Having kids is nerve-wracking for so many reasons. As a new parent your natural instinct is to shield your kids physically from the world. When that first year of worrying started to come to a close I began to think less about shielding and more about shaping. The enormity of our role as parents began to dawn on me, and I wanted to make sure that the world my child knew grew as he did.
In my own world and beyond gender inequality seemed everywhere – Julia Gillard had just delivered her misogyny speech, and having kids had revealed the unique breed of sexism reserved only for mothers. Even on my baby’s bookshelves, the majority of stories seemed to be about male characters, and the heavily gendered roles my kids could expect to play in the world. My nightmare was to have a kid who participated in perpetuating that inequality.
These are just some of the women we admire this International Women’s Day (post continues after video).
I thought about what I could do to contribute in readjusting the way kids see the world, which was how I arrived at writing a feminist picture book for kids.
Amazing Babes started as a present for my son’s first birthday, and the idea behind it was to introduce him women whose achievements, values and skills I wanted him to grow with. I enlisted my friend, Japan based illustrator Grace Lee, to do illustrations and as soon as she started sending her gorgeous drawings back I knew we needed to find an audience for the book beyond my son.
In the book there are women from different times (from artist Frida Kahlo to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who founded both England’s first hospital for women and school of medicine for women), different places (including Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Redfern’s own Mum Shirl), of different ages (teen editor and actor Tavi Gevinson to Australia’s first female parliamentarian, Edith Cowan), and achieving very different things (like punk singer Kathleen Hanna, anarchist Emma Goldman and education activist Malala Yousafzai).
Mamamia’s Women of the Year 2015 (post continues after video):
That diversity was really important for me. While the book is very much about introducing strong female role models to the kids in my world, that’s not in the singular. In the same way that we admire male scientists, male peacemakers, male politicians and male artists, I wanted my kids to see that women were inspiring in endless ways, too.
Since publishing the book I’ve been asked about a follow up, “Amazing Bros”? It’s the same kind of question you get around International Women’s Day, and the answer is the same. Every day is a celebration of the achievements of men. We’re surrounded by news, art, music, sport, politics and history that champions the many many things men do, and do well. We’ve normalised this kind of success and what I wanted to do was tip the scales a bit, to widen the scope of what and who we celebrate.
But Amazing Babes, like International Women’s Day, isn’t a zero-sum game. These things are not about taking away from the success of men; they’re about adjusting how we see and celebrate the world.
I now have two sons and of course I want them to grow up knowing they can achieve anything they want. I want them to grow up knowing that we all can.
I don’t want their success to be reliant on the sacrifices of others and I don’t think it has to be. Part of that is changing the world we introduce them to and the things they value. For me, this comes down to the decisions we make from reading books, to watching telly, to the heroes we talk about.
My son is now four and no matter how much I try and stop him from being a fair dinkum four-year-old boy, his obsession with space and Lego and lasers deepens. But somewhere in the hundreds of questions any four-year-old delivers each day are questions about Gloria Steinem, Audre Lorde, and Mum Shirl. Growing up with that kind of inspiration in the wallpaper of your life has got to have an impact, and I can’t wait to see the kind of person this kid grows to become.