Janine Kitson

The following three books — a children’s picture book, a middle years teenage novel and an adult collection of essays by women share something in common — female protagonists who initiate, defend, and empower themselves as individuals and leaders. They challenge girls and women in all stages of life to demand equality, respect and dignity. All books include themes of solidarity and collectivism.

Sally Snickers' Knickers

By Lynn Ward & Anthea Stead

A young girl has an eccentric habit of always wearing undies on her head — even to school. When she is punished by her teacher, her friends stand by her and organise their own collective action to support Sally.

Sally’s Snickers’ Knickers might be compared to a well-known parallel story that Joan Lemaire, Federation’s Senior Vice President, has told at Federation Council. One day a woman teacher wore a red dress to school. The principal told her not to wear red as it was an “arousing” colour. The next day all the male and female teachers came to school wearing red in support of the teacher and the issue was never raised again. This picture book, suitable for K–2, is a bright and cheerful story about the power of friends standing up for each other and opposing authority when they see it as being unfair.

Classroom activities

Small group/pair discussion:

  1. Is the teacher right — is wearing undies on one’s head “very silly”?
  2. Why are Charlotte, Soo and Mia so determined to stand up for Sally?
  3. If you were Sally’s teacher would you have punished Sally for wearing knickers on her head?

Suggestions for learning activities:

  1. Write a parallel story that changes wearing knickers on your head to something else.
  2. Act out a parent/teacher interview with the issue of Sally wearing knickers on her head.
  3. Readers’ theatre this book!

Caro was here

By Elizabeth Farrelly
Walker Books, 2014

A girl is determined to lead an adventure on her 12th birthday together with some not-so-welcome friends. They play truant from school and spend the afternoon exploring, swimming on a Sydney Harbour island, only to miss the last ferry back. They are then confronted with the prospect of spending the night on the island with dangerous drug dealers. The novel also revolves around Caro’s intense irritation with Ellen Aurelia Dufresne who is annoyingly perfect, beautiful and utterly spoilt. Ellen is adroit at spectacular stunts that win her the election for school captain, something that Caro feels cheated in losing. Their interactions reveal the subtle sexist pressures to which many teenage girls feel compelled to conform.

The gang of five children characters is wonderfully developed — they are, at the same time, lovable, imperfect and infuriating.

Underlying the adventure story is a deeper story about how these young people abandon their prejudices about each other only to discover a deeper and more mature appreciation of just how decent they all are. The story finishes with a euphoric moment when they recognise how wonderful good friends are.

Classroom activities

Small group/pair discussion:

  1. Why did Ellen Aurelia Dufresne rather than Caro win the
    school election?
  2. Is Caro a good or bad leader?
  3. Which character do you like best: Caro, Ellen Aurelia Duffresne, Nigel Numbnuts, Ned or Tattie? Give your reasons.

Suggestions for learning activities:

  1. Prepare a police list of questions to ask Caro about what happened on the island and what she saw.
  2. Write your own adventure story.
  3. Choose a scene to act out.

Destroying the Joint: Why Women Have to Change the World

Edited by Jane Caro

This is an excellent resource for the Federation’s school Women’s Contacts. It is important to remind women teachers of unstated and underlying gender biases that can profoundly impact on their self-esteem, work and career opportunities. Destroying the Joint contains a collection of essays written by a wide spectrum of women writers, journalists, academics, media consultants and politicians who write on their reflections on Alan Jones’ misogynous comments about women leaders “wrecking the joint”.

The essays deal with how too frequently women’s achievements are, ignored, sidelined and dismissed. They also touch on sexism and misogyny in Australian society. The highlight for me was the essay by Carmen Lawrence and her awareness of how we are literally destroying the joint though inaction on climate change, species extinction and the growth agenda. A great reminder of why women really do need to change the world. Without true equality there is definitely a case for destroying the joint.

All three books are all available from Federation Library.