I work in childcare and have the pleasure of hanging out with five, six and seven year-olds on a regular basis. Today I read a story about tigers to just one child as she sat next to me. The others were engaged in the art area or at the game table. When I got to the part about how there were 150,000 tigers on Earth a hundred years ago and that currently there are about 3,000, and how it is the fault of human beings destroying their habitat and hunting them as an exotic species — I had to stop. I couldn’t read any more of those facts aloud to this small child beside me. And I told her so. I told her it was too sad and that I was concerned about her and the future of tigers and life on Earth.
She said that she loves Nature and that even the people who don’t love Nature, actually really do. I asked her why. She shrugged her six-year-old shoulders and I said “maybe it’s because we all breathe the air and drink the water so in that way, we all love Nature, even though too many of us are unaware of this love.” She nodded in agreement and then it was on to the next book — this time a book about a group of kids who plant a vegetable garden at their school. I told her I loved that story — that it was easy to read it to her.
By then, a few more girls were around me and someone asked if I would read “Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs”, a Disney book, and I said “no” because I don’t like how it treats women.
They asked me why and I explained that all of the dwarfs are men, yet there must be women dwarfs too. Where are they? Also, that the two women in the story are purely good or purely evil and that the “good” woman is weak and naive, and so is the “bad” woman. The only two women in the story are either the object of all-male attention, or she is the wicked evil character, who hates the other woman. Not good stuff to be teachin’ our children, America. Come on! It’s time for us to wake up and stop the mass child abuse that goes on with each new generation.
Finally, because I wanted to try to teach this group of four girls who were gathered so intimately with me in the reading area, that they are not “bad” in any way, I talked about Barbie Dolls and high heels and how women’s feet are meant to be flat-on-the-ground. “How many of you have played with barbies?” I asked. All of their hands went up. I said “Have you ever noticed how her feet don’t lay flat, that they are arched?” They nodded “yes.” And I said “Why do you think that is?” After a variety of different responses including “because she left her shoes on too long”, I explained how barbies and princesses create a female beauty standard that includes hurting our physical abilities and strengths. Not totally easy for them to understand so I said “Look at how beautiful and pretty barbie dolls and princesses are. That natural female beauty is mixed with other things, like high heels or arched feet, that are not natural. This causes her beauty to be a source of hurt and pain, unfortunately. We don’t need to feel pain in order to be beautiful! You are beautiful, just the way you are!”
I then told them that they and the women they know who wear high heels (or don’t) are awesome, even though we are all taught this beauty standard. I didn’t want them to feel bad if they have Moms who wear high heels. I left it at that. We read another story about dinosaurs and the lightness returned to the room. It was a good day.