The Secret Life of Girls shows how scarily on to it the kids are

by Diana Wichtel / 29 September, 2018
Broad horizons: equal to whatever life throws at them.

Broad horizons: equal to whatever life throws at them.

RelatedArticlesModule - The Secret Life of Girls documentary television
Do you remember what it was like to be a five- or six-year-old?” wonders narrator Hayley Holt on The Secret Life of Girls. Oh, my, yes. Terrifying. We had a teacher who made us line up so she could pull out our loose teeth. That counted as a good day.

Yet I always wanted to be a teacher. They were the women I knew who had a job. The only other choices were secretary or nurse. My granddaughter wants to be a zoo vet. Three women in our family are vets. She hopes the job will ensure 24/7 access to cheetahs.

We’ve come a long way. The five- and six-year-olds on The Secret Life of Girls seem scarily on to it. “Do you know what’s happening?” little Mei Mei says suspiciously to a new friend. “The people over there, and there, they’re watching us.” Indeed.

The two-part documentary is a version of the UK Channel Four series that observed the social dynamics and weapons-grade playground power plays of four-, five- and six-year-olds. So an Auckland kindergarten is rigged with hidden cameras (not hidden enough for Mei Mei) and the children are miked for sound.

The show also celebrates the anniversary of women’s suffrage. As India, five, declares precociously, “Kate Sheppard changed everything.”

India ensures the first episode is not short on drama. There’s a power struggle with Shiloh over the captaincy of the pirate ship. “I am your captain,” explains India, “and that means you do what I say.” Shiloh is soon walking the plank, to be eaten by sharks. It’s a jungle out there.

The girls are asked to dress up as a family member. Aurora chooses her dad: “My father likes to scream at the TV while watching the Warriors.” India dresses up like Edina from Absolutely Fabulous – her mother, apparently, who likes to go to the gym. “After that she drives home and drinks a cup of vodka and watches the telly.”

Early learning specialist Annette Henderson and neuroscience educator Nathan Wallis are there to devise slightly worrying social experiments. In an exercise in infant capitalism, each girl is given a jar of marbles. Whoever ends up with the most wins a lovely prize. No rules, no boundaries. Let the begging, theatrical sobbing and brazen theft begin.

Some girls can’t be bothered with this social Darwinist red-in-tooth-and-claw test and retire to play. India finagles a vast collection, then stashes her marbles under cushions – the kindy equivalent of a shell company in the Cayman Islands. After much crying, begging and stealing, she collects the prize: a hug from teacher Josie. Life lesson: lying, cheating and emotional blackmail rule. I guess these tots need to be ready for the neoliberal workplace.

There are moments that give you hope. Manaia gets Amairaa’s name wrong. “We all make mistakes. That’s all right,” says Amairaa kindly. In another “game” the girls, tricked out in suffragette-era bonnets and pinafores, seem genuinely distressed when half the group is capriciously denied the right to vote: “We feel sad for those people.”

It was all surprisingly entertaining and enlightening. Here is evidence that social and political progress widens the horizons of a country’s smallest citizens. “I’m the Prime Minister of Auckland!” announces India. “And I’m the Prime Minister of India!” says Amairaa.

Here is also a chance to observe that the dynamics of the adult workplace aren’t a million miles from the ruthless hierarchies, the miniature Machiavellian machinations, of playtime.

In the second episode, the boys, God help them, are let in. These girls look perfectly equal to whatever life throws at them. As India proclaims magnificently while commandeering the pretend cars, “Buckle yourselves in, girls!” It’s going to be a fascinating, if bumpy, ride.

The Secret Life of Girls, TVNZ OnDemand.

This article was first published in the September 29, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Huawei's dogged determination: Can it make a breakthrough in New Zealand?
108428 2019-07-16 00:00:00Z Tech

Huawei's dogged determination: Can it make a break…

by Peter Griffin

The tech company at the centre of a trade war between the US and China is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to prove it can be trusted.

Read more
The many miracles of Aretha Franklin movie Amazing Grace
108368 2019-07-15 00:00:00Z Movies

The many miracles of Aretha Franklin movie Amazing…

by Russell Baillie

A long-lost concert movie capturing Lady Soul in her prime is heading to the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Read more
The untold history of China's one child policy
108182 2019-07-14 00:00:00Z History

The untold history of China's one child policy

by RNZ

Nanfu Wang explains the story behind her film One Child Nation, which screens at the International Film Festival this July.

Read more
Is Vladimir Putin right about the death of liberal democracy?
108314 2019-07-14 00:00:00Z World

Is Vladimir Putin right about the death of liberal…

by Paul Thomas

Vladimir Putin reckons “the liberal idea has become obsolete”. As Mandy Rice-Davies said, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”

Read more
The psychology of psychopaths and social media users
108199 2019-07-14 00:00:00Z Psychology

The psychology of psychopaths and social media use…

by Marc Wilson

Psychologists are getting a picture of people who are big on social media. It's not always pretty.

Read more
Acclaimed writer Greg McGee on his family's stolen children
108138 2019-07-13 00:00:00Z History

Acclaimed writer Greg McGee on his family's stolen…

by Clare de Lore

Greg McGee always knew his great-grandfather had kidnapped his father and uncles as infants, but now for the first time he’s revealing that...

Read more
Video-streaming platforms are failing their impaired customers
108303 2019-07-13 00:00:00Z Tech

Video-streaming platforms are failing their impair…

by Peter Griffin

When it comes to video streaming, the hearing- and visually impaired can only dream about the technology that’s passing them by.

Read more
We like big vehicles and we cannot lie
108312 2019-07-12 00:00:00Z Politics

We like big vehicles and we cannot lie

by The Listener

It would take a psychologist to explain Kiwis’ love for utes and SUVs. But it’s not the only reason people are revved up over the attempt to reduce...

Read more