Today is International Women’s Day 2018. A day to celebrate all the achievements throughout history that amazing women have undertaken, particularly those acts that have helped us move toward gender equality.

This annual event seems more pertinent than ever this year, to me anyway, in light of the #metoo movement that exploded after the Weinstein revelations emerged, and all the similar stories that followed. It seems that while great progress is being made through feminism in some areas, these horror stories of men’s misdemeanours highlight how far so many of us males are from seeing women as equals.

Of course, as sickening as these revelations are, the fact that they are out in the open is progress in itself. And as a man, as depressing and shocking as it was to realise just how widespread men’s sexual harassment of women is in our society, whether it was a close female friend of mine or a celebrity I follow on Twitter, I am glad to have been made more aware of the issue. It can only be a step in the right direction.

Obviously, sexual harassment is just one of many major issues that women are fighting against. Another revelation out of Hollywood that surprised me recently, if only in terms of its sheer scale, was this table:

Equally depressing are the responding tweets from people (mostly male but some female too) that say ‘Big deal’ and ‘I don’t really see the point you’re making.’ I’m not kidding, there are people out who are completely fine with the disparity displayed in that table, apparently.

I’m not one of those people; however, I don’t claim to be Mr Perfect, either. A few years ago, while I was reading Amazon reviews of one of Julia Donaldson’s books, one in particular caught my eye. The customer was complaining about the lack of female leads in Donaldson’s books. As an admirer of the author, my knee-jerk reaction to this comment was, ‘Seriously? You’re making a big deal over that? And anyway, what about A Squash and a Squeeze? And The Gruffalo’s Child? And the princess in Zog. And Room on the Broom!?’

But I later looked at all the other books in my son’s collection, both by Donaldson and other authors, and the overwhelming majority seemed to have a male lead. Of course, sometimes it’s in the interests of the story to have a male lead – I think that Stick Man  has a better ring to it than Stick Woman, for example – but there are plenty of instances where it really wouldn’t have harmed the story if the protagonist had been a girl, especially in children’s books about animals. Yet, when you look at books like David McKee‘s Elmer and Donaldson’s Tiddler, it feels as though a male character is the default option for animals in children’s books. We’re not talking gender inequality on the same scale of the Oscars table, don’t get me wrong, but it’s there (according to this article, male animals are central characters in more than 23 percent of books published per year, while female animals are in only 7.5 percent).

When I came up with the original idea for Sarah’s Shadow, my lead character was a boy. My son had asked me to make up a story one night instead of the usual routine of reading him a book, so the story was about him losing his shadow initially. It was only much later on when the story was pretty much fully formed in my head that I remembered the Amazon review of the Julia Donaldson book, and in an instant I decided to change it to a girl. The resulting book has five female characters and one male. In the ever-growing galaxy of books that are published each year, mine is a drop in the ocean, but thanks to that one Amazon reviewer I was made aware of an issue and I did my tiny bit to address it. I’ll continue to be mindful of it, too.

Oh, and that one male character in Sarah’s Shadow? He only says one line. EAT THAT, HOLLYWOOD! 🙂

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