One is often oblivious to discrimination when you’re living a life of comfort. Even as a young girl, growing up in a house where everyone was equal, it seemed like a universal truth. It took a conscious effort of seeking out the right books, research and meeting people beyond my immediate circle to realise that the world is full of different realities. My bubble of oblivion burst when I was living in France working as an interculturalist, and I had the opportunity to meet people from different cultures and walks of life. In all the discussions we would have from history to current events, and across age groups. There seemed to be a common issue that would frequently come up: The representation of women in books and popular media.
As a child, I grew up reading about princesses who needed to be saved, kissed to be woken up from a deep sleep, or needed seven little men to help her survive. In textbooks, I saw very few females as scientists or leaders. Even today, I urge you to open a history textbook from any grade and compare the number of images of male to females. You’ll be surprised at how grossly underrepresented women are within the education system itself, let alone non-academic books. The situation is worse for people, especially women of colour.
On further research, I found out that of the top 50 best-selling children’s books in the world, only 18% had female protagonists! Also, there are five times as many books about trucks than there are ANY about children of colour. Children start associating power with masculinity by the age of four and a study that asked a group of children aged between 6-7 to draw a surgeon, fighter pilot, and a firefighter more than 75% of the children drew a man in those roles. How do children learn to define careers as male or female?
I decided that I wanted to change this in my small way by telling children stories about relatable female role models from all walks of life. Because when children grow up not seeing themselves in books and popular media, they grow up feeling like they don’t matter. The book When I Grow Up is also a colouring book. So that when children colour the different shades of skin of these real women, they will know that success comes in different colours too.
A few of the inspiring women included in the book are:
Autumn is a Canadian indigenous water activist. She advocates for clean drinking water in First Nations communities and around the world. She has been honoured by the assembly of First Nations, as a Water Protector.
Burçin is a Turkish astronomer and astrophysicist. She and her team discovered a whole new type of galaxy and today that galaxy is named after her, it’s called Burçin’s Galaxy.
She is the ex-CEO of Xerox and the current chairwoman of Veon. Ursula is the first African-American woman to lead an S&P 500 company.
Savitribai is regarded as the first female teacher and feminist of modern India. She fought tirelessly for the education of girls and against the caste system in India. She dedicated her life to this, and children around the world should know her!
Helena was born to a Jewish family in Poland. She built a cosmetic empire from the ground up and was one of the richest women of her time. Her father had different aspirations for her when Helena was younger and wanted her to get married. She refused to settle, packed her bags and moved to Australia, where her entrepreneurial journey began.
Each woman in the book has a unique story and yet is very relatable. I chose women from different races, cultures, and professions because I want children to know that women can be more than mothers and caregivers. I hope the book reaches to as many girls and boys as possible so that they know they can be anything when they grow up!
The views expressed are the author’s own.