Powerful Female Characters Inspire Powerful Girls

I had to snap a quick photo of this drawing the Original Pigtail Pal made for a friend at school because it sums up perfectly why we need to demand more empowered female characters in children’s media.

This hand belongs to Elsa, the inspiring queen from the movie “Frozen”. We didn’t get into Princess Culture when the OPP was younger but when Merida came along I said “More please!” The film “Frozen” gave us two more daring, smart, kind princesses (one becomes a queen during the film) and if these princesses can continue to fit my expectations for a positive and empowered female character for my kids to enjoy then I’m all for it.

I noticed that the OPP’s drawing wasn’t of a sparkling dress or pretty face or fancy castle. The drawing was of was of Elsa’s hand, and for those that have seen the movie you know why this is significant. Elsa’s hands become the source of her strength and magic, which you can see swirling about in OPP’s picture.

I asked the OPP about her drawing and she replied with this,
“Oh Mama. Elsa is just SO powerful.” She sighed dreamily and went back to coloring.

Powerful indeed. More please!

Elsa Hand

Drawing by Amelia Wardy, 8yo.

Brave Girls Want

It is time to change our girls’ fate. Our brave daughters have the right to a healthy, carefree childhood.

Introducing the Brave Girls Alliance


The truth is, this post should have been written a couple of weeks ago. But the thing about working in the space of girl empowerment or girl advocacy or whatever you want to call it is that some days, many days, there is so much work to be done it cannot fit into one day or two days or four days and one week becomes two and before you know it you are three weeks into a project that grew bigger and faster than you expected.

And that is a wonderful thing, even though there are 507 emails waiting for me in my Inbox as I write this, the reason it took me three weeks to find the time (at 12:31 am) is that immediately after Ines Almeida and I gathered sixteen of our colleagues to launch the Brave Girls Alliance, we were swamped with requests by other girl experts to join the cause, we launched our first Action Item (petition asking LEGO for more female Minifigs), answered press requests, hosted a massive twitter party, wrote our Core Values, brought more experts on board, held some intercontinental brain-power sessions via Skype, and began to promote this new think tank/advocacy community to our social media communities.

I believe in bringing people together to forward the cause of reclaiming girlhood for our girls. No one person or group can make the difference alone, it will take thousands of us working together to shift this mountain one rock at a time. When we think about the early sexualization, limiting gender stereotypes, gender policing, under-representation in media, constant imprinting of the Beauty Myth, and lack of strong female characters in media how could any one group or person tackle that alone? And those are the First World problems, the issues facing girls around the world are systemic and frightening. We have much work to do.

The Brave Girls Alliance came about when I sent an email to my colleagues asking for some input on a document that was going to be sent to a large media content creator and Ines said, “We should turn this, right here, into a website.” It was a brilliant idea said during the direct aftermath of the Sexy Merida firestorm and Ines was right, we needed one place to aggregate consumer voices and concerned parents/adults and activist girls. Parenting attitudes are trending towards exhaustion over sexualization and gender stereotypes. Those of us on the front lines are seeing and hearing this every day, our large social media communities acting like real time focus groups.

Ines and I both have large social media followings, but we aren’t always talking about the same things on any given day or week. I then took a look at the top dozen colleagues Ines and I work closely with and I realized in total our communities were close to 85,000 people strong on facebook alone. Ines was right, instead of one project here or one petition there, we needed a constant space where all these like-minded people could come together.

We acted quickly, recruited sixteen of our closest allies to help us found a collaborative group that would bring experts, parents, consumers and girls together.

Our idea is simple: Brave girls want better media.

We are here to ask media creators to expand their version of what it means to be a girl, and recognize our girls as whole, complex people and not as gender stereotypes. Stop profiting from selling girls short.

We believe that girls deserve better, because we know that the consequences to girls’ well-being are serious.

We ask media creators to rethink products in development and ensure they teach girls to be strong, intelligent, and adventurous.

We ask media creators to rethink branding that pigeon-holes girls into the lowest common denominator (glitter, sexuality, hetero-normative femininity).

We ask media creators to elevate the elements that make the characters and narratives unique, instead of homogenizing the images and the merchandise.

We ask
media creators to practice corporate social responsibility now– take the sexy out of childhood. Reducing female characters’ value to being about physical appearance and nothing more damages girls.

How can you become involved?

Visit the website and learn more.

Join up with our facebook page. Invite your friends!

Use the #BraveGirlsWant hashtag when discussing issues about girls and media on twitter.

Read up about the Brave Girls Alliance in recent press articles.

Become familiar with our Core Values.

Read about the accomplishments of our Board.

Post one of our campaign images to facebook or your blog.

Tell us your story.

Join in Action Items, like our current LEGO female Minifig campaign.

Learn more at www.bravegirlswant.com.

So tell us, what does your brave girl want? What kind of media do you want for her? What lessons do you want your brave girl to learn from the media she takes in during her childhood?

Media Literacy Means Real Role Models

A comment that frequently comes up during conversations about pushing back against sexualized or sexist children’s media is that if those of us complaining simply parented our children, we wouldn’t have an issue. The companion comment is the suggestion to find real role models for our kids, and not let the television babysit them or toys raise them.

So putting aside what feels like an obtuse nature to that kind of commentary towards parents and families not known to the commentor, I do support the idea of our kids have real role models to look up to. For my kids, our family has a group of college girls whom we adore.

Amelia and Hayley, heading outside to eat lunch together.

The 7yo Original Pigtail Pal was surprised at lunch today by our friend Hayley, who is just home from college. Amelia has been to Hayley’s softball games, hospital bedside when Hayley fought and beat a rare brain tumor, graduation party, and Relay for Life events. Hayley comes by to take the kids to the park, out for ice cream, and even just to pile up on the couch and take a good nap.

I don’t see caring about media literacy as being mutually exclusive to actively engaging in the parenting of our children or failure to provide good role models. The products I don’t care for introduce characters to my children that couldn’t hold a candle to girls like our Hayley, and the MOST important thing is….my kids know it.


Update: Three years later and Hayley is still CANCER FREE!! Here she is celebrating “All Clear” scans and wearing her Full of Awesome tees for the occasion. I asked Hayley once about her thoughts on how having to stare down brain cancer may have changed her body image (for better or worse), especially given the statistic that adolescent girls are more afraid of gaining weight than getting cancer, losing their parents or nuclear war. As an adolescent with cancer, I wanted to know how that impacted her when she heard that. Hayley said that she was proud of her scars from her brain surgery, they were her battle scars and she wore them with pride. Hayley also said that when she was going into surgery, recovering in the hospital for days, or enduring six weeks of radiation not once did she think, “Gosh I wish I was thinner right now.” Instead, her thoughts were, “I’m so thankful I’m alive.”

Hayley is a role model for my little girl, and I’m so proud of her and the young woman she has grown into.

Hayley gives a thumbs up to staying cancer free!!

Hayley gives a thumbs up to staying cancer free!!

Hayley is FULL OF AWESOME at beating this cancer thing! BOOM!

Hayley is FULL OF AWESOME at beating this cancer thing! BOOM!

A Different Narrative

My daughter has been raised with stories about strong girls. Since she was a baby, it has been one long and steady stream of girl empowerment. If a female character was passive or needed rescuing, or used her beauty as a weapon or currency, she didn’t make the cut. She has been given a narrative of girls who are clever and brave, adventurous and kind. Hence, we’ve been rather light on the Disney Princesses here. (Yes we love Merida, and Mulan is pretty rad, too.)

Amelia has been given a different narrative for what it means to be a girl. More “Violet the Pilot”, Ramona Quimby, and Amelia Earhart (her namesake) stories than Sleeping Beauty. Amelia doesn’t own a pair of play high heels, but she does have purses and a tiara stuffed into her dress up drawer, along with her swords and capes and binoculars. She has fancy dresses and mermaid tails, and superhero masks and pirate outfits. She gets to decide what her story is. We don’t buy packaged or character dress up outfits.

Amelia has been raised with a different narrative. She sees things differently. She defines things differently. Not better, just differently.

Amelia loves mermaids, and there was no chance of keeping Princess Ariel out of the house. My husband let her watch the movie this summer, and she regularly checks out Ariel books from her school library. I take it all in stride, even though that is the Disney Princess I loathe the most.  But Amelia doesn’t like Ariel’s story, and spends hours at our kitchen table writing and illustrating different versions. Amelia has a different narrative for what it means to be a princess, to be a girl.

I look at one image, and see a girl ready to take on the world. I look at the other image, and see much less of that.

Amelia will be given the space to define herself and her place in this world.

So far, I really like what I see. I like how my little girl plays princess.

7yo Amelia dressed as a character she created called Princess Kitty.

These ladies have not made the cut for us. Disney (C)


Day of the Girl

I’ve been feeling badly all morning because I’ve been away from my desk and running like a crazy person since 5:30am.  I’ve not been able to really focus on or participate in any Day of the Girl festivities. I had to run a breakfast at my daughter’s school, drop my son at his school, dash to a doctor’s appointment, pick my son up from school, race home to make a lunch for Amelia, and then zip back to my daughter’s school to eat with her and her friends. I thought I would have time to write something this afternoon, but I have to grab Benny from a playdate, catch up on messages, pick up Amelia from school to come home for a rest before we have to go back to school to run yet another event. And, breathe……

And then I thought, maybe investing time and energy in my daughter’s education, giving lots of compliments to girls I encountered today, providing my girl with healthy food that will enable her to learn and grow, chatting with the school staff who does such an incredible job educating our students, and taking care of my reproductive health (free of threat or oppression) at the doctor IS the perfect way to celebrate Day of the Girl. Girls the world over should have the right to education and full agency over their bodies. Isn’t that what today is all about?

I wish I had had the time to write a beautifully worded blog post about the significance of today. Something eloquent and moving and inspiring. The kind of post that makes your heart feel warm as you sigh out loud and feel so proud to be female (or know and love one). But I just can’t get it done, not today.

And then I thought to myself, “Self, every day can and should be Day of the Girl. Every day is a good day to honor, celebrate, and hold up our daughters.”

So maybe that blog post will come, but for now, I just wanted to share this picture of my wonderful sister-in-law, who lives on the other side of the world, raising her two daughters in Madagascar. She is a photographer, and many times my brother sends us pictures of her as she works (when she doesn’t know she is being photographed). That is the case in this shot, where my SIL Lisa is teaching this toddler how to work the camera in order to take a picture of her visitor, and become a storyteller in her own right. Lisa is showing this tiny girl she has a voice and that her voice matters.

And it might seem so simple, just a moment or two in time, but teaching girls to use their voices and tell their stories of their view of the world is a powerful thing. It is a very powerful thing indeed.


My sister-in-law Lisa, traveling through a village in Madagascar.