Dance, Shout, And Make It All Work Out

By Reema Faris, PhD Student

March 19, 2018

No matter the theoretical framework for one’s understanding of feminism, at its core feminism is about the challenge to patriarchy, authority, hierarchy, and the status quo whether economically, socially, culturally, or politically.

This holds true whether one identifies as a liberal feminist (my piece of the pie should be bigger!), a radical feminist (pull patriarchy out by the roots!), a revolutionary feminist (women are doing it for themselves!), a Marxist feminist (down with capitalism!), a socialist feminist (down with capitalism and patriarchy!), an intersectional feminist (so many forms of oppression!), a post-feminist (it’s my choice!), an Indigenous, Black, queer, lesbian, environmental, or any other form of feminist or combinations of feminist.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I wandered through the subterranean tunnels of downtown Vancouver last fall, when I spotted Feminist Baby by Loryn Brantz, a children’s picture book, in a bookstore display.

What, I thought, was feminist about being a baby? And, how does a baby express feminism? Also, isn’t it great that a baby, a baby girl in this case (round eyes, long eyelashes, rosy cheeks, and a pink bow), can be a feminist!

I picked up the book.

Page one: “Feminist baby loves to dance.” Don’t we all! But what, I wondered, did the love of dancing have to do with being a feminist, let alone a feminist baby?

Page two: “Feminist baby says ‘No’ to PANTS!”

Saying no to pants, means saying yes to one’s own naked body. I surmised this because the accompanying visual showed the feminist baby with no clothes on, not even a pink dress, a pink onesie, or a pair of pink pyjamas.

That’s when I understood why the baby was a feminist baby. She was challenging gender roles and expectations. She was defying the set of norms that constrain a woman’s behaviour, conduct, appearance, and other attributes from even the earliest ages.

When the feminist baby loves to dance, she is resisting the directive that as a girl she ought to sit still. When she says no to pants, she’s saying yes to her nakedness. When she “likes pink and blue”, she’s resisting being told which colour she prefers and what she should wear. When she throws up on you, she’s not always beautiful, clean, and proper. When she “makes lots of noise”, the feminist baby is using her voice. She refuses to conform to a social norm that says a girl must be demure and quiet, not loud and vociferous.

How could I not love this book! Especially the last page when the feminist baby comes into full self-actualization and realizes she “can be whatever she dreams.” In the accompanying illustration, Feminist Baby is Rosy the Riveter, the symbolic working woman of World War II.

It’s an ironic representation. Hundreds of thousands of women in the United States lost their jobs at the end of the war and the free child care centres, which had been provided to facilitate women’s workforce participation in support of the military effort, were shuttered.

There’s something else that makes me suspicious. The book’s publisher is Disney and Disney is not a corporation I think of when I think of shattering gender roles let alone challenging the underlying causes that have contributed to an increasingly inequitable world.

Why would Disney publish a book like Feminist Baby?

In my estimation, Disney was comfortable publishing Feminist Baby in part because the feminism in Feminist Baby is safe. This feminism suggests that agency, power, and transformation are matters of individual effort. Success in life is pinned to an individual’s personal growth and what an individual does. There is no need for collective action. There is no need to challenge power and authority. There is no need to engineer structural and systemic social change.

In the end, the book expresses a type of corporate feminism that makes being a feminist less about contributing to social change and more about individual transformation. The message of personal empowerment is uplifting. It’s just not particularly a feminist one because my theoretical framework of feminism is that feminism is about changing the world and not only about changing the self.

Would I still buy the book for a new parent? Yes, because I want babies to be assertive and to dance, to choose what they want to wear, and to make a whole lot of noise.

I want every baby to have her or his or their dreams come true.

I also want every young child to know that what they demand for themselves is what they ought to demand for others and that having dreams come true is a lot easier for some than for others.