We’re tremendously excited to host this guest blog from Steph Green, founder of Dauntless Daughters. Steph lives in the West Midlands with her husband and two children, and believes the world would be a better place if we were surround by images and stories that showed our daughters how amazing women are. So she founded Dauntless Daughters, a collective of mothers, illustrators, poets and writers who are working hard to create images and stories showing all sorts of women and girls, doing all sorts of things. From women in STEM explorers and engineers, skater girls and kickboxers: because we are all of it the whole amazing, diverse universe. Here she explains how it all started:
“When I started drawing Dauntless Daughters, I didn’t want to change anyone else’s world but ours. My girl’s toys had by accident become a collection of teapots, wooden animals, dolls and of course a lot of books. I asked my oldest girl when she turned 5 what she wanted to be: ballerina or princess, of course. I asked again but it was always those two answers. Favourite colour: pink. With an ever increasing sense of dread I headed to our bookshelf. There they were. All the stories of helpless girls; being rescued or won or worse. What had I done? My mother was a feminist. She spent my childhood smashing glass ceilings and raised me to be a women who saw nothing that I couldn’t do and here I was, raising a tiny human who thought in gendered, segmented, marketed little boxes. I had unthinkingly walked my children into their very own pink cage.
Luckily, I’m a firm believer that there’s not much we can do, that cannot be undone. So I set about changing what we played, how we talked, what we did and I turned my attention to what we read. It was problematic to find adventure stories with girls in, so I started to dig about and discovered that the empowered girl protagonists were missing.
In 2011 a Florida State University study (led by Janice McCabe, professor of sociology), found that males are central characters in 57% of children’s books published each year, with just 31% having female central characters. Male animals are central characters in 23% of books per year while female animals star in only 7.5%.
The increasing visibility of the women’s movement over the last few years has lifted these numbers but as Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo (authors of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls) explained that 31% is not the full picture. Although we could now in 2017, expect more like four out of ten books to feature a girl: most of these girls wouldn’t talk or in the end they would be rescued. On an average bookshelf in a children’s library it comes down to one in ten books having a strong, speaking, female protagonist. This situation has consequences. Dr Kevin Stenson, CEO of the Smallpeice Trust recently highlighted in the UK just 9% of engineers are female, the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineers in Europe. Take a minute to think about that, the lowest – in all of Europe. Let’s also remember that is not just about abstract numbers and that we are not seeking equality because it is the right thing to do, although it most certainly is. The lack of women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) is a concrete threat to our economy: 64% of engineering employers have said that this shortage is a direct threat to their business. Enabling women to meet their full potential in work could add as much as $28 trillion to annual GDP in 2025.McKinsey Global Institute The power of parity, McKinsey & Co, Sept 2015.
Once you start to see this situation relating to gender and inequality you can’t help but get involved
because the lack of strong girls in books is one of many things that reinforces a set of limiting social norms. As Amartya Sen wrote in “The many faces of gender inequality” from the New Republic, 2001 “gender inequality is not one homogeneous phenomenon, but a collection of disparate and interlinking problems”.
In January 2017, Lin Bain, Sarah-Jane Leslie and Andrei Cimpian published their report on emergent attitudes towards brilliance finding, “At age 5, children seemed not to differentiate between boys and girls in expectations of ‘really, really smart’—childhood’s version of adult brilliance. But by age 6, girls were prepared to lump more boys into the ‘really, really smart’ category and to steer themselves away from games intended for the ‘really, really smart’ ”. It’s such a shame, because it’s these values form that internal voice which guides us as adults. It is these internalised expectations which contribute to the shocking state of, for example, Physics in the UK. Research published by the Institute of Physics shows that 46% of schools in England sent no girls on to study A-level physics in 2011. Not one. Today only around 20% of A Level physics students are girls.
So I asked myself what can I do? I began to look at the best way that I could get involved to help the situation. If limiting the outcomes for girls is emanating from our social norms one of the most powerful ways we communicate these is through our visual landscape. From the moment we buy them the cute tee-shirts that never have empowered characters on. Put up the rabbit wallpaper, give them the pink note book with the pretty flower on. If everything being sold to girls in mainstream market places is devoid of STEM images then we are telling them over and over that science and exploration is not for them. Moreover it is reinforcing the adult’s view of a gender segregated world. Which in turn lets all the everyday sexism and limiting language go unchallenged, further consolidating this view point. This concept held by many adults – that we are wired differently – the excuse for buying into limitations and letting behaviours go unchallenged, has been widely disproven within the neuroscientific community. Favouring instead the concept that we are wired and re-wired throughout our lives, shaped by everything around us. Thus this re-enforcing, repetitive interaction with the market is critical to undoing the mainstream values held by adults and children alike, moreover it was a part of the puzzle that I could influence, I hoped.
I’m not saying that I can change it all, far from it, but Dauntless Daughters is determined to change everything we can. My mother always used to say if you can’t move the mountain then move yourself. I cannot rid the world of overtly gendered marketing: which personally I think it the root of the problem: so I will meet the mountain. Dauntless Daughters will be an agent of incremental reform. Until we can smash the pink paradigm we can own it.
When started out by myself, with four illustrations and not much of an idea of how big this could get or where to go, I couldn’t have imagined the response to my work being so overwhelmingly positive. Now we are a growing collective of mothers, illustrators, writers and poets: we are busy developing products and stories that share the message that STEM is for girls, that women are brave and dauntless. Our mission is to provide illustrations, stories, goods and services that help empower girls and young women and change our visual landscape for the better. We published the first book: Dauntless Daughters Alphabet Book, launched on International Women’s Day 2017, with the Women’s Equality Party, Housework the music and independent singers in attendance. Our second title: Girl Power Poems, will be available from summer 2017. Shortly followed by Zoe Sparks and Abbie Bold: Space Adventures (due for release Oct 2017). A picture book featuring Zoe and Abbie on an adventure to the moon that goes awry! We also have a range of products available from our store.
We love collaborating, if you have a project that you think would benefit from some happy words or empowered images please get in touch with me via ScienceGrrl’s contact form here.”