30 July 2012

unschool monday :: feminism, princesses, dolls and owlets


I'm a feminist. Huz calls himself a feminismist and we endeavour to instil feminist values in our owlets. A necessary measure when you live and raise daughters in a patriarchal society, as we do. The irony that my current job description is probably something like "home duties" isn't lost on me. If anything it highlights the patriarchy that devalues my role as equal partner and full-time educator. But how do we work to instil feminist vales in our owlets? How does that work with unschooling? Last week, Natalie asked: 

"So I have a question... Have Disney Princesses invaded your nest? I have a nearly 4 year old who is princess-crazy. This obsession leads to hours of imaginative play, colouring in, reading and story telling. But conversely there are so many negative associations with the princesses - antifeminism, consumerism, external beauty etc.

Does unschooling embrace any interest? Or would it limit/redirect some?"

Yes, Disney Princesses have invaded our nest from time to time. As has Barbie. The owlets have pocket money that they spend each week on what they like. They have bought themselves Barbie dolls at a garage sale and Princesses on a wander through a department store... I don't love them. They know this. But it isn't about me. We don't go out of our way to buy them or give them as gifts, but if an owlet takes it upon herself to buy Barbie or Princesses, we figure it must be important to her. We encourage her to make her own choices based on the information in front of her. We nurture her interest in a broad sense and use it as an opportunity to provide an ethical and feminist critique.

Little Owlet is particularly enamoured with dolls and princesses of all kinds. She loves Cinderella best of all, I suspect because she also has a thing for shoes. Rather than just watching Disney movies, we read old fairytale versions that are slightly different to the ones she knows. We talk about the characters and what their lives are like, why they've been written to assume certain roles. We look at alternative depictions of the princesses Disney has chosen. We read fairytales with strong female characters, or twisted fairytales. We talk about real life princesses and what it is they do... We play with Barbie and we look at her body and discuss it in context to our own. We talk about her clothes. We talk about who might have made her and how and we imagine what it might be like when Time Team do an archaeological dig in 500 years time and discover a layer of Barbie and Princess dolls.... The owlets spend hours colouring, playing, acting out stories, reading (as Natalie mentioned), and doing puzzles. They know they are not beautifully made, or lovely to hold, but they love to play with dolls of all shapes and sizes, because the game is what's important to them.

We compromise with Blythe. Her body shape is girlish and she has flat feet... and fashion sense in spades. And the owlets LOVE her. They relate to her. They love that each one is so different and can be customised. Saving for Blythe has led to lots of numeracy learning, further discussions about fashion and body image, history and geography discussions... Mastering of ebay... Building... I expect there will be much crafting for Blythe in years to come. A recent trip to the shops to see if Barbie might have something in her wardrobe that Blythe might like to wear turned up a big fat NO. Barbie is very fond of pink shiny lycra... Blythe is not. Blythe isn't into platform stilettos either. The owlets' feminist critique continues to bubble away, helping them question why and how things are marketed the way they are... And OH the questions!! A visit to the toy department is a really interesting and eye-opening visit almost every time. Add to this the fact that we've just bought a business promoting handmade, ethical and natural products and discuss why we care about these products with the owlets, and we have a fairly well rounded response to Disney and Barbie. If we banned them altogether, we might miss the opportunity for those discussions with the owlets. But we show them that there is SO MUCH more choice out there if you shop around and use your imagination... Their fascination with them doesn't last. It fades and gets lost in the message of what they've learnt along the way. But they had a lovely time learning it...

For more on Princesses and feminism, you can't go past Unschool Monday regular, Sazz.
And Shae captured it all beautifully with this post on what she wants her daughters to know
Oh, and this fabulous post by Wildecrafted, on Barbie and even some doll customisation. 

Thanks for reading along with Unschool Monday. If you have a question for me, or one of the other participants on the linkup, ask away! I'm happy to try and answer here next time. If you feel like linking up, it'd be lovely to have you on board and see how unschooling happens at your nest. xx


  1. Great post and thanks for the link! I shared that on an unschooling forum once and got flamed. People didn't seem to understand that my feminist critique was just that, they decided it was a blue print by which I parented: assuming I would burn all princess paraphernalia. They told me my children would hate me and rebel and that I wasn't really an unschooler, Le sigh. Feminism was about me, not my children apparently, talk about brainless! I find the potential for unschooling to be used as a tool to depoliticise the political quite scary...and may just have to blog that for next week ;)

    Thanks for a sensible post about unschooling, raising daughters and feminism,

  2. Love this. Just love it. We have a Bindi Irwin doll in with the barbies as she has flat feel and a child's body.

    Thanks for the link too :)

  3. Lovely post!
    We too have toys we wished to avoid but have compromised on, included are my daughters favourite doll a disney princess. But we love Blythe too here and the whole crafting side involved in it :)

  4. Great post... sensible and real as usual - thankyou :)

  5. ahhh the barbie battle. I lost mine LOL Mind you barbie usually drives a tonka truck here to take her homies on world trips with the pets (LPS) and polly pocket.

  6. Great.... My little one has just become interested in these dolls.... and I am trying to navigate my way through it. I would love to know some titles of alternative and older style fairytales if you would be willing to share. Thank you x

  7. When my girls were very little I bought them only wooden tool sets and trucks and such because it was what I would've loved as a little tomboy, but alas, they each (so far) have gone through a pink, frilly, girly stage. I figured if they came by these tendencies naturally (rather than because they thought all little girls should like pink and dollies or whatever) that I could fully accept it :) If 'Barbie' was a forbidden desire, think of how much more of a fascinating draw she would be, plus it sounds like she prompted some wonderful conversations in your family :)

  8. ps. My linked post this week isn't especially about unschooling, but there is plenty of learning on-the-go happening in our family

  9. Thanks for this post! Lots to think about. I especially like the idea of exploring real life princesses. And when I feel particularly irritated, I remind myself that I adored my Barbie dolls as a child (with my two sisters!) and they haven't corrupted me. It is just such a tough world for little girls these days (I sound so ancient saying that!). But like you say, lots of communication, and hopefully my values will rub off.


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