'I had no positive female role models': Caryl Hart on her inspirational new book Girls Can Do Anything
Published on: 21 November 2018 Author: Caryl Hart
When she was growing up, Caryl Hart thought only men could do interesting things - because that's what she'd been told. Now, she tells us why she wanted to redress the balance in Girls Can Do Anything...
Girls Can Do Anything is a book about choices. It tells children that girls can have whatever interests they choose, that they can pursue any career path that they choose, and that their choices are as valid and valuable as anyone else's. It is a book that says your gender does not define you.
I hope that it is also an inclusive book, where every child can find a character they have something in common with, whether it's their hobby, passion, hair colour, skin tone or body type. I wanted all children, not just girls, to be able to find someone like them within the pages.
Getting rid of the 'tomboy' label
When I was growing up, I was referred to as a tomboy. I even referred to myself as one until very recently.
But then I read a blog post based on an article by Sharon Suchoval entitled Girls are not Tomboys, They are Girls -and it highlighted everything that was wrong with how I saw myself.
I am not particularly feminine in society's eyes. I rarely wear make-up and have never owned a pair of high heels. In fact, I find it incredible that anyone would choose to disable themselves by donning a pair of shoes that are uncomfortable to the point of pain, wreck your balance and you couldn't run in if you needed to get away.
As a child, I liked being outdoors, building dens, grubbing around in ponds, and having adventures. These things were not considered feminine, so the fact that I enjoyed them told me that I was most definitely not feminine either.
I had no positive female role models. As far as I was aware, all the important things in history had been done by men and all the most interesting people were men. Men were stronger, more intelligent and more driven than women. They had all the fun and adventures and made all the decisions, while women cooked the dinner and tried to fit their careers around their children and husbands. I believed this because that is what society was telling me.
Of course, I know now that this was a lie.
Women have had just as strong a place in history, it's just that we didn't hear about them. Either their achievements were overlooked, or else the men they worked with shamelessly took the credit. My parents told me that I could do anything I wanted if I worked hard enough. And I did believe them, but I felt that being female was an annoyance and a bother I could do without, thank you very much.
But what Sharon Suchoval's article told me was that I was not a half-boy or a not-quite-girl. I was a girl who liked doing outdoorsy, messy sorts of things. But I was still a girl. And this changed everything for me.
Redressing the balance
Around that time, the Sport England campaign This Girl Can was released. Here, at last, were women I could relate to. They were strong, decisive, ambitious, driven individuals who were not just about looks and cosmetics. They were fierce achievers - wobbly bits and all - and it truly lifted my heart.
I also remember watching the film Interstellar at that time, and I was surprised to notice that the cast was almost 50/50 male and female and that women had an equal share of the leading roles. And I was actually quite horrified that this surprised me. This was 2006. Surely women had equal representation by now? The fact that I noticed it says it all, I think. This was not the norm. It was unusual.
Women were still being sidelined and men still had the lion's share of the good stuff.
Well, that decided me. I knew I had to write a book for very young children that redressed the balance. I wanted to tell children - and their carers - in a very clear and straightforward way, that being a girl is JUST AS GOOD as being a boy, and that girls have the right to choose from everything the world has to offer, not just the parts that society deems suitable for them.
If a girl wants to play the drums, or snowboard, or do difficult sums, she can. If a girl wants to drive a crane, or climb a mountain, or blast into space when she grows up, she CAN.
I wanted children to know that there is nothing about a person's gender that dictates the things they are allowed to be interested in or the careers they choose to enter.
Highlighting inspiring women
Not only that, but I wanted to prove this to children, too. I wanted to show them women who were doing all the things we tell them about in the book. So we created a gallery of inspirational women on the back end papers of the book.
I had many, many discussions about who to include - and who to leave out. I was sick of hearing about the same old fusty historical figures. Surely there were other women out there who had made a difference, and that are making a difference now?
I wanted to find ordinary people as well as record breakers, because I wanted children to grow up believing that their goals are achievable. I wanted them to know that they don't have to be the best in the world at their chosen career - just the best they can be.
I hope that, in some small way, Girls Can Do Anything will help reassure the next generation of children that it's okay to be whoever they are now, and whoever they aspire to be in the future. I hope it helps to demonstrate to children that there are people out there who are just like them, with the same passions and interests, and that the whole spectrum of choice is available to each and every one of them.