I was recently reminded of ‘The Liver Birds’ the 1970s sitcom starting Nerys Hughes and Polly James (check) as a couple of flat sharing girls carving out their own lives in Liverpool. I was around six when it first came out. I remember sitting at the top of our stairs with a pal from school ‘playing’ the girls. It was my life’s ambition to move to a city and share a place with a girlfriend. It’s commonplace now, but at the time such an arrangement was anything but. The Liver Birds were so different from any other portrayal of women on television at the time. They were my heroines, showing me that I didn’t necessarily need to marry a man to get out of the familial home and on with my life. I loved them.
Years later, when I had been managing to live independently for over a decade, a girlfriend and I went to see ‘Thelma and Louise’ at the cinema. It was a revelation. Not because of anything specific in the plot line, but because I suddenly realised how boys felt watching action movies - or movies in general. I thought we’d been on a par. I thought that how I experienced films was more or less equal to how they did. I hadn’t had a clue. Until it was pointed out to me, I had no idea what it was like to be able to relate to the action in the way that boys did.
I have a Bangladeshi friend who told me that when she was young, she watched ‘Star Trek’ religiously because of Lt. Uhuru. Even though her ethnicity was different, this was still the only female of colour my friend ever got to see on T.V., it was her only opportunity to identify in that way.
We need to give our children that opportunity and make sure they can see themselves reflected back in some aspect of popular culture. If we want our children to be aware of the myriad possibilities open to them, we should be showing them as many as we possibly can. We can talk about it, but that’s nowhere near as powerful as showing them. Try to expose your children to as much variety of experience as you are able. Whether this is via a screen, or a trip out, or, when it’s possible, even a personal meeting. The important thing is that they realise there are very many different ways to be and paths to take. Have conversations around how they feel about various portrayals of characters and situations, talking about something that’s one step removed can give you vital information about how they are viewing themselves and their future.
Everything children are exposed to gives them a greater choice as to who and what they decide to become. Let’s try to make that choice as wide as possible.
When I was a little girl, these were the words I dreaded hearing coming out of my mother’s mouth. They always heralded a difficult topic, and were a signal for me to be on my guard. Mostly, whatever it was Mum wanted to talk to me about was never as bad as I had imagined it might be.
We can’t achieve anything that we can’t imagine ourselves doing. It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget how potent this truism is when it comes to our children. How our children think about themselves, how they imagine they are is the most powerful influence on how they think about their own future.