Speaking of art as derivative…

My daughter, inspired by the movie, “Soul Surfer”  about champion Bethany Hamilton, made this:


Why do you think so many little girls make art about pretty girls in pretty dresses? Because that’s just “natural”?

Last Spring, when another daughter of mine was 3 years old, she made made a magical creature called a flying Brachiosaurus.


Here’s what she said to her teacher about it:

This is its little wings for going to tree because it has to. These are horns to help him pick up people. He steps on giant people. He flies on mountains or houses and it doesn’t break.

Why do you think her creature is male? I looked at the other children’s art work in her class, half of them girls. Every picture I saw described a male creature.

When another daughter was asked to write a story during school in third grade, she used a male protagonist. When I asked her why she chose a male, she said, “Because everybody did.”

Can you imagine if in a class of third graders, every kid wrote about about female protagonists? Do you think the teacher would notice?

Here is that daughter’s drawing of Harry Potter. This is the same daughter who later drew Bethany Hamilton.


This scene didn’t happen in the book but she was inspired by the book. Her drawing shows a typical gender matrix you see all over children’s media: 2 boys, 1 girl; boy in front, girl behind; text supports male competition and victory.

Here is a picture my middle daughter drew at age 6 while I was reading her the first part of the first Harry Potter.


She made up this character, a witch and her cat soaring through the sky on a broom surrounded by many crescent moons. I was pretty psyched about this witch, but then again, we were only at the beginning of Book 1. Would she still make a female character, front and center, after Book 7?

Here is a make-a-plate my older sister made when she was a kid and obsessed with fairytales.


It’s fascinating to me how much care she took to represent ethnic diversity in these women. Also, their faces are so animated, even though they’re dead. I was impressed but grossed out and disturbed when my sister drew this. She wanted to know which one I thought was the prettiest.

I sought out “Soul Surfer” for my daughters, because I’m always on the look out for images and narratives about heroic females to inspire them. That’s why I started this blog, as a place to collect stories and pictures. But unfortunately, these kinds of depictions of women and girls are far too rare in kidworld, not to mention the grown-up one.

What happens to the imagination of children, and the adults they become, when we live in in a world where heroic girls go missing?



One thought on “Speaking of art as derivative…

  1. I teach clay classes for kids, and we often do character sculptures. I encourage the kids to create characters and make up stories about them, and almost without fail, the girls will create male characters. If they do make female characters, they always have long hair, a dress, and big eyelashes, and are defined by how pretty they are, or some romantic plot point. Any monsters or animals were male by default. I actually ended up running a couple of workshops specifically aimed at girls to encourage them to create stories about female protagonists, and to talk about gender stereotypes in storytelling because of this. It’s so pervasive, they don’t even realize they’re doing it, or that they are free to create anything different.

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