A leading Independent girls’ school in North West London has launched an initiative to ban ‘Princess culture’ and replace it with a Superhero campaign in a concerted effort to address gender inequality and ultimately empower its pupils.
Jacqualyn Pain, Head Mistress of Northwood College for Girls GDST said: “Anyone who read about the recent controversy concerning Clarks children’s shoes may have wondered if this highly reputable company realises we are actually in the twenty first century. To the uninitiated, they recently had to withdraw girls’ school shoes, entitled ‘Dolly Babe’ from sale. The comparable boys’ shoe was called ‘Leader’.
The everyday sexism, embodied in the names of these two pairs of shoes, that does not see an issue with the notion that boys are doers, are powerful and set the agenda for the future (for surely this is what “leader” means) yet that little girls are defined by their looks, their sexual availability, their desirability (for surely this is what “Dolly Babe” means; it doesn’t mean someone who is at the cutting edge of human advancement) is startling. It might have been acceptable in 1957, when gender stereotypes were the norm but it really isn’t ok in 2017.”
Northwood College for Girls takes challenging stereotypes very seriously. “We want our girls to be empowered to see that they can be whoever they want to be and not to feel limited in how they view their potential” adds Miss Pain.
Zara Hubble (pictured above, left), the Head of the Junior School, has devised a radical way to challenge limitation. “No more will we entertain the “Princess Culture”” explains Miss Pain. “When one of our Junior School pupils does something amazing (and they do so most of the time) whether that is in a Maths test, or in Sport, or in being kind to another, or making a speech, her reward will be to become a Superhero for the day. Not a passive Princess waiting to be brought to life by her Prince, but a Superhero, with all that suggests: power, self-affirmation, strength and independence.”
Mrs Hubble has ten Superhero capes and the nominated girls can choose which cape they want to adorn for the day. Their Superhero’s persona can be whatever they want it to be. They are free to invent themselves, however they choose and girls and staff at Northwood College will enjoy asking the heroes to tell them about their individual super powers.
“It is not just shoes where such crass expectations of the sexes still obtains.” comments Miss Pain.
“Look round any toy shop and you will still see pretty delicate toys for girls, all pink and frothy and not too well made, mostly connected with the age old traditional female roles of child rearing and household chores. The boys’ toys, by contrast are more robust and are more likely to be construction kits, or cars, or weapons. Boys do have dolls, but they are called ‘action figures’ with all the connotations this suggests and that are missing from the moniker “doll”.
And what little girl doesn’t love pink? Interestingly enough, pink in the past was associated with boys and it was blue that was the little girls’ colour. Blue was the colour for the Virgin Mary and was therefore deemed to be the colour of female perfection, with pink being a muted shade of red, the colour of the god Mars, the god of war and all things masculine and therefore suitable for small boys.
Everyone at Northwood College strongly believes that the girls should be empowered to see that they can be whoever they want to be and not to feel limited in how they view their potential. “We all know, after all, that girls do just as well in exams as boys (actually usually better – more girls go to university than boys these days) and that girls can be engineers and astronauts just as boys can be nurses and dancers.” said Miss Pain. “Schools like ours were set up because pioneering people (usually women) saw inequality and they literally put their money where their mouths were and their vision and inspiration was the beginning of the journey to a more equitable society, votes for women, equal pay and equal rights under the law. We all know men and women are equal these days, despite few women being in charge of FTSE 100 companies.”
The recent TV series “No more Boys and Girls: Can our Kids go Gender Free” featured Year 3 children making the following statements: “I think boys are cleverer than girls… because they get in to be president easily, don’t they”, “Men are better at being in charge”, “Men are better because they are stronger and they’ve got more jobs”, “If a woman has a child, the men have to go to work and earn some money” and “I would describe a girl as being pretty, lipstick, dresses, love-hearts”. They are seven years old and they hold rigid stereotypes of masculinity and femininity and, rather alarmingly, describe a world where men must repress their emotions and where a woman’s worth is bound up with her looks.
Exploring the subject of ‘Princess Culture’ Miss Pain comments: “Princesses often have qualities we’d like everyone to possess. Snow White and Cinderella, for example are kind, having suffered as children from loss and cruel treatment. Their empathy skills are second to none. Most Princesses have had to put up with considerable setbacks and are incredibly resilient.
However, both Snow White and Cinderella are passive young women, waiting for their prince to rescue them; this is true also of Sleeping Beauty. The Princes are the assertive ones who take the lead and save the day. The females are powerless until liberated by the Prince. All three Princesses are loved and valued for their looks. Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are in fact comatose when the Prince rescues them with his kiss and each Prince is smitten by her looks. Not her brains, or her personality: she is after all unconscious. In Cinderella, the protagonist is subjugated by other (ugly) women, who are jealous of her beauty. In Snow White the wicked step mother wants her dead because she is “the fairest of them all”. So much for girl power. In Beauty and the Beast, Belle is captured and imprisoned because she is beautiful and she eventually falls in love with her abuser, who is then transformed from a monster to a Prince.”
These are really rather strange messages to be sending to our daughters and although the stories end happily and on one level are, of course, quite charming, how far are the girls absorbing some of the messages found therein?
At Northwood, we lead the way. No passive stereotypes for us. Our girls are the FTSE 100 CEOs of the future, or whatever else they want to be.” Miss Pain concludes.
Northwood College for Girls is an Independent girls’ day school for girls aged 3 – 18 in Northwood. A member of the Girls’ Day School Trust network, Northwood College for Girls, was rated ‘excellent in all areas’ in the last Education Inspection and has 840 pupils on roll.
For more information about Northwood College for Girls, please go to:
www.northwoodcollege.gdst.net and follow us on Twitter @NorthwoodGDST