The Christmas before last, I was shopping for presents for my daughter, then aged three. I wanted to buy her a marble run, because she had seen one on the TV series Topsy and Tim. I found one on the Marks and Spencer website, but when I clicked on the product it was branded with the slogan “Boy Stuff” – the name for a whole range of toys they deemed to be not for girls. I was aghast, and drew it to the attention of the brilliant campaigners Let Toys Be Toys. M&S, which received many complaints from parents, dropped the range.
You see, I wanted my daughter (who also, back then, had a hatred of dresses) to play with whatever she wanted – be it a train set or a doll, or to dress up as an astronaut, say. But princesses – particularly the Disney variety – were heavily resisted. I don’t know what has happened in the past year, but on Sunday, in the toy department of another high street store, I found myself holding up two fancy-dress outfits and saying to my four-year-old: “Which one would you like – Elsa or Anna?”
As a fair share of parenting seems to be post-rationalisation, I decided not to condemn myself for being captured by Disney (both me and my daughter), but rather to celebrate that she chose, of the two Frozen heroines, Elsa over Anna. And so, it seems, does every little girl her age. At every girl’s birthday party, many children dress as Elsa, the hard-to-please ice queen with special powers. No girls seem to want to go as her goofy sister, Princess Anna, who falls for the wrong prince within five minutes of meeting him.
This is, I believe, because Elsa is not like other Disney princesses, or, in this case, a queen. Instead she is the female equivalent of a superhero like Batman or Spider-Man. And little girls, who haven’t quite yet had society’s norms thrust upon them, just want the same as little boys – they want to emulate superheroes, not the demure and subservient princesses waiting for their prince to come.
I hope there is another thing going on here that might bode well for the future of what we could call the “Elsa Generation” – these four- to seven-year-old girls who choose to dress up as the 21st-century Snow Queen. The appeal of superheroes to children is that they represent a world of can-do-anything with no boundaries. Wouldn’t it be great if this attitude was carried through to adult life? Yet girls and women are told all the time – by retailers, on TV, and in some aspects of work – that there are things they cannot do.
There are some great efforts to change this – from the women on boards campaign to the Government’s new #NotJustForBoys push to get girls interested in jobs in science and engineering.
Frozen: The Princess Diary
But at the moment, the proportion of women in senior roles in business, politics and other key industries is pitiful. Women MPs are one in five of the total. Campaigners want to see women making up 30 per cent of executive boards – but why can’t we aim for 50 per cent? We need to tell our daughters to aim higher than these minority figures – the very top of the ice mountain, in fact. Of course, it doesn’t necessarily follow that a superhero-worshipping child will grow up to be a leader, but these role models early on should certainly help.
This is why I have decided to be intensely relaxed about my daughter’s Disney dress. It could be that the Elsa Generation are the future sixth wave of feminism – a cohort that doesn’t put up with 20 per cent or even 30 per cent, coming of age in a time when we don’t need a #NotJustForBoys campaign. Or maybe this is just a fairy tale.
What’s wrong with a bit of cold?
It’s been two years, but there was finally snow on our road in south London when we woke up yesterday morning – although it was such a fine sprinkling it looked like someone had just dropped a bag of sugar at the bus stop.
Weather forecasters are warning of the Beast from the East – a 4,000-mile-wide blast of cold air from Siberia that is due to reach Britain this evening. Forecasters love to speak in such histrionic terms – like their “thundersnow” obsession of a few weeks ago. But, come on, it’s only winter – it would be more worrying if, like last year, there were some parts of Britain that never dipped below freezing. We need to be more chilled-out about winter and be like the Finns, who dig through several feet of snow in a temperature of minus 20C to get to their saunas. As someone else said, the cold never bothered me anyway.Reuse content