When I started teaching music at the daycare in March of 2014, I had no experience working with children outside of having my daughter, who was 16 months old at the time. I learned a bunch of standard children’s songs like “Old MacDonald,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and “The Wheels on the Bus,” so the kids and I could get used to each other before we started trying new things.
“The Wheels on the Bus” is a big hit with the littlest children, because they can sing and gesture along. We got to the bit with the Mommies on the Bus, who say “shh shh shh,” which I changed to “I Love You,” because that’s how we sing it in my house. They carried the song into the next verse and sang “The Daddies on the Bus say ‘keep the baby quiet!,’” complete with stern faces and finger-wagging; I had never heard this version before. It was pretty upsetting, since Daddies can and do soothe their crying babies, they can and do act as caregivers, and I was sad to see them barking orders at the Mommies on the Bus because that is just not how I want to see the world.
I knew I could find something better. I googled “feminist children’s music.” There was nothing.
I posted about the “keep the baby quiet” verse on Facebook and Twitter and said “I should write a progressive, feminist children’s album,” and started coming up with silly song names, like “Only Yes Means Yes,” “Princesses are for Everyone,” “Wheelchairs are for Wheelies,” and on and on. It was a joke, I was expressing my frustration through humor. My friends thought it was funny, but also pretty genius. They told me I should do it.
So I did it.
I spent the next year and change writing an album’s worth of songs and planning to crowdfund my record. The idea wasn’t just to make the album exist, it was to publicize the entire concept - progressive, feminist children’s music that identifies itself as such. There are other artists doing similar things: Jonathan Coulton’s song “The Princess who Saved Herself,” and Kimya Dawson’s song “We’re All Animals” are great examples, but when you set out to find something as simple as “feminist children’s music,” nothing is openly calling itself that.
Now, when you google “feminist children’s music,” you’ll find my Kickstarter.
It’s not all “feminist” music, though. When I set out to do this, I wanted to write songs that made children feel included and inclusive, accepted and supported, embraced and encouraged. I wanted to give adults a musical toolbox to address difficult topics like consent, ableism, anxiety, non-binary gender, and where to start when the room is such a disaster that cleaning it up seems an impossible task. I had to get all of these points across using accessible vocabulary and uncomplicated, fun melodies.
I almost didn’t include the word “feminist” in the descriptor because, as I just described them, my songs are about more than gender equality. Unsurprisingly, the song that is getting the most attention is “Only Yes Means Yes,” which simply says that you don’t have to touch anyone you don’t want to touch and you shouldn’t touch anyone that doesn’t want to be touched.
I’m really not clear on how this message could possibly be controversial, but I had to shut down the comments on my YouTube page because the trolls had come with their torches and their pitchforks and they wanted my head. They were calling me out for indoctrinating children into my ideology, telling me that no one would ever want to have sex with me, and one person even said “this made me want to non-consensually hug a child.”
If this is the sort of negative feedback I’m fielding, it only serves to further validate that what I’m doing is necessary. There is a staggering void for it. I’m 10 days into my Kickstarter campaign and over 75% of the way toward my goal. So what is making these people so angry?
The easy answer is “because rape culture,” but I have a few guesses as to the more complicated answer. While I see these messages as unprejudicially empowering, maybe they see me as someone seeking to marginalize them. I have been accused of “indoctrinating” children into the ideology that they need to ask for permission for hugs and that this will carry into their sex lives. Which… yes. I hope so. If that’s the best argument they have, I am completely at peace with that.
Unfortunately, more than my songs, they are attacking me for creating them. The majority of my songs didn’t receive any attention from the trolls before I shut down the comments, it was “Only Yes Means Yes” that got bombed. I got a few particularly ridiculous comments that said that no one would ever want to have sex with me. Good stuff, I’ll bring that up at the next female children’s entertainers’ meeting when I see Minnie Mouse and Princess Twilight Sparkle. I won’t tell Ms. Piggy because she won’t put up with that misogynistic bullshit.
Of course the negative comments hurt. Since I’m a children’s performer, I feel like I can’t say things like “I’m being called ‘unfuckable’ and that hurts” but I am also a human being. I have a daughter and I want her to grow up in a world where princesses and superheroes save the day together (shout out, Wonder Woman!) and where identifying as a feminist isn’t akin to placing a target on yourself and walking into a firing range.
On the other hand, when I’m performing at farmer’s markets in Washington, DC, children crowd around me and see my flower crown and hear my fun songs and watch in awe. I tell their parents “I write progressive, feminist songs for children,” and their eyes light up like I just told them something existed that they never knew they needed until they heard about it.
This is a thing that needs to exist. If you agree, tell someone about what I’m doing. Even better, help me out on Kickstarter. I want the past year’s worth of my life to have a positive impact, to open dialogues between children and adults, and make the next generation do and feel better than what we’ve done and felt.