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Not All Princesses Wear Pink!

Not All Princesses Wear Pink!I have a very vivid memory of one of my first days in primary school. We were told to choose and colour in the picture that represented what we wanted to be when we grew up. These pictures were divided right down the middle into ‘boys’ and ‘girls’. Boys could choose to be Policemen, Doctors and Astronauts. Girls could choose to be Hairdressers, Nurses and Shopkeepers. I remember studying these pictures for ages, desperately wanting to choose astronaut (it looked exciting) but knowing I wasn’t allowed because it was in the ‘boys’ box. I know that in the end I chose a ‘girls’ role because I didn’t want to get told off, but I can’t remember what I chose, only that I couldn’t choose what I wanted.

IMG_1767To coincide with The Real Princesses of Yorkshire exhibition at Heart in Headingley, Leeds, I organised a songs and stories workshop for families. Continuing one of the themes of this project, to challenge gender binaries and stereotypes, I wanted to create a safe, playful space where parents and children could enjoy stories and songs that encourage them to have fun without the judgements we (often unwittingly) impose around gender and who is ‘allowed’ to do what. Although Princess themed, we made it clear that this was an activity that welcomed everyone, and alongside introducing families to some ‘alternative’ bad-ass, girl princesses, would also welcome and celebrate princess boys.

IMG_1654Hooray for the enormous talents and passion of Rachel McMahon, Pariss Elektra and Lizzie Wharton. Rachel has a fantastic resource of diverse books – a tool for reflecting real world, real people in stories and a non-threatening way to represent, discuss and ‘normalise’ people, subjects and themes that are often excluded from mainstream culture and education. We laughed and loved hearing stories of strong princess girls and boys who didn’t need rescuing, and the spoon who ran away with the spoon! Having Lizzie there to provide British Sign Language Support meant a young deaf boy who joined us was able to feel fully included. And Pariss brought joy and positivity through  music, even gaining  a little shadow in one young girl who stuck by her side and mimicked every movement.

IMG_1698Of the 13 children that came along, 6 of them were boys. This warms my heart – to see parents and children engaging with a theme that is commonly loaded with ‘girlyness’ and negative associations around weakness, but turning it on its head into something, strong, positive and truly playful. I would love to see more of this in formal and informal learning, but what an uphill battle (progress is never linear, right?).

Pariss set the tone when she asked the children at the start ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ By the end of the session the answer came down to one, simple but powerful word – HAPPY.

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There is a wealth of resources out there for parents, carers and educators. Here are just a handful of examples:

Let Toys Be Toys
Pop n’ Olly
A Mighty Girl
No Time for Flash Cards
Pink Stinks
We Are Family

My thanks to Leeds Inspired and ACE Grants for the Arts for funding this project.

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We’re Back and Serving IWD Realness!

Main Flyer 1 websized
A selection of The Real Princesses of Yorkshire photographs will be exhibited in the Assembly Bar and Kitchen at HEART in Headingley from Feb 17th to March 29th 2018. If you’ve not been to Heart before, it’s a great community venue with a variety of art and activities on offer. The cafe is open Monday–Saturdays 8am–9pm, with food served until 7.45pm. The food (especially the cake) is great!

FREE FAMILY FUN – Saturday 3rd March 10:30am

And we have family-fun planned to celebrate International Women’s Day on Saturday 3rd March. Not All Princesses Wear Pink! is a fun, gender-positive story and song workshop, free for families. Are all princesses pink and ‘girly’? NO! Are princesses sometimes boys? YES! We’ll be laughing and singing with expert storyteller Rachel McMahon and musician Pariss Elektra, with British Sign Language support from Lizzie Wharton. Children (and parents!) of all ages and genders are welcome to join us for this free workshop, but advance booking is advised.

 

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POW! (Princesses of the World)

Maria Spadafora (2)

Princesses: Sasha Bhatt, Evie Manning, Mehmoona Pervaz, Iram Rehman, Saliha Rubani, Zakia Jabeen and Laura Brooks
Location: Outside Speakers Corner/Brick Box/Common Wealth, WOW HQ, Bradford

Laura: “I love princesses, although for many different reasons. Nostalgia being a big part, but I believe a lot of princess stories have evolved for the 21st Century.”

Saliha: “None of the princesses I saw growing up represented me, a woman of colour. My Mum used to tell me stories of Razia Sultana. The only female to rule Delhi in India. She went to battle with the boys!”

Evie: “I’m not into the whole idea of royalty, so fictional princesses are just perpetuating damaging ideas of hierarchy.”

Mehmoona: “I’m passionate about empowering the youth of Bradford, Speakers Corner allows me to do this. There should be more movies that show princesses being strong on their own, and not have any characters being perfect – showing real life problems.”

Iram: “I am very passionate about change for the youth of Bradford and around the world. I have loved princesses from a young age, but feel fictional princesses should be presented as more fierce for kids.”

#PrincessRealness

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I Don’t Need a Crown to Know That I’m a Queen

Maria Spadafora (15)Princess: Saireen Khanum
Location: West Yorkshire Playhouse costume hire, Leeds

“I felt like I could relate to Princess Diana, not in a physical way, but the experiences she had and her loving nature. She cared for others and I often get told I have that in me, I could relate to her in that way. She was a real woman. She was well known for being a people’s person, the people’s princess, because she cared about people and so do I.”
– Saireen

Saireen is awesome. In the late1990’s established one of the first helplines and support projects for people experiencing forced marriage, and successfully inspired other organisations on a local, national and international basis to create support services and education programmes to deal with the issues. Her awareness raising was also key in leading the home office to set up one of the first iterations of the Forced Marriage Unit.

Further note – the title of this picture was inspired by musician Lizzo.

#PrincessRealness

 

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One Size Does Not Fit All

IMG_9076For one of my pictures I teamed up Natalie Davies and Jenny Wilson, both brilliant performers from Bradford, who frequently get their height commented on. And when I say commented, I mean told: “Ooh, aren’t you short!” “Ooh, you’re tall!” Jenny and I talked about gender as performance and the colour pink.

Jenny: I get my gender identity called into question quite a lot, and I have throughout my life. And that’s really about size. I can really identify with trans people, their journey and their experience of having their gender identity questioned. I play with gender and gender stereotypes in my performing, and Mysti Valentine (Jenny’s Drag character) is very much taking control of that. If you’re going to question my gender identity I’m going to give you all of the question marks in one go! Gender is performance, it’s social construct, it’s not innate.

We’ve all been brought up in a patriarchy, and our language is formed in that context, the words we have, the frames of reference we have, the very thoughts in our heads – those words are patriarchal words. Everything is so very gendered.

(For this shoot) we both turned up in pink, and I hate that ‘pinkification’ of everything. It’s capitalism and patriarchy. For example, Lego recognised that by making pink Lego theycould make twice as much. I just had a big bag of it because I had two big brothers, and the same’s true for Stella (Jenny’s daughter), she gets to play with Ivan’s (her son’s) old cars, guns and swords and stuff. She likes to play with those, and likes to play ‘big boy’ games, but she’s a very ‘girly girl’ in loads of ways. She likes to sing and dance and dress up in princess clothes and all of that. And it’s difficult, as there’s a bit of me that’s like ‘don’t be girly!’ but I try to make sure she has a choice and isn’t limited by what she’s ‘supposed’ to be. She can be a warrior and a princess, and princesses can be powerful. It doesn’t mean you have to be rescued – you can rescue yourself.

We talked about dressing up. I totally understand children wanting to play dress up, because I want to do it! That’s one of the reasons I adore drag queens. But when little boys put on princess (or whatever) frocks it’s immediately problematic for many people.

Jenny: It’s about control, it’s about where the power lies. Who’s in control of it and who’s entitled to do it, and the values we ascribe to it. And that’s where the patriarchy will keep reinventing itself, you know every little gain that women and girls make, the patriarchy just redefines it as a bit shit. Because once it’s got feminine qualities attached to it, it’s lesser somehow than the masculine thing. It’s much easier for Stella to dress up as a pirate, or to be a ‘tomboy’ than it is for a little boy to be a ‘sissy’. For a boy to dress as a fairy or princess is much more problematic, and that’s because of the power. It’s insidious. What I try to do with my work as a performer, through Irregular Arts, it’s to try and create little glimmers of what the world might be like if it wasn’t like that.

I want to live in one of Jenny’s glimmers. Like the little boy who dressed up as Daphne for Halloween. And the boys who wore skirts to protest school uniform policy. I’d like to live in a world where pink isn’t for girls, it’s for anyone and everyone, if you happen to like pink.

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Real Women Inspire Me

Blog 3The women I’m working with on this project inspire in different ways. As well as being a dear friend, Saireen is something of a heroine to me. She has educated herself and accrued  a wealth of experience in different fields including Finance, Funding, Training, and Community and Organisational Development, all  whilst battling many personal challenges.

She feels passionately that BME women should be represented in local services, and worked as a Volunteer Coordinator for Rape Crisis, as well as volunteering herself with The Minorities Police Liaison Committee.

In the late1990’s she educated the Home Office, Media and local MPs on the distinction between arranged marriage, marriage of convenience and forced marriage. She observed that criticism of arranged marriages came across as tarnishing BME communities in a broader sense, particularly Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, and set about addressing this. She established the first project of its kind supporting people experiencing forced marriage, and successfully inspired other organisations on a local, national and international basis to create support services and education programmes to deal with the issues. Her awareness raising was also key in leading the home office to set up one of the first iterations of the Forced Marriage Unit.

These are just some of the things that make her awesome.

She reminded me that sometimes real life Princesses are more than clothes horses:

 “It’s very rewarding kind of work when you want to help people, like Princess Diana did. She must have felt she achieved what she had set out to do if she saw somebody else feel better as a result of her work. I felt like I could relate to Princess Diana, not in a physical way, but the experiences she had and her loving nature. She cared for others and I often get told I have that in me, I could relate to her in that way. She was a real woman. She was well known for being a people’s person, the people’s princess, because she cared about people and so do I.”

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