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Dad Teaches Girls They’re ‘Not Just Princesses’

As a parent you would probably like your child to grow up being strong, independent and empowered – regardless of whether it’s a boy or a girl.

But you might find it frustrating to open your little girl’s favourite storybook every night, and read to her about the damsel in distress being rescued by her knight in shining armour – again!

Dublin dad and business owner, Gavin Leonard (36), realised this wasn’t how he wants to raise his two-year-old girl, Jade: “I was astonished at how often the main female character was portrayed as weak, helpless and incapable,” he says.

He also found it frustrating when people kept telling Jade she is 'a little princess', or saying: 'I bet she’ll be a model or an actress when she grows up.'

“While everyone meant well, I was surprised by how many people referenced careers based on her appearance."

He started parenting blog Not Just a Princess in July 2017, and realised that many people shared his frustration with the way women are represented in fairytales.

READ MORE: Let's Celebrate The Redefinition Of The Princess

She Can Be Anything!

Gavin became determined to teach his girl, “and all girls really”, that she can be whatever she wants to be.

He started making up his own stories with strong, powerful female characters. He also dressed her up in different costumes to portray careers that society may usually associate as being a typically male career.

Gavin's stories are about princesses, their careers and the support and help they offer to each other. Each princess has a unique set of skills and, along with her animal sidekick, she helps people to solve problems.

“Jade loves the stories we tell her every night! She is the protagonist in the story and she works with the other princesses throughout the series. As each of the princesses have different occupations, there is always a different situation to resolve,” he says.

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Not Just a Princess

With his blog taking off, and Jade drinking up every word of his made-up stories, Gavin began to further develop the idea and decided to write his own series of books about these princesses.

“We have been working with animators to see whether the concept is a good fit, and we are delighted with the outcome of the trials so far ... We really hope that this is a series that can inspire both girls and boys to be who they want to be and follow their dreams.”

He wants children, especially girls, to know that they don’t just have to be a traditional fairytale 'princess'. “I teach Jade she can be more than that: She could be a ninja, a pilot, a vet or a judge.

“From a very young age, children develop specific ideas about gender roles – what toys or careers are for boys, and which ones are for girls. We want to break down the barriers around gender roles, to teach girls that THEY have the choice of what they want to be.”

That’s why 'Not Just a Princess' has such a diverse range of princesses throughout the book series, to make sure that girls everywhere can see themselves represented in the strong female role models created.

READ MORE: How To Raise A Strong Girl 

A Family Affair

When Gavin started his blog, he wanted to spend some extra time with Jade. It then turned into dressing up in costumes for different jobs, and trying to make memories not just for her, but for him and his wife Shannon, too.

“Shannon is delighted with the blog. At home, we speak Chinese with our daughter because we’re a mixed-race family. I love the fact that Jade has a diverse heritage.

“Many of the most popular blog posts come from the differences in cultures and both myself and Shannon love sharing them with people. It is of utmost importance that Jade grows up knowing and loving both cultures!”

He also says that if he and Shannon are blessed with a baby boy someday, they’ll carry on teaching him the same values they teach Jade.

“This is something that myself and my wife feel very strongly about. My parents instilled these values in me – treat everyone with respect regardless of gender, age, religion, social standing – and that is what we are teaching Jade. If we had a son, I believe we would raise him the exact same way.”

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Addressing The Issues

Gavin think movements like the #MeToo movement have been “a great step forward for women, but also for men”.

“As men, we haven’t spoken about these issues enough. As fathers, husbands and sons – as human beings – this was an eye-opener. Finally, people are more aware of what is happening around them.

“These issues have always been there, but it really has taken something as serious as the movement to get us to the stage where we know we must act. We need to fight for the rights of women. Inequality is everywhere, and it is up to every single person to put that right.”

On 22 August Not Just a Princess will launch its new book series on Kickstarter: “We are very excited about this project, and looking forward to the launch. We hope people will get behind us and support it.”

A version of this interview will appear in the August/September issue of Easy Parenting Magazine: Look out for the latest issue in your local newsagents. 

All images used in this article are provided by the Leonard family.


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