Q&A With “Powered By Girl” author Lyn Mikel Brown

powered-by-girl“Powered By Girl” is part critical commentary on a “lean in”, “TEDified” view of girl power and versions of the “exceptional girl” breaking down barriers on her own when in actuality they have benefited from a support system of adults behind them. PBG is also part playbook for working with girls to be activists of their own social movements. Brown writes, “We have to challenge that assumption that women and girls cannot work together – that women are too old and out of touch; that girls are too young and misinformed.”

The book is out today! Order from Amazon here or find your local indie bookstore here.

Q&A with “Powered By Girl” author and girl expert Lyn Mikel Brown.

  1. The Introduction to the book literally had me clapping as I read; you had me by page 5. Your observations and commitment to authentic empowerment of girls is so inspiring. You open the book by deconstructing the phenomenon of the “media generated kick-ass wonder girl” and call out the concepts of “Girl Power commerce” and “leaning in”. How can we encourage other women to think critically about these things, especially when mainstream feminism feels like it has become a shopping spree of “fempowerment” marketing, excusing sexualization as personal agency, and hyperfocus on “exceptional individual” perfectionism? The Disney Princesses and Barbie have both jumped on the girl power train, and while sparkle dinosaur t-shirts for girls at giant retailers pass for apparel equality I cannot stop thinking about what a crazy trip this is becoming.

Yes, such a crazy trip!

It sounds so simple, but I think we have to encourage women to really listen to girls. I anchor myself there. They are endlessly interesting, complex, funny, bursting with new ideas and fresh perspectives. Simply being with them, paying attention to their questions, what puzzles them, what they love and care about is a daily reminder that consumer culture misses the important stuff. I think our job is opening up possibilities, and since media is everywhere we pretty much have to use it to our own ends. We can help her identify stereotypes and point out when the world is limiting in some way or when it starts to foreclose on what she loves to do or wants to be. If we question, she will learn to question. This ability to step back and question puts a little thinking and breathing space between her and all those pressures bombarding her to look and be a certain way. In that bit of space she can reflect on what it feels like and think about what she wants to say and do about it.

 

  1. I highlighted so many passages in the book about adults letting go of their ego, truly tuning in and listening to girls’ voices, honoring girls’ expertise on their own experiences, forming genuine relationships built on respect and trust, etc. Why do adults find it difficult to take girls seriously, is it internalized sexism? What are some rookie mistakes adults can expect to make when they are guiding and working with girls?

I think we want to protect girls from all the sexist stuff coming at them and all the potential harm out there, some of which we’ve experienced. We assume we know better than she does what’s coming down the pike. And maybe because things seem so precarious, we think we have to be constantly vigilant and have it all together. For whatever reason, we forget to ask them what they think. This creates a barrier to genuine relationships with girls—genuine relationships involve two people. Girl activists say they love working with women who learn from them and treat them as if they have something important to offer. They describe relationships that are more horizontal, where women and girls together discover new ideas and create new possibilities. When we share with her the things we don’t know for certain, we let her into a way of being in the world that’s more generous. If we can make space for vulnerability and mistakes, ours included, she can take risks, knowing she has a safe place to land when things don’t go well. So I guess the rooky mistake is thinking we’re always in charge and that we always know more than she does about her own life. It’s an enormous relief for girls to have someone who’s honest about the complexity of things and who admits what she doesn’t know.

 

  1. I found the chapter about girls knowing women’s history in order to better understand the need for change to be so important. When I work with girls I’ll often ask them to name the female Supreme Court Justices, or three female Senators or scientists. The giant majority can’t do it, and that hurts my heart. Then I ask who the five Kardashian/Jenner sisters are and the room goes off like fireworks. This is when my brain starts to hurt, and I wonder how do parents reboot media messages about “important women” who do very little of importance? How do parents lead their daughters towards women actually doing important work? I think everyone knows who Malala is, but beyond that one amazing girl how do we find out about other current activists are and what work they are doing?

Pop idols are always going to be important. Knowing certain things about popular culture is a kind of currency among girls. That’s always been the case. The good news is that girls and women activists are all over the media too, whether it’s Iesha Evans who faced down Baton Rouge police in full riot gear at a Black Lives Matter protest or the U.S. women who dominated the Olympics while refusing to be contained by on-going sexist and racist commentary. For a while it seemed like there was a news story every week about girls protesting unfair school dress codes. Teen Magazines are pretty consistently pushing stories about girl-fueled activism. Teen Vogue’s latest girl activist list, “Introducing 21 under 21,” includes 11-year-old Marley Dias who started #1000BlackGirlBooks and 18-year-old Avery McCall, who read Half the Sky at 12 and now works with the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up campaign.

The problem is a media that sensationalizes young activists as special super girls for a few days, then drops their story. It’s really up to us to seek out and contextualize these brave girls, to talk about how activism is a collective response to injustice, and that unfairness will continue unless we all do our part. I’m not suggesting we give Teen Vogue to our pre-teen daughters, but that we seek out stories in magazines and online, do some background work on a few young activists, including the people and organizations that support them (no one does lasting social change work alone), and introduce them in your own way to her. For a start, check out these seven inspiring children’s books, and you might also want to support this amazing kickstarter campaign promising 100 Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls.

 

  1. The book mentions that girls are more likely than boys to be politically conscious and become involved in activism. What have you found to be a typical age when girls have this awakening? Do you think this motivation for the girls comes from an early recognition of a power and equality gap, or are there other factors that play into their drive to create change?

Every girl has the potential to be an agent for social change, simply because, as bell hooks reminds us, children are naturally curious. I think of girls as naturalists in the social world–always observing, always asking questions. The very first “that’s not fair!” she utters is a clue she’s attuned to power differences and ready to create change. Too often the response from adults is, “Yes, life is unfair.” But that won’t do if we want girls to grow up as full participants in civic and political life. Nancy Gruver of New Moon Magazine describes “That’s not fair” as girls’ natural feminism. If we want that seed to germinate, if we want to plant the notion that she is in the world to change the world, we’ll respond instead with “Let’s do something about it.”

 

  1. The book does a good job of identifying challenges girls of color face when they hear the call to activism, and how adults can react appropriately to those challenges and help girls work around or through them. So the United States isn’t doing so well dealing with our racism at the moment, and a lot of people are still uncomfortable or unsure of how to talk about race and racism. Can you to speak to how adults can respect a girl’s world view and experiences without making her race the most salient quality about her? How do we strike the right balance?

It’s very hard, and very important to try. As white women working with girls of color, we don’t want to be part of the problem but we don’t always know how to be part of the solution. The truth is, for girls of color in this country race typically is their most salient quality—it impacts how others see and treat them; it can make them hyper-visible or invisible, depending on the context. We can’t really pretend this isn’t true. It’s also important that we see and support girls of color fully and not buy into unconscious stereotypes. So this is about building up our awareness, our cultural competency, on our own time. We can’t expect girls of color to educate us and we risk unwittingly perpetuating the problem by ignoring it or fumbling around. I think we should 1) Do our own work. Read, seek out anti-racist trainings and workshops; do what it takes to ensure we can do right by all the girls in our care. 2) Partner with women of color in our work.

 

  1. The heart and soul of this book is the idea of intergenerational activism – pooling together youthful insight, knowledge and energy with more seasoned expertise, organizational skills, larger and more powerful networks in order to create meaningful change. I love this idea, but I’m acutely aware how often Millennials and Generation Z (iGen) are mocked and stereotyped by our society. What are some best practices you’ve seen young activists use to earn respect and be heard? Are there things parents can do to help cultivate these skills?

I write a lot about loyalty—about being on girls’ sides. To me, this means standing with girls when they face such responses. Supporting their right to speak, even when we disagree with them. I struggled a lot with how my feminist idols and friends talked about young women Bernie supporters. When I watched them protesting at the DNC, the word “silenced” scribbled on tape across their mouths, standing firm, I thought to myself, “I Iove these brave young women. I am in awe.” I mean, is this not what we want? Girls and young women who think for themselves, who dare to be an interruption?  

For me, the best practice is ensuring she has company. I’ve co-founded three girl-serving organizations and I joke that I started them for my daughter. And I think there’s some truth in that. She grew up with girls and women of every age talking with her about things that matter, inviting her to debate and argue and act on her convictions. These were people who would be there if the trolls surfaced. If there are not such organizations in your backyard, they are online and they have people you can talk with, resources and curricula you can use. Gather moms and daughters you know together and reach out to Moms As Mentors or New Moon Girls or check out SPARKits from SPARK Movement, fun ideas for media activism from About-Face, and curricula from Hardy Girls. Voice, courage, risk-taking are cultivated in relationship. If we are all there for one another’s girls, ours will be just fine.

 

{ MAINE LOCALS: For those readers located in Maine, Lyn Mikel Brown will be visiting the Waterville Public Library on Tuesday 9/13 from 5p-7p to discuss her book. This program is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided. Co-presented by the Waterville Public Library and Children’s Book Cellar.}

 

Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book in order to read and review.

13246296_10153429033517131_2474661485922461678_oMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009.

You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

Girls Who Change the World and the Women Behind Them

Book review “Powered By Girl”, Lyn Mikel Brown.
Author Q&A to come tomorrow!

"Powered by Girl" by Lyn Mikel Brown, available Sept 13 2016.

“Powered by Girl” by Lyn Mikel Brown, available Sept 13 2016.

Every page of my copy of “Powered By Girl: A Field Guide for Supporting Youth Activists” (Beacon Press) by my colleague Lyn Mikel Brown is highlighted like the photo to your left. Literally every page, the book is so insightful and does an amazing job of revealing the heart of what drives and inspires girls and young women to want to and follow through with making positive changes in the world.

Most importantly, the book is full of girls’ voices and experiences. This new guide is tuned into working with – AND LISTENING TO – girls. The best way to learn about how girls think, react, dream, and mobilize is to learn directly from them. Lyn Mikel Brown has worked alongside girl activists for decades and her valuable experience serves as a wise and seasoned mentor to other women who guide girls.

“Powered By Girl” could not have come at a more perfect time for me. When Amelia was a baby I read Lyn’s “Packaging Girlhood” and it set me on the path I travel today. Amelia is now a pre-teen who wants to influence and impact her world and I find another of Lyn’s books speaking exactly what I need to hear when I need to hear it.

In addition to parenting an impassioned, feminist tween girl I also co-lead a troop of thirty Girl Scouts ages five to fifteen, all of whom have opinions and aspirations to creating positive change.  “Powered By Girl” was extremely helpful in better understanding how the relationship of being a mentor to a girl is balanced on respect, a passing on of tools, and honoring input and youth experience. As Brown writes, “Opening ourselves to genuine relationship with girls is about seeing who they are and not who we think they should be.”

If you are a parent to a tween or teen girl, teach or coach girls, lead a Girl Scout troop, or engage with powerful young women in any way you need to pick up this book. It truly acts as a compass to girls’ minds and hearts, and gives actionable advice on how to direct their passion for change into meaningful actions.

powered-by-girlAs described by publisher Beacon Press: “Powered By Girl” is part critical commentary on a “lean in”, “TEDified” view of girl power and versions of the “exceptional girl” breaking down barriers on her own when in actuality they have benefited from a support system of adults behind them. PBG is also part playbook for working with girls to be activists of their own social movements. Brown writes, “We have to challenge that assumption that women and girls cannot work together – that women are too old and out of touch; that girls are too young and misinformed.”

The book is out tomorrow, Sept 13.

Preorder from Amazon here or find your local indie bookstore here.

{ MAINE LOCALS: For those readers located in Maine, Lyn Mikel Brown will be visiting the Waterville Public Library on 9/13 from 5p-7p to discuss her book. This program is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided. Co-presented by the Waterville Public Library and Children’s Book Cellar.}

Disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book in order to read and review.
13246296_10153429033517131_2474661485922461678_oMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009.

You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).

 

 

 

Media Literacy for Itty Bitties, with Lyn Mikel Brown

Media Literacy, for both parents and children, needs to start when our kids are itty bitty.

 Last week I came across an excellent article about parenting with media literacy on a site I use a lot, www.commonsensemedia.org. The site is a great parenting resource for age-appropriate media for your kiddos. The article, “Too Sexy, Too Soon”, was about the crush of sexualization in girlhood, happening as early as the preschool years. I feel it with my five year old daughter,especially as we move into bigger girl toys and clothes.

Here is what the article advised for parents of young kids:

Don’t buy in. Help your kids stay kids by not buying outfits, makeup, and other “grown up” accessories. Stay away from clothing that reinforces the message that looking “sexy” is a way to get noticed.

Seek out positive role models. Lots of little girls love to dress up as princesses. Help expand their horizons by finding role models in books, on TV, in movies, and in real life that show kids how they can be recognized for their talents and brains rather than their looks or behavior.

Watch out for stereotypes. Our kids look to their favorite actors and musicians for cues on how to act. Point out when the media rewards girls for being sexy and boys for being strong.

Resist consumerist messages. On mother-daughter days, do something outside the mall, like crafts, hiking, or biking. Not all mothers and daughters have to bond by shopping.

Challenge the status quo. Reinforce behaviors that don’t involve kids’ looks. Kids develop self-esteem by doing things they feel proud of. If your kids are getting their self-worth from attention-getting behavior, they’ll have sold themselves short.

 The article is really great….but leaves parents with little kids wondering, “I still don’t know what to do.”

It is my very firm belief that media literacy and girl empowerment starts when our girls are itty bitty. This is something our girls must be raised with. I am writing a book on this very topic – so that new parents can have a jump on the game. We shouldn’t have to wait for school age to get help, or for each of us figure it out on our own, or be left wondering what to do about a topic that is going to impact every kid in this country.  
 
So I contacted Lyn Mikel Brown, one of the authors of the article (also one of the co-auothors of the great book “Packaging Girlhood”), founder of girl advocacy group Hardy Girl, Healthy Women, and Professor of Education at Colby College in Maine, to ask for more specifics on how to apply all of the awesome advice to small children. In my message to Professor Brown, I questioned the idea of “protection” that the article mentions, stating that when our girls are tiny and too small for critical thinking and age-appropriate explanations and conversations, that should be the very age when we are protecting them from harmful media, toys, and messages. My own home is a Barbie-Princess-Tinkerbell-Bratz free house. Read here and here on why. My daughter plays with dolls that look like children, stuffed animals, and lots of science-based stuff like plastic whales and bug catchers and vet kits. By the same token, my son does not have war guys or weapons or uber-muscly superhero guys. He mostly plays with his puzzles, dinos, and blocks (and his sister’s toys when she is at school). Especially during the preschool years, I want to protect my kids from commodification and sexualization and give them toys that honor childhood and help them explore this world. 
Lyn’s response: I stress this “protection” point often because too many parents think they can fully control what their little kids see, hear, and play with and then forget to talk with them in age-appropriate ways and give them what they need to protect themselves. Protection alone does not work…as soon as kids are engaged with media and can talk, we should be modeling questions and skepticism, helping them create their own media, and encouraging them to talk back and insert their own ideas in the media they see. 
 
I couldn’t agree more, especially about the part of kids creating their own media. I’m a huge believer in open-ended play, the power of imagination, and critical thinking. The same goes for parents — be creative about the toys and media you bring into your home, especially in the beginning years. We are under no obligation to buy the products marketed to our children that have licensed characters on them, that make us uneasy, or that we outright disagree with. My daughter has one Disney Princess book, but has otherwise grown up free of that kind of nonsense. Being a princess isn’t even on her radar. She does love to dress up and wear jewelry when she says it is time for a “glamorous date” with my husband, and the two head down the street to the local coffee shop to play checkers and Candyland.  
 
It is somewhat easy to control your child’s home environment when they are preschool aged….but when they hit school age or if they go to childcare, all bets are off. Your parenting lessons and family values will remain, but think about how many new people and ideas they are exposed to. That isn’t a bad thing – it creates conversation. The idea of sheltering our kids forever from this just isn’t realistic. We instead need tools to help navigate the rough waters.
 
I have a lot of parents tell me they want to home school, or are afraid to send their kids to school because of the garbage out there. I can understand that concern, but we can’t parent from a place of fear. Media literacy isn’t about sheltering our kids, it is about containing the bad stuff until they are able to process it, and as soon as they can process it, to start talking about it. And to keep talking about it, because the conversation changes as our children age. For us, the questioning started at age 2 1/2 years old with my daughter. I teach her to question everything. Everything. My son will be three years old next month, and we already do the same for him.
 
It crosses over everywhere we go….”Why can’t we have the cereal with Dora?” she’ll ask. “Because that is too sugary and we don’t buy food that is junky for our body,” I’ll answer. Amelia came back with, “But I like Dora.” So I explain more, “I like Dora, too. But the cereal inside the box isn’t healthy for us, so let’s make a better choice.”
 
“Better choice” is a phrase we use a lot around here. When she spent most of last year lobbying for Sea World Barbie, we talked about why she wanted Barbie and that Mommy & Daddy felt there were healthier choices for little girls. Instead of Barbie we turned to Bindi Irwin, Groovy Girls, Animal Planet toys, and Sophie & Lili dolls. She couldn’t be happier with the toys she has, and hasn’t mentioned Barbie since.
 
When the kids are watching tv and “Penguins of Madagascar” ends and “Sponge Bob” comes on, they know to change the channel. I usually hear, “Op, Benny. We need to make a better choice.” Or I’ll hear her gasp if she hears “Shut up” or “stupid” on a tv show, and she’ll say “Oh man, this must be a teenagered show. Mom, change it to a better choice please.” Amelia, at five years old, is starting to recognize commercials and understands they are trying to sell her things. That’s not to say she doesn’t still want some of the toys she sees, but she is realizing what is going on. She calls it “Buzz Lightyear Voice and Sparkling Girls”….pay attention next time to a few children’s commercials and you’ll see how right she is.
 
Here’s more from Lyn Mikel Brown:
…being sexualized/commodified and understanding what that means are different, so the onus is on parents to help girls understand the stereotypes and eventually, the sexualization, in their media. When they are little and forming gender identities, it’s really about categorizing things–this is girl, this is boy–so that’s why the pink blue stuff has such power. Parenting well means interrupting this, limiting those messages when possible, offering a wider range of choices and experiences and questioning these stereotypes out loud. It’s all about interrupting the marketers’ narrow version of gender (and also race, sexual identity, etc.) and giving kids a range of experiences so that we are helping to fire all those synapses.
I don’t think it helps to be really anxious about sexualization when girls are too young–because if parents aren’t careful, they give unintended messages about good and bad girls (those who wear pink, own Bratz dolls), good and bad bodies, etc. (little kids are very concrete). We want kids to get comfortable questioning fake/idealized stuff and embracing the wonderful complexity in their worlds. So yes, dolls contribute to a larger pattern of sexualization and contribute to a world where little girls are more at risk, but that’s different than what I do as a parent. The issue for parents is parenting where kids are and that means getting what they are actually taking from this stuff–so not assuming or overeacting, but listening and talking with them.
 
So, for parents of itty bitties, what can you do?
  • Provide your child with a diverse range of toys that encourages all kinds of exploration, gross and fine motor skills, creativity, and open-ended play.
  • Fill your child’s world with a rich variety of colors. Color, color, color, and do not let yourself be limited to those assigned to gender by our culture.
  • It is okay to feel uncomfortable with characters or toys for children that look like stereotyped, sexualized women and steroid-ridden men. My kids love making up their own characters, so apart from the body image issues, we try to avoid those things and give their creativity room to run.
  • Expose your child to media that depicts boys and girls working together, and not participating in gender stereotyped activities.
  • Characters that pass the test at our house: Dora and Diego, Sesame Street, Wonder Pets, Land Before Time, Dr. Seuss, Team Umizumi, Bubble Guppies, Little Bear, and Olivia.
  • When at the toy store, question why one side is blue and one side is pink. That’s all a bunch of marketing garbage. Then cross the aisle and buy a car for your girl and a doll for your son. There isn’t a boy or girl side to early childhood.
  • Know that you have the right to ask family members to respect your wishes about media literacy in your home. Example: When asked about birthday gift ideas, it is within your right to request that certain type of toy not be given, and then provide examples of what your child would enjoy. My friends and family have been wonderful about honoring my requests and respecting my daugther’s love of dinosaurs and sea creatures.
  • Stock your playroom with art supplies, dressup clothes, bean bags, scarves, musical instruments, puzzles, books, blocks, puppets, play food and dishes and/or a tea set, toy animals and dinosaurs, trains and cars, doll houses, stuffed animals…any toy that doesn’t come with instructions or batteries!
  • Kids love to mimic adults, so by 18months most kids enjoy cooking sets, caring for a doll or lovey, tool sets, and dress up clothes. My 5yo and almost 3yo love playing hospital, grocery store, zoo, school, restaurant, museum gift shop, and animal rescuers. As of late they have been building aquariums, but their ticket prices are really steep.
  • Positive body image starts as early as “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”. NO Fat Talk is allowed. Exercise and be active with your kids, show them all the amazing things healthy bodies can do!
  • Repeat after me: NO Fat Talk is allowed in your home. None. Zip. Nada. Zilch.
  • Explore. Go look for birds nests and worm hunt and count cars and pick clovers and chase butterflies. Nature doesn’t run commercials. Last summer my kids were intent on bear hunting. There aren’t too many bears in southcentral Wisconsin, but boy if they didn’t tire themselves out while looking for footprints in the woods.
  • Take those couch cushions off and build a fort, or throw a bedsheet over the table to create a tent. Then let them create their own world.
  • On the days you are out of ideas, throw them in the bath with swim goggles and a bubble wand or a popsicle.
  • Write down a story your child tells you, then help him/her illustrate. Create a music band or parade. Have them act out little skits and catch it on video. Write scripts for puppet shows.
  • Know that it will be impossible to escape this stuff. Work on being smart about it – and teaching those smarts to your kids. It is a family effort, and you’ll all be better off for it.
  • Most of all – allow yourself grace, not one of us is a perfect parent, but staying engaged and in touch with our kids will make all the difference in the often times crazy world. 

I hope this information helps and gives you a good starting point. If you have more questions or specific problems, leave them in the comments, or email me (info@pigtailpals.com) and I’ll get you the best information I can.

For MORE resources, Hardy Girls Healthy Women has a Resources page with excellent Tips sheets. Soak all of them in, they are all great!

You bet there is a lot of crap out there, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. As parents we choose what our family buys, and what comes into our home. We are not powerless, and we need to find our voices again and say “NO!” to the products and media and marketers we feel are harming our kids.

 

“One of Us” – Book Review and Interview with Lyn Mikel Brown

"One of Us" by Peggy Moss, Illustrated by Penny Weber

On June 1 Peggy Moss’ engaging new children’s book “One of Us” will be published to the delight of parents and educators everywhere. It is a story about fitting in, standing out, and being yourself. Navigating elementary aged friendships and trying to figure out as a kid who you are can be awkward.  The message of “One of Us” will leave with you and your child as you read together is to “bravely be you”.

The story is centered around a girl named Roberta. She is new to the school and spends her first day trying to determine where she fits in. Roberta has a successful first day at school as she moves in and out of several social circles and finally finds the one that accepts for just the way she is. Hair styles, monkey bar ability, choice of footwear, and even the menu inside the students’ lunch boxes determine who is friends with whom. Roberta makes this all for nonsense and opts to sit by herself, only to find, she isn’t alone.

The day the advance copy arrived in my mailbox was exciting. I’ll admit I’ve never seen an advance copy of a book and when I opened the package, I felt like I was holding someone’s newborn. I’m sure Peggy Moss and Penny Weber would agree that I was. I fell in love with the story on my first read. Then I went back to really study the story line. A third “read” allowed me to soak in the rich illustrations that accompany this tale of self-acceptance and acceptance of others. I highly recommend this book for families of grade school aged children, but I will say my preschooler understood much of the story and really enjoyed the artwork.

Robert and Anna discuss being different from each other. "One of Us"

These days it is difficult to raise a child who believes in authenticity and being true to oneself. Media influence and peer pressure, especially during upper elementary and middle school years, is intense. Parents can consider “One of Us’ as an excellent tool and conversation starter with their children. Here to talk more about that is our special guest Lyn Mikel Brown.

Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D. is a professor at Colby College in Maine; an expert on gender, girls’ development, and media literacy; co-author with Sharon Lamb of two of our favorite books “Packaging Girlhood” and “Packaging Boyhood”; a popular speaker and activist; and a mom. We did a little happy dance when Lyn agreed to share with us her insights here on the importance of the message “One of Us” delivers to parents and students.

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1. Hi Lyn, thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. I’m really excited about “One of Us” because the story and the illustrations do a wonderful job of showing kids it is okay to be different, and that there are so many ways we are different from each other. Why is it so important for boys and girls to be allowed to explore various interests and become involved in a wide array of activities as they grow  up?

Thanks so much Melissa.  Happy to be here.  I’m a big fan of Pigtail Pals!

It’s important to offer children to a wide range of options quite simply because we don’t yet know what they’ll be excited by, or want to pursue and explore on their own. This is the gift we can give them as parents; the ability to discover and choose what they love.  It’s also really good for them. We know from research that children’s brains are impacted by the opportunities for exploration and engagement they’re given—so the best thing we can do as parents to stimulate their minds and interests is to give them a rich array of possibilities.  We also know that media limits those options, by telling girls and boys way before they know what they like or can express their own interests, what being a girl or boy SHOULD be about.  It does children a real disservice to be channeled down such narrow and limiting pathways at a young age.

2. I thought it was both subtle and powerful that Peggy Moss’ story includes girls that liked car racing and baseball over ballet; boys that liked origami and flower lunch boxes. As the parent of a girl who loves dinosaurs and jellyfish, I find it difficult to get gender-neutral toys and books and clothes for her. What are some easy steps parents can take to encourage their kids to break out of binary gender stereotypes assigned to them by marketers and the media?

We all find it difficult!  That’s because marketers and media deem it cost-effective to sell products using gender stereotypes.  If you can sell little girls on pink, princess, shopaholic fashionistas and boys on over the top violence, superheroes, risk taking and winning, it becomes easy to market to them.  Media also operate on the assumption that girls will watch or read about boys but boys will not watch or read about girls.  In fact, research tells us that if the stories are interesting, gender isn’t a big deal for boys or girls.  Boys loved Dora The Explorer, for example.  It’s only when Diego was introduced and Dora started selling pink princess stuff that boys got the coded message that Dora wasn’t’ for them.

Clearly it’s important to keep an eye out for books like One of Us.  You can also help your child do more than just accept what the media hands them.  Even when they’re as young as four or five, you can develop a vocabulary that will set the conversational stage for years to come.  What better way to introduce the word “stereotype” to your daughter or son than by walking through the girls’ and boys’ departments of any clothing store, or the “blue” and “pink” aisles of any toy store?  Model a way of seeing and talking about the different choices presented to your children.  If you question, they’ll question.  For example, you might ask if he or she can imagine another way a movie, TV show, or book could end? Ask her to imagine stories other than romance, shopping sprees, or saved by the prince versions she’ll see over and over.  Ask him to imagine stories other than superheroes or guys that need to fight to teach someone somewhere a lesson.  Help your children notice when their world is becoming smaller and more limited, so they can step back and say, “That’s silly. That’s a stereotype.  Real girls and boys aren’t always like that.”

And speaking of introducing them to a world of possibilities, how about increasing the time you spend trying new activities that challenge your child’s imagination.  Seek mind-opening books, TV shows, and music that aren’t marketed to “boys” or “girls” but to all kids.  Offer girls and boys the possibility of action without violence, pretty without sexy, and also, the full rainbow of colors!

3. In this story, the main character Roberta is new to her elementary school and tries to makes friends while also trying to stay true to who she knows she is. I found her character to be confused and confident at the same time. I view self-confidence as a muscle you have to exercise. You founded an organization, Hardy Girls Healthy Women (HGHW) with this same ideal: to create strong and healthy girls by developing safe places to explore life and push the limits. Tell me more about HGHW and how we need to train our girls to be strong and confident.

Thanks so much for asking.  I think of Hardy Girls Healthy Women as “the little nonprofit that could.”   We’re committed to workingwith girls to change the culture in which girls are growing. Whether it’s our elementary Adventure Girls program, our middle school Girls Coalition Groups, or our Powered By Girl media literacy and social action project for teens, we provide the scaffolding and the platform for girls to do their best social change work. We connect girls with the people and resources that help them transform their surroundings into safe havens; and we empower them with knowledge, critical thinking skills, and a platform for activism. As an organization, we have spent the last ten years finding out what happens when you really listen to girls and take them seriously, when you empower them instead of treating them like victims, and when you work side by side with them to challenge media messages that pit girls against one another, promote unrealistic body and beauty ideals, and sexualize girls from a very young age. Our mantra:  Girls aren’t the problem, they’re the solution!

4. I am a huge fan of your research and the books you have written. Before I launched Pigtail Pals, I had made lots of observations about the state of childhood, and then I read ‘Packaging Girlhood’ and it was like finding my Holy Grail. What was a message from your parents or lesson during your girlhood that led you to become who you are today?

I grew up working class in a small town in “downeast” Maine.  My parents valued relationships, humor, and a sense of place. They didn’t limit themselves and they didn’t judge or box in other people.  That had a big impact on me.  But maybe even more than that, they never saw me as anything but smart and capable.  My dad never went to college, and so maybe I was his chance.  But it never felt that way.  It just felt like confidence in me and support for what I was passionate about.

5. I found “One of Us” to be brilliant. The story was written perfectly for grade school kiddos to relate, the illustrations are delicious, and the representation of diversity warmed me over. It broke down racial barriers, gender barriers, and had a strong girl at the center who didn’t need a boy to solve her problem. My favorite part was towards the end, at the lunch table, when Roberta tells her new friends “But we aren’t the same” and her pal Anna reassures her, “That’s the best part.”  What was an image or message from the book that stuck out for you?

I’ve loved all of Peggy’s books, but this one is truly special. My favorite point is when Roberta recites just “what” she is.  I really feel her in that moment.  Her expression and stance say it all:  I’m done playing around.  Like it or not, this is me.  I am who I am.   One of Us is an invitation to children to embrace their quirky originality and to find the people in their lives who can appreciate their unique, joyful, and infinitely interesting selves.

I would like to thank Peggy Moss and Tilbury House Publishers for inviting Pigtail Pals to be a part of the book tour and launch. We are proud to participate and wish Peggy much success with her wonderful book! Thank you to Lyn Mikel Brown for your insightful answers for our readers.

Catch us on twitter on June 1st for a book party. Follow the #bravelybeyou  hashtag for more info! We’ll update you with more info as the date approaches.