I had just dropped my son at childcare and was driving my daughter to school.
“Book Week is coming up again,” my 7YO told me.
“This year I want to dress as Sleeping Beauty.”
“Sleeping Beauty? Why would you want to go as Sleeping Beauty?” I asked.
“So many girls at school go as Sleeping Beauty,” my daughter explained. “They wear the Disney costume.”
“But all she does is fall asleep and wait for a handsome prince to rescue her,” I said, all my feminist instincts roused.
My daughter thought about this.
“Well, if we’re talking Disney, why don’t you go as someone who actually does cool stuff?” I suggested.
“What about Mulan? You remember, she joins the army to spare her father and ends up saving the whole of China. She didn’t wait for someone to come and save her family – she went out and had the adventures herself.”
My daughter smiled.
“Or what about Elsa and Anna?” I continued.
“They’re the real heroes of Frozen. Anna sacrifices herself to save her sister and Elsa learns to control her amazing powers and bring back Summer. Imagine if they’d depended on that horrible Prince Hans? Where would they be now?”
“Alright,” my daughter said. “I want to go as Elsa. Will you buy me an Elsa costume?”
“Well, maybe daddy can help you make one,” I suggested. He’s a fantastic sewer — he worked as a sailmaker during university — and just bought Emily her own sewing machine.
“No, I’m too little,” she said. “I’m only learning how to sew.”
“Too little? Emily, there is a 14 year old girl in the US rebuilding a car right now. You’re not too little.”
“But daddy’s away (working) and there won’t be time when he gets back,” she replied. “We need to buy a costume.”
“Well… OK then,” I said reluctantly. Had I just been conned?
“Yes!” said my daughter, pumping her ams in the air.
I hate to admit it but when I was Emily’s age, I would have wanted to dress up as Sleeping Beauty, too. Or as Snow White or Cinderella. But all of these characters are distinguished primarily by their beauty and their need to be rescued. Now Emily knew the story of Sleeping Beauty from both the book and the movie but she knew Mulan and Frozen only from the movies. Which got me thinking: what was Emily learning from the books she read?
Like me, Emily is a voracious reader. She loves reading books in a series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Tintin, Geronimo Stilton, Asterix, Calvin and Hobbes and Dork Diaries. Of these, only the latter has a female protagonist. She might like the male leads in her books but would she identify with them? Did she want to go to Book Week as Sleeping Beauty partly because great female characters were thin on the ground in the books she reads?
Stories are powerful things: they can become a blueprint for life if you’ll let them.
During my teens I used to have crushes on guys who were doing cool things. I don’t mean skateboarding or surfing: I mean things like playing in indie bands or editing the university paper. I didn’t dare to do those things myself – I just wanted to worship my object of desire from afar while he did it. Then in my early twenties I realised it was way more fun to actually do those things myself. So I joined a band and a singing group and started writing for the university paper, becoming co-music editor and then, eventually, co-editor.
I have made a LOT of mistakes as a parent — my mother probably has a lengthy list somewhere — but one thing I can do right is to encourage my children to be proactive, strong and self-reliant. And in my daughter’s case, to be the heroine of her own story and not to rely on a man to save her.
I’m not saying that we don’t need each other: we certainly do just as we — men and women — all need saving sometimes, if only from ourselves. But rather than waiting for someone to rescue you, look to yourself first. You may just surprise yourself. As Elsa says in Frozen, “I never knew what I was capable of.”
So as I drove home from school I made a mental note to find my favourite childhood books with a female lead. Sure, some of them were a bit too old for Emily now — Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, and Judy Blume’s wonderful books — but others like the Penny Pollard series by Robyn Klein I could give to her now. I’d love to hear from you if you have any suggestions, too.
EDIT: Thank you to all those who have suggested books either below or via email or social media. Books and sites suggested so far:
- Matilda (Roald Dahl)
- The BFG (Roald Dahl)
- The Truth about Verity Sparks (Susan Green)
- The Wildwood Chronicles (Meloy Ellis)
- Billie B Brown (Sally Rippin)
- Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren)
- Audrey of the Outback (Christine Harris)
- The US-based A Mighty Girls web site has books for “smart, confident and courageous girls” including The Ultimate Guide to the Independent Princess collection
- The blog, What Do We Do All Day, has some great suggestions for Early Chapter Books for Kids (Series About Girls)
Got a suggestion? Please share it below.
Salmon and Soy Bean Salad
Emily loves salmon. I usually pan-fry it for her but after my recent chocolate/marshmallow/salted caramel binge I’m trying to be more healthy this week. So I decided to cook it in the oven today.
This dish is healthy and it’s also colourful, flavoursome and filling, too. If you’re making this as part of a meal, you could serve it on a bed of cooked quinoa (2/3 cup uncooked quinoa would be fine).
- 2 salmon steaks
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon ginger, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into inch-long pieces
- 1 x 200 gram packet soy beans
- 60 grams baby spinach
- 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds (from Asian grocer)
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon honey
- Juice of half a lime (1 tablespoon)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
- Marinate salmon steaks in soy sauce, ginger and honey for 10 minutes in a small, oven-proof container
- Place container into oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, depending on how well done you like your salmon.
- Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil and then steam asparagus and soy beans for around four minutes.
- When salmon is ready let it rest for 10 minutes to cool.
- To serve, place spinach and soy beans into a bowl. Place salmon on top and garnish with sesame seeds.
- Into the ovenproof container, whisk the vinegar, olive oil, honey and lime to make the dressing and add salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour the dressing into a little cup or container so people can pour it over themselves.
- Serves 2
- Gluten, dairy, nut and egg-free.
More salad recipes
- Duck, Orange and Pomegranate Salad
- Roasted Cauliflower and Chickpea Salad
- Lamb with Pomegranate, Mint and Broad Beans
- Beetroot, Walnut and Mint Salad
- Thai Beef Salad
- Fiery Vietnamese Chicken Salad
Subscribe to The Hungry Australian
Don’t want to miss a post? Sign up to receive new a recipe or travel post once a week – it’s FREE!!