One of the most fulfilling and most memorable undertakings of my parenting journey was the formation of a mother-daughter book club, a collaboration with my then-8-year-old daughter and four other mother-daughter pairs that would last for six years.
We all discussed the need to counteract stereotyped and sexualized girl culture with positive messages about who girls and women really are and what they can do. As mothers, we wanted to work together as a “village” to develop open communication with our daughters early on, so our girls would be listening (and talking to us) when all the marketing and media messaging aimed at girls needed to be deconstructed and kept at bay. We knew it was becoming increasingly difficult to raise happy, healthy girls with good self-esteem in our increasingly shallow, beauty-obsessed society. We felt we could do a better job at this together than separately.
I also remember noticing how few of my daughter’s books had female protagonists, and of the ones that did, how few of those portrayed women and girls in strong, positive roles. I noticed that girls did not seem to mind reading books about boys, but that boys had no interest in — and, in fact, avoided — reading books about girls. I started talking to other mothers, teachers and colleagues about this and found that they all observed the same behavior, and all felt frustrated by it.
Research supported my observation. For example, in 1996, a wonderful movie came out: the film version of “Matilda” by Roald Dahl. Great book, great movie. But the movie bombed at the box office, and its production company went on record saying it would produce no more movies starring girls, because they were money losers. Girls went to see the movie, but boys stayed home, and thus the potential market was cut in half.