Girl power: Why it's important for young girls to have heroes
In this week’s Chubby Hubby, Portly Papa column, Aun Koh wants to make sure his daughter can kick ass and take names.
While I usually use this column to (semi) complain about my progeny, this week, I want to focus on the topic of heroes. And specifically, heroes for young girls.
This past week, we bore witness to two gal-led significant pop culture moments. The first was the final of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, won, as everyone knows, by the United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNST). Not only did these women play marvelously, but perhaps even more importantly, they led off the field, representing themselves courageously, confidently, and clearly.
Unfortunately, my four-year-old daughter is not a soccer fan. T2 knows and understands that her two male cousins in Hong Kong are obsessed with the sport. And if her Uncle’s Facebook posts are to be trusted, the boys are pretty talented, too.
But that’s about the extent of her exposure to the sport. She didn’t watch any of the World Cup games, nor did I try and educate her on the amazing inspiring role models that graced those pitches across France this summer. I wanted to, believe me. But given her age, I know she would have changed the subject faster than you could say, “Pinkie Pie”.
I know, though, that in a few years, T2 will want to know who those young women were. Because even at four, she’s already demonstrated she’s her own girl. She’s stubborn, fierce and sharp as Arya Stark's Needle.
Don’t get me wrong. She’s also hilarious, mushy and desperate for big, hard hugs. At four, she’s already more complex than her big brother is (T1’s eight). And both her mother and I want to ensure she knows it will always be more than okay to stand up for herself, her ideas and her beliefs.
We’ve also successfully steered her towards admiration of Mulan, Merida and Moana, three girls whose names begin with “M” but more importantly, can stand up for themselves and kick ass when necessary.
I have no doubt the USWNST will go down in history as game changers, on and off the field. And I can’t think of a better aspiration than for my little girl to be a game changer herself.
Fortunately, we have friends who think similarly. One such inspiring mum gifted T2 with a book that has fast become one of her favourite bedtime books. Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls, which I have since learnt, is the most crowdfunded original book to date.
It is a children’s book packed with 100 bedtime stories about the life of 100 extraordinary women from the past and the present, illustrated by 60 female artists from all over the world. Each woman’s story is written in the style of a fairy tale. Each story has a full page and a full-colour portrait that captures the spirit of the portrayed heroine. T2 loves flipping through the pages.
The second volume of Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls is even more interesting. Not only was this book crowdfunded, the protagonists featured were also crowdsourced. That means that many of the women in this volume are still with us. And several are very young. T2 loves asking me to find more information (usually via YouTube) on some of these younger Rebel Girls. In particular, she’s quite fascinated by Ashol-Pan, the teenage eagle huntress from Mongolia.
Another gender stereotype breaking, kickass Asian gal is Mulan. And that’s the second big thing to happen (in the universe of young gals) this week. The first trailer for Disney’s live action version of Mulan finally dropped.
Interestingly, the reactions seem divided into three distinct categories, and two of the three are negative. A whole bunch of people seem obsessed with the fact that the director decided not to include a talking dragon in the movie. It doesn’t seem to matter to this group of naysayers that Mushu never existed and was not part of the original fifth- and sixth-century ballads that first told her tale. This same pride of Disneyholics are equally incessant that the songs have been stripped from the new movie.
A second group of also-upset consumers are postulating and pontificating that the movie is Disney sucking up to the mainland Chinese. These netizens (you know the type, they think posting on Facebook is the same as political activism) have levelled accusations that the movie is a clear indication that the world’s biggest entertainment company is pandering to China’s “nationalistic agenda”.
And all this just from the trailer. I would have thought these social justice warriors would have at least waited to see the full film.
As for me, I see absolutely nothing wrong with a Mulan movie in which the heroine shows off some pretty nifty kung fu moves, no one breaks into song, and Eddie Murphy and his offensively named avator are absent. That may actually teach the Western world a thing or two about Chinese history.
Yes, Disney is banking on certain popular tropes to sell tickets – attractive Asian girl kicking butt being at the top of the list. But hey, I’d rather celebrate a mainstream Hollywood movie starring a cast of Asians than find problems with it before it’s even released.
On that topic, it’s quite interesting to see just how different the excitement has been over Mulan versus Crazy Rich Asians and even Always Be My Maybe. Has the fact that this is set in ancient times made it less exciting for Asian cinemaphiles around the world?
For my little warrior princess, seeing Mulan come to life as “a real person” (as she puts it) is exhilarating. Especially since the girl twirling her sword and leaping over her enemies looks like her – well, her in a decade or so. My daughter, like many other little girls, is princess-obsessed, which has also made her quite the consumer of Disney stories.
And while T2's current favourite princesses are Jasmine (because of her long hair and bejeweled hairband) and Ariel (which little girl doesn’t love mermaids?), we’ve also successfully steered her towards admiration of Mulan, Merida and Moana, three girls whose names begin with “M” but more importantly, can stand up for themselves and kick ass when necessary.
More than Mulan though, I will definitely be encouraging my little girl to learn from another woman whose name also begins with “M” – Megan Rapinoe, she of the golden boot, the icy stare, the best goal celebration in football, and more integrity in her left foot than the elected leader of her nation.
Rapinoe’s interview responses are now becoming oft-repeated soundbites. Two that I definitely want my daughter to take to heart are as follow: “Life will throw you some curveballs. Failure will happen, and how you handle it will help shape you into the person you are going to become.” And this: “Sometimes, it's worth risking it all for a dream only you can see.”
Wise words for today’s warrior princesses-in-training.