I wasn’t what you’d call a ‘girly girl’ growing up. I didn’t really play with dolls, didn’t like pink, was happier in jeans than a dress. They were my preferences before I was even conscious of the perceived differences between boys and girls. I just liked what I liked.
But by primary school age, I’d fallen into a trap of thinking that ‘girl’ was synonymous with ‘lesser’.
“Ugh, don’t be such a girl.”
“You throw like a girl.”
“I’m really more like one of the guys.”
Somehow, I’d concluded that girls were seen as rubbish, vacuous, incapable, and if that was the case then I didn’t really want to be one of those.
It wasn’t really until I reached university that I started to look back and realise how flawed and unhealthy my young thinking had been.
To be clear, being a girl didn’t hold me back as a child. I never felt there was anything I couldn’t do. I learned to code before I could ride a bike, and I never felt like I couldn’t be a scientist, an engineer, an astronaut or a businesswoman if I chose. I was going to use my brain, of that I was sure.
But I did feel that in order to be taken seriously, I needed to make it clear that I wasn’t a ‘girly girl’. To distance myself from the ‘girly’ things.
That’s awful, isn’t it? To somehow in my childhood have acquired the idea that the world wouldn’t believe I could have stereotypically female features, likes and interests, and be successful in male dominated careers? It’s sad. How many young girls have that feeling and feel held back as a consequence?
Fast forward 20 years and my four year old daughter is old enough to show her own preferences when it comes to clothes and toys. She likes glitter, she loves pink, she loves giggling with her friends, she loves cooking in her play kitchen, decorating cupcakes, putting on tiaras and dressing up her dolls. In this way, she’s a ‘typical girl’.
She also loves maths, will jump at the chance to try a science experiment, can hold her own in a debate, wants to be a emergency doctor, likes building and making things, loves climbing trees and whizzing down zip wires. That’s not so ‘girly’, right?
Fact is, there’s no such thing as ‘girly’. No one – boy or girl – fits into a stereotype because every child is different and every child has the right to be exactly what they want to be. Playing with a Barbie or an Action Man doesn’t make you a ‘girly girl’ or a ‘tom boy’. It doesn’t define you at all.
Toys aren’t badges or labels, they’re tools for exploratory and imaginative play. When J plays with her dolls, she puts them in all sorts of situations, from acting out stories from her favourite books and film, to being patients in her toy hospital. They help her work through her feelings and understand new challenges. Most of all, she has fun.
Watch this video from Barbie. We often think of Barbie dolls as the epitome of the ‘girly’ stereotype, but we need to stop thinking that way. Girls can be whatever they want to be, and so can their dolls…
You might wonder why the video focusses on girls, when surely boys can play with Barbies too? And yes, they absolutely can. There is absolutely no reason for a toy to be only for a boy or only for a girl, and I’m in favour of toy aisles that aren’t organised by gender.
However, 100 years ago women in the UK weren’t even permitted to vote. We were second class citizens, and the idea that girls are somehow lesser is still prevalent in our culture today, hidden in everyday language. Despite having a great mum who fostered self-belief and self-confidence, I grew up with a subconscious sense that being a girl wasn’t as good as being a boy. It’s still happening today to our own little girls. And it needs to stop.
Anything that helps promote the message that girls can be whatever they darn well please is good with me.
This is a commissioned post for Barbie