What image comes to mind when you read that? A crusty old pirate steadying the wheel of his ship? A noble merchant carrying his goods across the sea? A fierce female battleship captain? Does ‘Captain’ have to be followed with a ‘sir’?
It doesn’t. At least, that’s not the way I grew up sailing with my family on the Great Lakes. Truth be told, I have never said “Aye aye, Captain” while sailing all those years (unless I was trying to be a pain to my dad). Many times, my dad let me take the helm and I was the commander of the ship. And by ‘ship’ I mean a 26 foot sailboat, but when you are a six year old that is some pretty important stuff.
I can remember competitively racing with my dad in high school and college, when I was usually the only female in the crew. I was expected to pull my weight and be as strong as the guys, hoisting sails and trimming jibs and taking the rough waves and wind that only Lake Michigan can deliver. I never really thought about it all that much, but the times my dad gave me the helm during a race were moments that were about more than just making me a better sailor. Those moments were also about letting me be in charge, letting me be in charge during a race when decisions meant seconds and angles that could win or lose for the whole crew, and letting me be in charge over a crew of men.
My kids are big time into Jake and the Never Land Pirates right now, and often times play pirates during pretend play. When my six year old daughter plays, she is a loud and daring captain, and never second guesses her ability to carry that role. My four year old Benny and I like to have picnic lunches in our family room and watch an episode together. The show is a cute preschool-aged cartoon that depicts the lead Jake, and his side kicks Izzy and Cubby, running circles around that wily Captain Hook, Smitty, and the rest of the crew. While Izzy has her magic pixie dust that allow people to fly, and Cubby is a whiz with maps, ultimately it is Jake who usually saves the day. The show does involve story lines highlighting teamwork, friendships, and listening to each other. Yet in much of the licensed merchandise, like t-shirts, backpacks, and party supplies, Izzy is missing. Gone completely from the cast, and that sends a strong message to both boys and girls.
The show has many great points, but it never shows Izzy sailing the boat. Or carrying the sword. Although she is adventurous, she is always in pink and purple. In scenes that include extra safety gear, like rock climbing, Izzy’s helmet is pink with flowers, while the boys get dinosaur spikes and blue with lightening bolts. Izzy voices her opinion a lot, and several times has saved the crew with her pixie dust. Still, she is a pink-clad fairy-dust carrying example of the Smurfette Trope. Sure many girls like pink and flowers, but many girls don’t. Could Izzy have been depicted in another way and still have been found appealing to young viewers? What would happen if Izzy wore the green dinosaur spike helmet? Could that send a message to kids, and help break down all these gender stereotypes they are surrounded by? Could Izzy be the center of a storyline, and Jake take the second fiddle spot?
Don’t get me wrong, I love that Izzy is an integral part of Jake’s crew, and that both little boys and girls watching the show are seeing a strong girl be friends with boys. Go to Pinterest, and you’ll find tons of ideas for birthday parties themed around the show (never mind that Izzy is again missing from some of the series of birthday plates and napkins). The party ideas are for both boys and girls, which I think that is important because we need to bring boys and girls together in friendship as much as we can. Benny wants to have a pirate party for his friends (a group of even numbered boys and girls) when his birthday comes this spring, and Jake and the Never Land Pirates shows that both boys and girls can be pirates and work together and go on adventures. I’ll just need to look extra hard for invitations and tableware that includes Izzy…
Every once in a while, it would nice to see Izzy be at the helm of those adventures. This coming weekend Amelia and I are headed out of town for a Girls Weekend with three other moms and their daughters. One of the activities we have planned is to go sailing with my dad. He and I switched the sails on the boat this past weekend, planning for light wind. Which is perfect sailing conditions for this crew, considering six and seven year old girls are going to be steering the boat.
Yo ho, let’s go!
So yo ho ho, me hearties, why not let a girl run the show?