By Suzanne Hemming – I gave birth to my daughter in 2013 and it was as if my eyes suddenly opened and for the first time I saw the world we live in properly.
I grew up during the second wave of feminism, when the message was that women can have it all: the family; the career and the 80s shoulder pads to go with it. I never once questioned that I couldn’t go out into the world and that I had a place in it. So off I went, with a degree in engineering (how thoroughly modern is that: a girl who studies a male dominated STEM subject eh?) a move to the capital city, and career in TV production. I could vote, had an income. Equality: done.
The 90s came and brought mens’ magazines down from the top shelf to mix with other more mainstream lifestyle publications, and the ladette was born. How wonderful, thought my 20something self: we can behave more like men, we can drink and go crazy, and women have taken ownership of their bodies, choosing to flaunt them if they want to. If people made sexist jokes it was just banter, bants, having a laugh. It wasn’t really sexist was it (this wasn’t the 60s and 70s anymore, Carry On was gone) and we could just banter back, it didn’t mean anything.
So it was all dealt with. The feminists that had gone before had sorted it all out (and so I definitely didn’t have to call myself a feminist as that now meant hating men and we were all equal now right?). The UK equal pay act was put into place in 1970 and the equality act took it all one step further in 2010, so you know, job done.
And then I had my daughter. A beautiful, tiny little human being who I had the responsibility to guide and prepare to go out into the world, which is both wonderfully amazing and totally terrifying: quite the responsibility! Baby girl you can be and do anything you wish – I will tell you that and show you that, always. And so we began to teach, and read, and I nostalgically reached for the fairytales of my childhood. And what did I discover reading them as an adult? That Ariel literally gives up her voice for the man she loves, who doesn’t know she exists. That Sleeping Beauty is fast asleep when a stranger walks into her room and kisses her, and she’s grateful for it. That Prince Charming doesn’t recognise Cinderella in daywear but once the shoe fits, it’s up the aisle for Cinders. Holy stereotype Batman! What are we teaching kids?!
“The feminists that had gone before had sorted it all out, and so I definitely didn’t have to call myself a feminist…”
Once you see you it, you can’t un-see it; you spot these message everywhere: the pink for girls and blue for boys in the toy shops (there’s nothing wrong with the colour pink, I love pink, but other colours are available); the kids’ clothes or toys that have only dinosaurs and spaceships for boys, and butterflies and cupcakes for girls (again, give me all the cupcakes, do, but Princess Leia kicked ass way back in ’77); and of course the ‘taps into victim blaming’ messages that ‘boys will be boys’ and ‘he only does it because he likes you’. I quickly realised that my daughter would receive 1000s of messages everyday, telling her who she should be, how she should act, and what she should like.
So what could I do about this? Moan about it? Worry about it? Before I became a parent, I confess I was a bit of a ‘bury my head in the sand’ kind of person, too afraid to use my voice, or to rock the boat. But now it’s not just about me; now it’s about my little girl. So I started writing, first in a blog, and eventually I started trying to re-write the fairytales. See, it’s not that I don’t like a fairytale with a happily every after: my secret guilty pleasure is a romcom with a fashion related montage sequence and a cheesy pop tune (mind you, I guess that secret’s out the bag now). But surely the princesses don’t need to sit around passively waiting to be saved? My reworking of Cinderella had them becoming friends and heading off to university, Ella declaring they were too young to commit to marriage. Then I had an idea, about a little girl who loves sport, and a little boy who thinks she’ll be rubbish at sport just because she’s a girl. They soon both discover they are equals, that their gender does not have to determine the outcome. Once I started writing, I realised that maybe this could be the way that I could make a difference for my daughter. Just a small difference, but all small changes can add up to create big results.
She’s Not Good for a Girl, She’s Just Good! and the setting up of Thea Chops Books is the result, and now a second book is on the way. This next story is about Florence again (the main character in the first book) and now she’s a princess, but a princess who wants to be an engineer. You see I think we all wear many hats in life. For example I’m a mum, a wife, a daughter, a friend, I was a TV production manager, I did an engineering degree, and my husband might tell you I’m occasionally a bit of a princess (I think he means it affectionately….).
You can wear a crown or a hard hat, in fact you can wear any hat you wish. If my books teach just a handful of girls and boys that they can be who they wish to be, then hopefully the next generation of men and women will view each other as equals, and my daughter will grow up in a world with wide open eyes and every opportunity to be herself.
About the author
Thea Chops Books began life when blogger and mum-of-one, Suzanne Hemming, noticed the lack of children’s books that presented males and females as equals. She never intended to become a publisher, but her commitment to the cause of equality coupled with the possibilities of the self-publishing process meant one thing led to another… ‘She’s Not Good For a Girl, She’s Just Good!’ is her first book.
You can follow Suzanne on Twitter.