Sick of reading stories to her daughter where only the boys got to do the things she wanted to do, Cheryl Rickman took matters into her own hands.
Today my children’s book, YES YOU CAN! launches on Kickstarter. I’ve written this book to counter messages that tell children they “can’t wear/do/play with that,” and equip them with tools to be proud to be themselves.
Since she was three years old my (now eight year-old) daughter has been asked why she plays with ‘boys’ stuff?’ On seeing her play football, someone commented, “She should’ve been a boy” and, when opting for Spider-Man to be painted on her face, she was told, ‘You don’t want that, it’s for boys… how about a nice butterfly?” After we’d stopped face-palming (I mean, seriously!), we decided to do something about it.
YES YOU CAN, aimed at three to eight year olds, features The Climbing Trees Girls – Eva, the outdoorsy one; Maxi, the creative/skateboarding one and B, the football-loving sporty one – who find themselves in a strange new world where people are told what they should play with, what they should wear and what they should do for a living, based on the colour of their hair – an analogy to explain the futility of gender stereotypes to a younger audience.
Although, the three main protagonists are girls, (who save the day) boys who like both diggers and dolls also feature in the book.
“Boys and girls can be both gentle and badass. These are not qualities exclusive to any one gender.'”
I wanted to create characters who, like my own daughter, don’t fit the limited definition of femininity, but I wanted to speak up for boys too. Because, just as there’s more to girls than princesses, there’s more to boys than being boisterous. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being “princessy” or “boisterous”, but when these are the only options presented to children about their gender, it’s limiting and restrictive.
Boys and girls can be both gentle and badass. These are not qualities exclusive to any one gender, and yet still the messages they receive about what they should be like, play with and wear, are contrary to those definitions.
This is not the first time I’ve decided to do something about giving kids more choice. In the summer of 2015, my daughter and I launched our own t-shirt range (www.ClimbingTreesKids.com) to say, “Hey! Girls like dinosaurs and pirates too!”
Then, as an ambassador for Let Clothes Be Clothes, I met with large supermarket/department store buyers to persuade them to reduce gender-stereotyping, with some (albeit limited) success. Following our meeting, Tesco agreed to remove gender labels from Halloween costumes and make girls’ cardigans and shorts more robust and practical. But progress is slow.
This year I thought, how else can we counter these damaging messages that boys and girls receive so regularly? Speaking directly to the children who are constantly told, by the media, society and family members, “that’s not for you” seemed the next logical step.
YES YOU CAN is also about finding your spark, which follows on from recommendations from parenting expert Steve Biddulph, who says that parents need to encourage their children’s interests and help them to find their spark to make them “feel secure and content” with who they are.
I wanted to go further to equip children (and parents) with the tools they need to counter gender stereotypes, so I’ve also used my knowledge as a wellbeing author and positive psychology practitioner to write an accompanying eBook called Raising Children Who Are Proud To Be Themselves, available exclusively to backers of the Kickstarter project.
The aim of both books is to show children how silly gender stereotypes are and equip them with tools to be resilient, with enough self-compassion, self-awareness and self-belief to let any gender-specific BS wash right over them.
Other rewards available to backers of the Kickstarter include an exclusive No-Limits colouring book featuring children wearing clothes and playing with toys that defy gender stereotypes and a poster featuring advice such as, “Be bold, climb trees and be proud to be you.”
To back the campaign visit the Kickstarter page here.