Sophie Morris: Let little girls dream, while they still can

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The Independent Online

Bless Barbara Follett. When she was little, she dreamed of standing at a checkout all day or scrubbing hospital floors: tough, honest toil. Today, moaned the MP yesterday, girls just want to be WAGS or win The X Factor. The pursuit of fame and wealth is keeping girls from real achievement.

That depends on what you mean by real achievement. Mrs Follett dropped out of university to support her family and she now has a ministerial post and five children with her multimillionaire husband, the writer Ken Follett. Most lives turn out far more mundane.

I adhere to the broadly Methodist approach that you have to work for a crust and if you don't, it will taste stale. But Mrs Follett is wrong to state her opinion that nothing comes for free through quashing dreams of fame, especially if it is just to stamp her face over her new post as Culture Minister.

There is a stage in everyone's life characterised by innocent ignorance. This is childhood. Stop trying to hijack it Mrs Follett. This charmed slice of existence takes place before people start panicking about whether they are getting their five-a-day, and before the phrase "sub-prime lending" enters their vocabulary, but it is thinning out by the day and needs protecting.

As well as WAGS and X-Factor winners, little girls also want to be Angelina Ballerina and their own big brothers. Surgical advances mean it is possible for girls to become men, but science stops short at transforming them into white mice wearing tutus. The odds are they'll grow out of both desires before they hit double figures.

I can't remember what I dreamt of being when I was young – growing up and reaching full consciousness seems to erase infantile thoughts. Even if I did, and I'm sure my ambitions stretched no further than wanting a kitten and to go swimming, would it have been wise to follow up those whims? Probably not. The same goes for anyone save Keira Knightley, who begged for an agent at the age of three.

Children want to do all sorts of unrealistic things – walk on the moon, fly jets, be princesses and yes, WAGS. For the few short years we can insulate them from finding out how hard it is to achieve these ambitions (the number of WAGS, I believe, is finite, and relates directly to the number of footballers), can't we just let them be?

And what about all those children whose childhoods are as far from an Enid Blyton book as Mrs Follett's comments are from the real aspirations of the millions of girls whose opinion she failed to canvass? The children who grow up caring for their parents, perhaps, or without any parents. Should we criticise them for dreaming of a life full of hair extensions and shopping, or instant pop stardom, albeit with creepy Simon Cowell as a chaperone?

Far-fetched dreams dull the impact of reality. Did Mrs Follett really never have any of her own while growing up in Haile Selassie's Ethiopia with an alcoholic father? Her website trumpets "the way she has drawn on her own misfortune and experience to strengthen the Labour Party" (insert violins here). How has she strengthened Labour? With her knowledge of "colour theory" to teach colleagues "the science of colour and some of the requirements of a TV- and fashion-conscious age". Having made a virtue of her own instinct towards presentation, she thinks other women should take up more serious endeavour.

A woman who spends £1600 a year on window cleaning is not well placed to pass judgment on the wishes of the young, but her fear that Britain is "in danger of being Barbie-dolled" is way off the mark. It is a Bratz doll, Barbara, that little girls really, really want.

At least the Queen of Poptried to keep her man

The Material Girl has slipped up and her marriage to Guy Ritchie is finally over. Did anyone, fans or critics, ever expect any different? Perhaps not, but she deserves a high-five for trying. Yes, Madonna leads an improbably complicated life. And no, it can't be easy to maintain a strong marriage amidst three young children and an international pop career, but it is always Madonna who is on the receiving end of the bile. She puts her career first and she downplays his; she runs away to New York prompting rumours of affairs with baseball players; she leaves his 40th birthday party early.

Unions between those in the public eye, and specifically creative talent are rarely blessed with longevity. This has nothing to do with high divorce levels and everything to do with the clash of titanic egos. Guy and Madonna must have had a vast number of tsunami-strength arguments during their eight-year marriage (let's hope they hid them from the children) which eventually extinguished their affection. They didn't give up without a fight and have explored counselling and reconciliation options.

Strong women don't have a fantastic record in sticking by their man, or being stuck by. Liza Minnelli, Liz Taylor and Shirley Bassey will testify to that, though I doubt Madonna will thank me for drawing such a comparison.

A blow for compassion or a cry for publicity?

What better way to say that fat people can be lovable than by parading a bikini-clad Kelly Brook on the West End stage? Her character Jeannie in Neil LaBute's play, Fat Pig, is an axis on which her former lover Tom merrily spins while deciding if he is actually in love with Helen. Helen is obese, so falling for her takes a lot of soul-searching. She must have a storming personality. The casting of Brook as the ultimate in bland ciphers might be applauded were it not winning the play publicity for all the wrong reasons.