Little girls can’t be feminist icons

This past week, feminists have been praising a little girl named Eva who features in the excellent Channel 4 documentary The Secret Life of Five-Year-Olds.

Eva has been praised for her opinions on gender equality and female empowerment. In an interview in the programme, she says, ‘the most important things for girls to do when they grow up are to go to work and vote’, and that ‘boys aren’t better than girls, they’re exactly the same’. Eva also does karate and, in one episode, she is filmed teaching another little boy some moves.

A columnist in the Metro praised Eva for putting a fellow five-year-old in his place: ‘Eva’s best response comes when Jude says that girls can’t be scientists because “they make silly potions”, and Eva calmly shuts him down by saying, “I extracted the DNA from a banana once”. It might just be the best put-down in history.’ The Huffington Post claimed that Eva had become the internet’s favourite feminist. Elle magazine said that Eva had become ‘our new feminist icon’. And Channel 4 itself put out a clip of the show, captioned: ‘Meet Eva, the five-year-old feminist icon for our time.’

Now, Eva is obviously a well-raised, intelligent child with a very impressive vocabulary. But it is asinine for adults to claim that a little girl is a feminist icon. Young boys and girls should always be encouraged to reach their full potential and test the limits of their capabilities. But these are values that adults impart to children, not the other way round. It’s worrying that modern feminists are encouraging women (not girls) to look up to a small kid as some kind of role model.

This is not to say that children are incapable of expressing incredibly powerful and simple wisdom at times – ‘out of the mouths of babes’, as the idiom goes. It is true that children can surprise us with their clarity of thought on subjects that adults often overcomplicate. But even so, no adult in his or her right mind would consistently consult a child for life advice.

If this were a just a simple recognition of a cute child, there would be no problem. But in the current climate of patronising feminism, the hailing of Eva is significant. The politicisation of the lives of children is slightly disturbing – especially when feminists look to the thoughts of toddlers for confirmation of their political piety.

Let kids be kids, for goodness’ sake. It’s wrong to suggest that the small boys Eva supposedly puts down are misogynists who need to be schooled in the basics of gender equality. They are just children, regurgitating a bit of what they’ve heard adults say, and making up the rest as they go along. As another well-known idiom says: ‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.’

Any parent would be proud of a bright and happy child like Eva. And anyone who has seen her on the show will have been amused and delighted by her smarts. But we must be sure to keep that in context. It is not appropriate for adults to use children as political tools. And, more importantly, women do not need to model their views on those of little girls. Anyone who is serious about empowering women should reject this infantilising idea.

Candice Holdsworth is the founder and editor of Imagine Athena.

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