I’m really excited to be working with a group of Rapaki Rangers (a Girl Guide division in Christchurch, New Zealand) this Saturday. They are running a girl-led event which they have called “Girl Esteem” and their aims are to help girl guides:

• Be balanced – To help girls feel confident in their own skin.
• Be brilliant – To inspire girls to pursue traditionally male lead positions.
• Be empowered – To give girls the tools they need to exit potentially dangerous situations, know when they need help, and where to seek it.
• Be active – To teach girls how to take care of their health and fitness.

I am running the same 45-minute workshop four times, and have given a lot of thought about how creative writing can help improve girl esteem. but which of these categories will my workshop fit in? Writing can be used as therapy but I am not qualified for that; instead I am going to work with the girls on how we identify with characters and how we can write characters to make us feel better about ourselves and offer role-models for our readers. Specifically, the workshop will cover how female characters can be brilliant and pursue leadership roles; be empowered to stand up for themselves and others; and be balanced because the skills to cope with the world have little to do with appearance. We will most definitely not be writing characters who moodily stare in a mirror at their reflection and wish for curlier or straighter hair; a more or less voluptuous body; nor indeed desire any other physical aspiration

To prepare I took a look at 2019’s best-selling children’s books and although there are plenty of girls who are definitely the protagonists, I noticed a bit of a trend. Female protagonists often had to deal with social issues (friendships, bullying, illnesses, family break-ups) but this was less the case for male protagonists who were still largely took on the role of a hero. I live in New Zealand at the moment, where one current debate around the high suicide rate of young males is the expectation of manliness whether or not that’s true to the nature of the individual boys. Of course, on Saturday my role is to help my young writers create characters that increase the esteem of girl readers, and that awful confidence-drop experienced by so many young women. But a seed has been planted for me as a writer, and teacher, that boys also deserve stories that deal with issues young people face including developing positive and affirming friendships, what it’s like to be unpopular, families and of course unrequited love.