Posted on September 09 2015
This week's Wednesday Woman is Lisa Rajan, mother, Surrey Docks Councillor, financial research consultant, and author of the wonderful Tara Binns book series; Tara's adventures show that little girls can be or do anything, including doctor, engineer and pilot.
Bardega: Lisa, what were you like as a young girl and what did you want to be when you grew up?
Lisa Rajan: I was a very clever and gifted little girl but also very shy and introverted. I loved my schoolwork, especially maths and creative writing, but I really lacked confidence and found it hard to talk to people and make friends. I wanted to be lots of different things when I grew up – at seven, a Thunderbird pilot, at eight, a lorry driver, and from nine onwards, a doctor. At seventeen, I discovered I was extremely squeamish, fainting at the mere thought of blood, which put paid to that dream! I then decided to be a scientist, and I think there’s still a part of me that wants to invent something or make some ground-breaking discovery!
Bardega: We love everything about your Tara Binns books ~ what inspired you to write them? And how else do you think we can encourage young girls to dream big?
Rajan: Thank you! When my son was three, he once said to me “But Mummy! Ladies can’t be mechanics!”. It was funny, but I was also a little bit horrified – I thought we’d brought him up in a non-sexist-equal-opportunities kind of way. He then went on to list a load of other jobs that ‘ladies can’t do’. I wondered where he’d got it from, as we would never have said anything like that to him, and now I realise children get so many subliminal stereotypical messages from other adults, TV and books.
Books, particularly, seem to segregate along gender lines, and there seems to be a real poverty of ambition in books aimed at girls. Boys get strong practical role models that have exciting active adventures or save the day; girls get princesses and fairies and characters who are generally more passive and social in their storylines. I thought girls deserved to have a strong role model who is resourceful, practical, strong and caring, and who doesn’t have any limitations on what she can be or do.
The American author Beverly Cleary said, “If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it”. So I did. Determined to play my part in redressing the balance and widening the choice of reading matter for our daughters, I wrote a series of picture books with a strong female lead character, Tara Binns. When she runs around an old costume box in an attic, she is transported into a costume she wouldn’t normally choose, and a challenging adventure to go with it. She solves problems, learns new skills, makes discoveries and invents things. So far, she has become a pilot and an engineer, and there are adventures as a doctor and a firefighter in the pipeline too. I deliberately chose male-dominated jobs so that both girls and boys could see a female character capably doing them, and enjoying them too.
My son (now ten) will never again say that, “girls can’t be mechanics”, but, more importantly, neither will my three-year-old daughter. And I hope, as the books become popular and plant big ideas in little minds, some of the subliminal barriers that gender stereotyping has unwittingly created will start to be lifted.
How else can we encourage young girls to dream big? Find them inspiring real-life female role models, be strong role models ourselves, make opportunities for girls, keep doors open, keep horizons broad and make sure boys know that girls can be or do anything – their attitudes, both as children and then as adults, has a massive impact on girls’ choices and ambitions.
Bardega: Tara Binns is all about Girl Power but what does Girl Power mean to you?
Rajan: Girl Power, to me, means building up and maintaining self-esteem, and not allowing others to influence your choices or decisions. It’s about choosing the path you want and not worrying what other people think. It’s about having the confidence to fulfill your own potential, being proud of yourself and keeping a sparkle in your eye.
Bardega: As well an author and mum, you work for a financial research consultancy and you're a Councillor - How do you manage to juggle so many roles and what do you do to unwind?
Rajan: It does feel like a juggling act! The research job is very flexible, and I work from home so that fits in with school hours and holidays. Council meetings are mainly in the evenings and most of the casework is by email, so I fit it in between supervising homework and working on marketing the Tara Binns books. Like most mums, I’m pretty much always multi-tasking! Finding time to write is sometimes tricky, but I don’t have a nine-to-five mentality and can often be found working or penning a couple of Tara Binns verses at midnight! I never really have any downtime and am pretty much always doing something.
To unwind, I go running. Before my daughter was born, I would never even run for a bus, but after she was born I wanted to become healthier so I started running a couple of nights a week. Now I run marathons dressed as Wonder Woman. I’m really slow, but I like the challenge and the atmosphere and, I can’t deny it, the applause! I also love the looks on little girls’ faces when they see a middle-aged Wonder Woman running by, and hope I can inspire a few of them to find their inner superhero too!
Bardega: What / who inspires you?
Rajan: People who are driven inspire me. People who work hard, follow their dreams and don’t let anything stand in their way. As a child I was very inspired by my parents, especially my Dad, who came to the UK in his early 20s from Tanzania. He had to borrow a pair of shoes to come here, and struggled to find anyone who would give a young Indian man board and lodgings in the late 60s, but went on to work two jobs and put his sister through college and himself through night school and university. He was resilient and ambitious, and he is also the most generous and philanthropic person I know.
Bardega: Finally, what advice, if any, would you give a younger Lisa?
Rajan: Be more confident, stop caring what irrelevant people think, and realise that people are not judging you – they are too busy worrying about their own problems. Try and get past the shyness and do something that scares you every day. But otherwise, keep up the good work!
‘Tara Binns – Eagle-Eyed Pilot’ and ‘Tara Binns – Crash Test Genius’ are available from Amazon, with ‘Tara Binns – Double Choc Doc’ out in October. You can get updates on new books and generally inspiring stuff for girls,from Tara Binns Website, Facebook or Twitter