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The wise owl

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

'The Wise Owl', 2020, acrylic and oil on canvas, 104 x 104cm, sold.

The owl depicted with the girl seeks to challenge the stereotypical personality traits we attribute to each sex. The owl is commonly associated with wisdom and is nearly always cast as male in children's nursery rhymes and fairy tales. This painting in particular was inspired by two nursery rhymes; The Wise Old Owl and the Owl and the Pussy Cat. In both cases the language tells us that the owl is male and attributes certain characteristics to him. For example, in A Wise Old Owl, the owl is observant and wise. In the Owl and the Pussy Cat, the owl is charming while the cat is beautiful and wants to get married. Being wise and worldly are traits that are stereotypically attributed to males while females are portrayed as being more interested in their appearance and attracting a husband. Historically this may have been the case, since women had limited opportunities for higher education and financial independence. However, despite the advancement of women's rights, these stereotypes persist.

While these old fashioned rhymes have gone out of favour, there are many popular children's stories which continue to precipitate these gender stereotypes by casting wise owls as male. It has been said that an owl appears in one form or another in every Disney picture and you can be sure that nearly all of them are male. Some examples include Bambi, Sleeping Beauty and Winnie the Pooh. Even Australia's own Giggle and Hoot features a male owl, although they did later introduce a female owl character of lesser significance.

In my painting I have sought to make the wise owl a female character by placing her with the girl. They lean into each other, sharing a connection and an intimate moment.

You can check out the rest of the Happily Ever After Series here:

About the author

Leah is a Melbourne artist making art about motherhood and childhood, with a feminist twist. Follow her artwork on Instagram @leahmarianiartspace or

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Detail from 'Lilly & Lola', 2020.

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