Bring up the supergirls!

  • Published on October 7, 2016


This post honours International Day of the Girl Child on 11 October. The day was established to “to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.” The empowerment of girls is seen as “fundamental to breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty, violence, exclusion and discrimination and to achieving equitable and sustainable development outcomes.”

This year theme is Girls’ Progress = Goals’ Progress: A Global Girl Data Movement. While …recognize how girls’ progress is good not only for girls, but also for families, communities and society at large, we must also take this opportunity to consider how existing gaps in data on girls and young women, lack of systematic analysis, and limited use of existing data significantly constrain our ability to monitor and communicate the wellbeing and progress of nearly half of humanity.”

While recognising the gravity of situations faced by girls around the world, the focus of this post pales, but is significant nonetheless. Sometimes the changes we need to make start at home. Empowering our girls will enable them to empower others.

I recently listened to a TED talk Bring on the female superheroes by Christopher Bell, a media studies scholar and father to a 9-year-old daughter obsessed with Star Wars. If you have any concerns about gender stereotyping and gender equality, particularly with regards to toys and merchandising, have a listen. In less than the 16 minutes to view the video, Bell packs a powerful punch and takes a swipe at media corporations and merchandising for girls.

I share some of what I consider to be his main points below.

Bell describes his daughter as smart, funny, kind, friendly, and athletic with a love of comic books and Star Wars. She loves to dress up as her favourite heroes and superheroes. But he asks,

“Why is it that when my daughter dresses up, whether it’s Groot or The Incredible Hulk, whether it’s Obi-Wan Kenobi or Darth Maul, why is every character she dresses up as a boy?”

He says there are plenty of female superheroes; but not many female superhero dressing up clothes or toys.

The problem with this, he says, is to do with public pedagogy – the process of learning from society about how to behave in public, relationships, and what it means to be a boy or a girl. In our media-saturated society, most of that learning is done through the media; media controlled by a small number of corporations whose main aim is financial gain. He says,

“in 1983, 90 percent of American media were owned by 50 companies … a lot of different worldviews. In 2015, that number has shrunk to six, six companies … (which) produce nine out of every 10 movies you watch, nine out of every 10 television shows, nine out of every 10 songs, nine out of every 10 books.”

He questions

“if six companies control 90 percent of American media, how much influence do you think they have over what you’re allowed to see every day?”

He turns the spotlight on Disney accusing them of making money from selling pretty princesses to girls and superheroes to boys. He accuses them of ignoring strong female roles and failing to represent them in merchandise. He says that of the 30 feature-length movies based on comic book characters to be released in the next five years, only two will feature female solo roles.  They “will be sidekicks, they will be love interests, they will be members of teams. They will not be the main character.”

He continues

“if what we learn, what we know about other people and about the world we learn through media, then these companies are teaching my daughter that even if she is strong and smart and fast and fights like a ninja … it doesn’t matter.”

He says

“in my future, boys and girls are equally respected, equally valued, and most importantly, equally represented.”

I think that’s a good future. What do you think?

What has your experience been? Have you had difficulty finding clothes and toys that represent strong female characters? Is this an issue for you?

In a search of the online Disney store, I found a small collection of merchandise for Princess Leia, Gamora, and the Black Widow. Merchandise is also available from A mighty girl, an organisation describing itself as “The world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls.”

With International Day of the Girl Child celebrated on October 11, now is a good time to think about the attitudes we want our girls and boys to develop. What will you do to reduce gender stereotyping and inequality, and empower the girls and boys in your care?



  • Read books about strong girls. Here are some suggestions to get your started:

paper-bag-princess the-most-magnificent-thing9780316045469-me-jane

Ask your librarian for even more suggestion.

  • Class discussion (for boys and girls): What things are you really good at? Everybody is good at something. List. If time, provide children with opportunities to demonstrate or teach their skill to others. Perhaps children could write about how they developed their skill, when it is useful, and how they would like to develop and use it further.
  • Check out the readilearn resource The Clever Children for a story that can be personalised for your own clever class.

The Clever Children estoryThe Clever Children Printable

  • Class discussion (for boys and girls): What superpower would you like to have? Why? Children could draw themselves in their superpower costumes, design a badge, and write stories to tell about using their superpowers. It might be interesting to see the combined effects of some superpowers.

Look what's new

Beginning place value – the train game


Success in maths is dependent upon a good understanding of number and our decimal number system. This resource describes a fun but effective way of ensuring that children develop an understanding of place value.

I hope you have found some things of use in this post. I’ll see you next week with a game of Trick or Treat to play for Halloween. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend.

Remember, if you haven’t yet subscribed, an introductory discount of 20% is available to all who subscribe this year. Just use the coupon code welcome1 at the checkout to receive your discount.

Thank you

Thank you for reading.

Happy teaching and learning,



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    Thank you, Bec. We really need to be more mindful of these issues, don’t we?

    Ugh. Paper Bag Princess. Sorry. (Using my phone.) My son was in a play when he was very young and they performed this story. 🙂 Gives me a little hope.

    Thank you. You are too kind.

    Do you know, Sarah, I didn’t even notice that you wrote “Paperback”. I read what you meant, which demonstrates the importance of context, and that readers read what they think is there. I think you must have been thinking of yourself. What a wonderful title – The Paperback Princess! It is good to have hope. Without it the world would be a dismal place.

    This is so wonderful (the day) and true (the sentiment). It’s difficult for children (not just girls) to deal with this societal pressure and stereotyping. I’ve written so much about this but never shared it. It’s difficult to bring up boys in this society as they hear one thing at home (at least in MY home) and another out in the world.

    P.S. I love The Paperback Princess.

    Thank you very much for reading and commenting, Sarah. There is a lot of pressure put on all of us by the media. It is difficult enough for adults to navigate it, let alone children who are just forming their attitudes. Most of us don’t realise how much of our attitudes have been influenced by what we have read, seen, and heard. To think the content is controlled by so few is very scary. The media is constantly telling us what to think and how to react. We need to think critically about everything. It’s quite a daunting position to be in.
    Maybe one day you will share what you have written. I’m sure it will contain much wisdom. Your boys have a wonderful role model in you.
    I think the Paper Bag Princess fits very nicely with your fractured fairy tales.

Please share your thoughts. I love it when you do.

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