Thursday, 28 September 2017

Girls CAN do Anything!

I'm delighted to be publishing a book with Scholastic next year called Girls Can do Anything

It's being illustrated by the wonderful Ali Pye, and will be aimed at very young children.  As part of the process, my editor asked me to send her a paragraph on why I wanted to write the book.  What came out was a *little* more than a single paragraph - but for once I wasn't particularly worried about word count!  Anyway, I thought I'd share it with you too. So here it is:

I have always been a girl but have never felt completely comfortable as one.  When I was growing up, my parents were endlessly encouraging and taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be, I just had to be determined and work hard. However, society did not agree and I felt constantly affronted and frustrated by everyday sexism.  I was not allowed to wear trousers to school, even when it was snowing, because “girls don’t wear trousers,”  I was not allowed to join the Cub Scouts, because girls had to be Brownies and learn about sewing and painting. Only boys were allowed to play with fire and poke things with sticks.  I was not allowed to play football, or do woodwork. I could not grow up to be an astronaut, or a carpenter or a racing driver.  

As I child, I had no positive female role models. All the best characters in books, films and on television were male. Girls like me,  who loved climbing trees and building dens, were called tom-boys.  We were not proper girls, or proper boys, but something in between.

As an adult, I assumed that this kind of insidious disapproval was a thing of the past.  That society was much more fair - that women were now seen as equals.  Until one day in 2014, when I saw an online campaign #Like a Girl, which really unsettled me.  It highlighted how the term “like a girl,”  is still used as an insult.  And that really got me thinking.  Why should it be an insult to throw like a girl, or run like a girl?  Why was this term still very much in use in what I had thought were more enlightened times?  

A year or so later, my thoughts were again jarred by a Sport England advert on television #ThisGirlCan.  This ad really blew all my childhood conditioning out of the water.  For the first time ever, I was seeing images of girls getting sweaty, and dirty and being aggressive - and this being a cause for celebration rather than ridicule.  It was the first time I’d seen anything that so blatantly challenged the stereotypes I’d grown up with.  And I was shocked at how much impact it had. Until then, I’d assumed that sexual stereotyping was a thing of the past.  But seeing these powerful images lighting up my living room made me realise that society still thinks it’s unusual for a girl to play football, or fly a plane, or mend the road.  We see very little women’s sport on television, even now.  If I asked you who was the first British astronaut, you would likely say Tim Peake.  But you’d be wrong.  It was, in fact, a woman, called Helen Sharman, almost 25 years before.  My sister-in-law, who is a Captain for Easyjet - is still regularly patronised with a “well done” by male passengers boarding her plane.  It is totally shocking and unacceptable to me that women’s achievements are still belittled, ridiculed and ignored.  

I realised that, as a children’s author, I had an opportunity to show our youngest children that the world belongs as much to girls as it does to boys.  I wanted to demonstrate that girls are allowed and entitled to create a space for themselves wherever they choose - whatever their interests or passions may be, and for that to be okay.  They don’t need to be called half-boys or less-than-girls, they can just be themselves and aspire to become anything they want to be.  I wanted to show young children categorical proof that a girl can become an astronaut or a bus driver, a builder or a firefighter. I wanted to give girls confidence that their hopes and dreams, their interests and passions are not only acceptable, but are to be celebrated and applauded.  And that’s why I wrote Girls Can Do Anything. Because I believe it is true.

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