How many of us are old enough to remember that particular gender-defining nursery rhyme espousing the essential ingredients for making the perfect girl?
I remember being intrigued and a little bewildered that I was made of Slugs And Snails and Puppy Dog’s Tails. We have all grown up in a culture awash with messaging about what it means to be a boy or a girl, and as a writer of children’s books I have watched and participated in the ebb and flow of that messaging.
One of the constant delights through my career has been the opportunity to visit schools and talk to children, teachers and parents. Back in the mid-’80s, I was talking to a class about genres, what they liked or disliked.
One girl said she couldn’t stand fairytales because the girls were all pathetic wimps who hung around in towers combing their hair or scrubbing floors. How right she was – the dream of all those ‘heroines’ was to be worthy of a Prince Charming who would rescue them from servitude. Very aspirational!
That conversation was my impetus to write Jane And The Dragon, to create a fairy tale with a girl who had much bigger dreams and who wasn’t afraid to voice them and challenge the expectations that society had laid upon her.
We have definitely come a long way, but we still have a way to go, especially in children’s television. There are some great shows depicting wonderful girl characters, but it’s still a medium that services boys much, MUCH better than girls.
So what has this to do with the WotWots? Well, everything.
With Jane And The Dragon I came at the issue headlong, and in the WotWots it was easy to reverse the stereotype roles and make DottyWot the ship’s captain. But I wanted more of a debate than that, a debate for mums and dads, so I made a very conscious decision to have DottyWot pink and SpottyWot blue – how outrageous!
Yes, it’s provocative, deliberately so, and it’s been great to get all the wonderful feedback from parents who have realized what we have done and why.
DottyWot is a girl, and she’s pink, but she has blue spots and blue tufties, and she has aspects of boy in her makeup. And SpottyWot has pink spots and pink tufties. He has aspects of a girl in his makeup. It’s child-centric, and it’s easy to point to and to explain. All of us have pink and blue in our natures. After all, we were all girls once, all of us, for the first six weeks of life or thereabouts until differentiation takes place and some of us add snails and puppy dog tails.