learn to talk, we learn to not laugh when our kids say "f*ck" for the first time. Where kids learn the value of the words "no," and "I'll give you a hug if you give me that chocolate bar," we learn that there's a 97 per cent chance what they tell us is a lie, or to them a "not lie but a joke that wasn't funny."
Because the reality is, we spend a lot of time simultaneously worrying about how much harder things are going to get as our kids get older and waiting for them to get older so we don't have to deal with what we’re dealing with at the time. As a dad to two daughters I hear all the time that the teen years (earlier than that?) are going to be crazy. Crazier for sure than the age they're at now where they punch each other and steal each other's yogurt all the time. The words "Oh boy, wait until they're older," is often enhanced by eye rolls, or by parents putting their hands on their knees as if it's too tiring to even think about all the drama that will unfold.
I think it's a matter of semantics and that things don't necessarily get more difficult, they just get different. And, that what we do today prepares us for what we'll have to do tomorrow, or next year, or 10 years from now. I'm not as worried as people seem to think I should get about Mean Girls or about the boys or girls that will break their hearts. I'm not worried about a member of their favourite band leaving the group or of them deciding what menstrual product or bra is the best for them. I'm not worried or concerned about these things because we aren't doing that right now. What we're doing is paving the way to make those moments easier when they do come. So I worry about my daughter not being able to sit still in class or that she needs to tell adults that someone is being mean to her when it's play time in class. We deal with that and that gets be ready for what we'll deal with next.
So that "Dad, there's this girl at school I really like but I don't know if she even knows I exist," isn't met by me with "Oh, that's great, I'll make a t-shirt of myself holding a gun for you to wear to school so you can show everyone that I'll kill them if they break your heart," and instead with "Well, have you talked to her about it? Tell me more."
"You're screwed and you're extremely naive," is probably a fairly common chorus being sung by people who read that my opinion. "You have no idea how hard it will be when your daughter comes home crying to you about this or that. You have no idea how mean girls can be or how heartbroken they can get."
Nope, I do not. But I see my girls growing up and I know my girls. I see them being strong and I see them in fits of rage. We watch them interact with one another and we talk to them about things that are going on in their lives right now. Never, not ever, ever, ever, do we tell them they're going to be a pain in the ass when they get older and that we'll be completely clueless when they come to us about being bullied or that they've been shamed for wearing something or that they've been told they have no future in (insert anything they want to grow up to be).
We try our best to not look at everything through a lens of perceived fear. We don't build up a fight between 13 year-old best friends, don't fret 10 years in advance of the time our daughter has her feminist t-shirt blurred out of a school picture. We try awfully hard to not spend the years we get to teach our kids how to group up to be the person they want worrying about the person they haven't yet become just because a movie said she's going to hate us when she grown up anyway.
Parenting is hard but growing up is too. Girls aren't any harder to raise because they're girls and boys aren't harder to raise because they're boys. They all have speed bumps that we can't smooth out in advance. I'm not a bad parent to a girl because I'm a man and vice versa for parents of boys. We have trouble because no problems are the same and as we've all learned, there is no textbook we can use to cheat off the answer key. The answers, I assume, are buried somewhere deep in the boots I have so much trouble getting my kids to put on each and every morning.
The lucky part for us is that listening to kids is easy even when they aren't listening to us. My kids aren't an easy study but neither were a lot of the courses I ended up passing in university. Listen often, talk when needed, that's my plan for learning.
And good luck with your struggles.