Girls will be boys will be girls will be….

It seems that International Women’s Day this year got us all pumped up.  We’ve had several submissions since IWD from you that show how important you feel raising awareness of the inequality that exists still is.

In a world where asking for help in a toy shop will can elicit the response ‘are you looking for a gift for a boy or girl?’ when it actually shouldn’t matter – what if that little boy wants to play with the pink ball? – this phenomenal discovery and post by Alice is exactly what’s needed. Toy shops, look out…

So, International Women’s Day happened. And AOW was a pretty special place to be the entire day. (My productivity went drastically downhill on the hour, every hour, but that’s beside the point.)

The Shirley Chisholm quote that Anna included in her introductory post and the subsequent discussion about Barbies with their hair cut off, little brothers dressing up as princesses and ballerinas and Lego for girls (sorry, what?!) reminded me of a book my wonderful sister gave me a few years ago.

It’s called ‘Girls Will Be Boys Will Be Girls Will Be…’ created by Jacinta Bunnell and Irit Reinheimer (I know, even their names are awesome).


This is an excerpt from the introduction to the book:

“Once upon a time, there lived two strong, compassionate, and rambunctious young people named Irit and Jacinta. These two friends spent their days swinging from ropes into sparkling lakes, digging ditches in the sand that stretched all the way to the Yangtze River Valley, choreographing dance routines to the hits of the 80’s in sparkly spangles, and stacking abandoned refrigerators (without the doors of course) to build temporary shelters for exhausted caregivers of strong, compassionate, and rambunctious young people. Jacinta and Irit always had extraordinary fun.”

So, first paragraph of the introduction in and I’m hooked. There then follows a little story which includes sentences such as:

“Irit and Jacinta were thought to be bad influences on the boys because they taught them how to twirl and wear pink eye shadow. They were also thought to be negatively influencing the girls because they taught them how to use a power drill and construct large stages.”


“…they read a poem that seemed to help everyone feel less bogged down by the grown ups who were trying to mold them into dainty young ladies and rugged young men.”

I know, right? You just want to track this pair down, grab them and take them into every primary school in the land to help spread their no BS brand of gender speak, don’t you?

And then this happens:

“So, the next day when the heat was much too oppressive to dig ditches and was making their sparkly spangles stick to their tummies, Irit and Jacinta decided to take action against all the rigid gender roles that had been unwillingly placed upon them and their friends. They got out all the markers, crayons, pens, pencils, and scissors they could find and created a coloring book that would help everyone realize that is in all our natures to be gentle, brazen, vulnerable, courageous, and emotional, no matter what gender we are. They created a coloring book that makes it perfectly sensible to color outside the lines.”

What follows is a few of my favourite pages from the book. AOW readership – enjoy. Colour in. Or colour out. And most importantly, fist pump.




Categories: Body Image, Politics and Feminism
35 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted March 21, 2013 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    This is brilliant !

    The other day I was babysitting our neighbor’ kids and I was wearing the 1-sparkly-nail polish (bright pink glitter none the less). They are 2 a boy, 5 and a girl, 3. It was the boy who upon looking at my hands exlaimed: “what a beautiful nail polish” (referring to the glitter. The pink glitter).

    Which shoes kids are just kids and toys have no gender, or they should not have. Mark (my husband) is actually the clean / order freak out in the house (not that I am messy, but he is tidier, and so we follow his guidelines). This happened because as a little kid he would be taken care of by a friend of the family who let him “play” clean the house, something he enjoyed (order is in his nature).
    And I do love cooking, but I know as many men who do. A good friend of ours is a professional baker.

    And the list goes on and on.

    Like I saw somewhere on pinterest: “We need feminism because there’s no such thing as boy’s toys or girl’s toys and colors are for everyone” (and science is for everyone too… did you hear about Elise Andrew, owning of “I fucking love science”

    • Posted March 21, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

      Oh I meant shows not shoes…. sorry about that.

  2. Posted March 21, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    What a find! I think IWD sparked my brain off and I’ve been seeing stuff which is the polar opposite of the above more and more. Things that have outraged me recently (and I’m certainly not averse to spangles, pink eyeshadow or glitter, mind) include; the re-working of batgirl’s costume in hot pink to be sold to under tens for fancy dress (um, hello, a, I dressed as batMAN when I was about 8, and b, batGIRL is a girl and manages perfectly well to be a girl in a black costume, also, she could hardly lurk in the shadows waiting to swoop on baddies in shocking pink, it’d shimmer under the streetlights of Gotham, but I digress) and secondly, yesterday. Kate Middleton gets on the tube and is given a baby on board badge. How does it work? She asks, and the reply is ‘it’s so men know to give up their seats…’ again, HELLO? Are able bodied WOmen not allowed to, or not wanting to, give up their seat as well? Turning something which should be basic courtesy and common sense for everyone into a gender statement. Wow. This comment is supremely inarticulate. Perhaps I should just say, thanks Alice xx

    • Posted March 21, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      It’s not inarticulate- I knew exactly what you meant, and what’s more, I agreed! :)

    • Gemma N
      Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Men know to give up their seats?! Ugh.

      I know this is going to sound like a huge generalisation but I think that the majority of time I’ve seen pregnant women offered a seat on the train/tube it’s been by other women. (Apologies to men who do, I’m not saying there aren’t any!)

      I once met someone at a house party who was saying she thought that men should give up their seat for her on the train purely because she was a woman. I said I thought with attitudes like that she was setting feminism back 50+ years. “Feminism?” she said with disgust. “I’m not a feminist!”. Clearly.

      • Gemma C-S
        Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        Me too! It’s always women who give up their seats, and maybe we’re more attuned to it as other women, but the amount of grateful yet slightly embarrassed looks a pregnant woman has given me when I’ve given up a seat among a sea of men, young and old, sitting obliviously in a carriage is too large to count. I can only think that the badges are aimed at men because they’re designed to pin on the chest, and by that logic they think men will look there more than women? ;)

        • Gemma N
          Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

          Ha ha! I actually saw someone this morning who had the badge pinned lower down on her tummy – she didn’t have a huge bump. I actually think that’s quite a smart move as it’s closer to eye level for people who are sitting down. I know I’ve seen someone standing and though “is she pregnant or not”, not wanting to offend someone (I’ve been on the receiving end of offers for seats while not pregnant – it’s quite awkward for everyone!) and then looking to see if she has a badge without being obvious can be quite tricky!

          The pitfalls of being a Londoner – the badge definitely helps avoid the embarrassing situations. I can’t imagine Kate will get a lot of use from hers though!

      • Gemma C-S
        Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        and ALSO I went to a fairly traditional, Catholic all girls school, but one thing we were taught was if you’re young and fit, then you give up your seat to ANYONE less able to stand. Which is a lesson many Londoners clearly missed out on. (though my seat is available as I’m happy standing here on my soapbox)

        • Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

          Yep, I give up my seat to anyone who looks less able to stand than I am, man or woman. It’s basic good manners!

          K x

  3. Posted March 21, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I love the message that this book is giving to children however I’m really sorry but *whispers* I find the pictures a bit creepy….

    • Posted March 21, 2013 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Ha, I know what you mean Caroline! But I kind of like them for challenging the cutesy, rose-tinted world that is often portrayed in colouring books, which is just another form of unrealistic ‘normalisation’ that we should call out I think. x

  4. Posted March 21, 2013 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    This is a subject close to my heart. Gender issues are so complex, so tied up with how we interact with each other, so ravelled up with our own language use and the messages we send out with the way we act. We send out messages all the time that reinforce the social expectations whether we accept it or not. Who hasn’t told a girl they look pretty? Or dressed girls in pink? I don’t know about you but I find it hard to know where to draw the line (after all some of this stuff is just so cute!) and when to go out of my way to challenge the stereotypes as a matter of principle and say buy a boy some dressing up jewellery and when to feel bad about our participation in reinforcing stereotypes with our own actions as adults. What makes it all the more complicated is that children may express a preference from a young age for something that reinforces gender stereotypes despite our best efforts, like a girl being drawn to something really girly like Emmi and her penchant for Clare’s bangles (something I know some of us still find ourselves doing as women).

    I am finding this is on my mind more than it normally is in terms of clothing because i’m buying things for our baby not knowing if its a girl or a boy. In a way it has been easier to avoid gender stereotypes because I don’t know. So we have white, and nothing that will identify our child as male or female. How many people can say they have done the same when they know the sex of their baby? And how long can this last once the baby’s here? Is it worse to dress the baby like this and have to deal with endless comments from confused strangers calling them he when its a she or vice versa (something I know drives parents mad) or is it worse to make a statement to the world in the clothes you dress your baby in that the world understands? Is pink or blue, fairies or tractors, inevitable? At the moment we plan to keep the baby looking like a baby, not a girl or a boy, for several weeks. But that might all change when we actually know. And I’ll join the millions of others who have surrendered. At least on the outside.

    Of course the way we dress children is just the start, and encouraging gender neutral behaviour and activities are arguably a much more important aspect. So its ok if a girl wears pink as long as she plays with lego and is encouraged to want to grow up and be a plumber if she wants to. But to have great hair if she wants that too. Giving children the freedom to challenge stereotypes always starts with us. So I don’t blame shops for selling toys in boys and girls categories, or baby clothes for having a male and female section however infuriating for parents who don’t know the sex of their baby. They are giving the majority what they feel comfortable with and thats what they want. Anyone else has to just try that bit harder.

    • Posted March 21, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      Just as a side note, a couple of my friends have little girls and they actively tried to steer clear of pink and stereotypically ‘girly’ things. But as soon as their little girls were old enough to start saying what they wanted to wear / do / look like, it was all pink, princesses, nail polish and tiaras! Bottom line for me is if your children grow up knowing they have choices, and knowing that you will support them in those choices, regardless of gender, you’ve done a bloody good job!

    • Posted March 21, 2013 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

      Definitely all clothes gender neutral (apart from a few floral and stripey pink Hello Kitty handmedowns from his cousin) so far even though we know the sex! It’s been a battle to find stuff though, drives me mad.


  5. Posted March 21, 2013 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    I LOVE this! You’re right, I want to find them and drag them into the nearest primary school….

    On a side note, my husband was watching a documentary on bullies the other night and some of the things he was telling me made me absolutely livid – one of the teachers talking about “burning all gays” whilst the girls and boys laughed pointedly at an openly gay student. Kids wearing nooses to school after a boy killed himself by hanging after being bullied so badly that he saw no reason to live. Children are so vulnerable to outside influences and what we say and do as the adults surrounding them matters so much. It worries me that some people feel it’s okay to tell a child off for liking pink or blue or baking or toy trucks. They’re adding so much extra unnecessary pressure and creating an environment of “should” that (if yesterday’s post is anything to go by) will become a permanent hangover into our adulthood.

    Sorry, rant over. That was a bit depressing, it just makes me so overcome with anger/sadness/grief because it’s something supposedly “small” but it’s really an insidious normalisation of something which should terrify us all because of the far-reaching consequences and because of what it says about our world.

    • Posted March 21, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Normalisation is a great word to summarise my feelings on this topic.

      That programme doesn’t sound like the kind of thing to watch before bed!

  6. Gemma N
    Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    This is my first comment here – I discovered AOW a couple of weeks ago and have been reading every day since (In fact I have been trawling back through the archives and so my productivity has also taken a nosedive!) but as yet have been a bit scared to make a comment. Partly because it seems like you all know each other, which is lovely but a little intimidating (it’s always scary being the new girl) but also partly because why would anyone want to hear what little old me has to say about anything when there are already so many insightful, intelligent comments on here. Then yesterdays post made me think how silly that was, and I should just write what I wanted to, but somehow still didn’t manage to follow through on it.

    But today I just had to comment. This is one of my current pet hates. I used to love shopping for toys for my niece and nephew – buying presents for kids is so much more fun than buying for adults – but recently I’ve found that going into most toy shops makes me quite angry with the division between the blue side and the pink side. Apparently lego is a boy’s toy, as are things like the Toy Story and Cars characters?!! The girls side is full of dolls, arts and crafts, and things like play kitchens, washing machines etc. Are we back in the 1950s?!

    I did actually end up buying my niece something from the ‘girls’ lego range – I wasn’t completely happy with this, but it was what she wanted for her birthday, and I still want to be the favourite Auntie! I did however make sure that rather than the pool house or hair salon I bought her the science lab!

    Friends who have had babies recently have told us they found out the sex of the baby beforehand mainly so they can buy things, decorate the nursery and get things ready. On one hand I found this a bit strange, but then looking for gifts for newborn babies recently I found that there’s actually a very limited range of clothes that are ‘neutral’ colours rather than baby blue or pink. And they all seemed to be plain cream/ beige/ yellow, and quite boring!

    I like to think that when/if we have our own baby, my husband and I will try as hard as possible to not to get drawn in to the gender stereotyping. But I’m starting to wonder how possible this will be. Even if we manage to avoid the blue/ pink issue, and make sure our son/ daughter has a range of toys – dolls, kitchens, lego, trains and trucks all included – as soon as a child starts socialising with others they start to ‘learn’ which are boys and which are girls toys. Is there anything that can be done about that?

    Anyway, I’ve gone on for ages here (and I’ve deleted stuff!!). Sorry about that. Look what happens once I get started!

    Incidentally, just after I read this post on the train this morning, I looked up and saw an advert for the Vitality Show at Earls Court about health, nutrition, fitness and beauty. The advert said ‘Brains, Beauty, and not a Boy in sight’. *sigh*

    • Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      Gemma! I remember making my first comment and I felt the same way.

      Most of us have never even met, but fortunately this kind of place makes it much easier to find like minded new friends. Hopefully you’ll feel more comfortable commenting in future.

    • Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      Yay for first comments! And wow, I wish my first comment had been half as articulate and excellent. It’s all so hard, this stuff. I think all anyone can do is just try and make sure that girls toys and boys toys are one and the same as much as possible. And, where possible. stand up to anyone who tells them differently,

      K x

    • Posted March 21, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      Gemma!!! You are welcome to AOW! I was a new girl about 6 months ago, but I feel less like it now. Are you on twitter? The chat on there goes crazy and really gives you a proper community and support. Anyway I’m @Katylkh, say hi.

      Your comment is epic, I love the discussion we can have here.

      I think the point about society intervening whatever you do is a good point. Although really a large part of your identity is your gender – so we could maybe get rid of pink/blue etc but something will come in. I think we need something. BUT I think we should absolutely not tell girls they should play cooking and princesses and boys they should play with trucks and lead that over.

      I actually think this is one thing where boys have it tougher. Being a tomboy girl is seen as pretty OK, but being a girly boy is definitely not! Anyway, I digress. Viva la revolution!

      • Gemma N
        Posted March 21, 2013 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

        Aw, thank you all for the lovely welcome. I don’t know what I was worrying about. You won’t be able to stop me now!!

        And epic – mmm, I think I’ll take that as a good thing?!!

        Yes I’m on twitter (gem_nicholson) that’s how I found AOW in the first place. I did tweet back about the ad I saw on the tube this morning, and then decided I should write a proper comment! How do I make my name link to my twitter like you did?

        I know what you mean about the tomboy girl thing, but it does depend a bit on the parents. I’m sure there are girls who want to be tomboys but whose mothers insist on them being ‘girly’. One of our friends when his wife was pregnant said he really really wanted a boy so he could play football, golf etc. with his son. My husband replied “well you can still do that with a girl” but that didn’t go down very well. They did have a boy so all good at the moment, although I dread to think what will happen if his little boy turns out to not be very sporty!

    • ClaireH
      Posted March 21, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

      Hi Gemma and as Katie said, yay for first comments. You’re doing much better than me, I lurked for MONTHS with exactly the same fears as you before I was brave enough to comment about six months ago. Just pile in and say what you want, I still have the fear practically every time.

      I really wanted to buy Chris’ niece a fancy dress outfit for Christmas but thought ‘right, no gender stereotyping, I’m getting her a doctor’s outfit’. I asked her mum and she said ‘what she really wants is a princess outfit…’ – what can you do when it’s what they want :-( Her mum did say that she wasn’t particularly girly so she has no idea where her daughter gets it from. Maybe as Alice said above, once kids start requesting things then there does seem to be a tendency towards conforming to stereotypes, though I’m not sure why.

      • Gemma N
        Posted March 21, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

        hello, thank you again!
        Yes it is difficult – I don’t want to buy a toy just to try and make some point that then won’t get played with. I do feel a bit like I contributed to this as when my niece as I’ve bought cinderella outfits, and lots of pretty girly dresses when she was very little (without thinking about it really) but they are sometimes just too cute!! Although we did buy an England rugby babygrow for her as well.

    • Posted March 21, 2013 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      Hello Gemma, I am also relatively new commenting here (maybe a month ago or two), but I had definitely being reading for a while. I am jealous that you all live in the UK and can maybe sometimes meet! (I am in NL, so it makes it harder). So I pretty much just “know” everyone online (that is from lurking / reading their blogs or following on twitter).
      But if you (or anyone) drops by in Holland just let me know! Our guest room is ready for friends!

      With regards to the toys it is hard to choose…. and hard when kids start choosing and it turns out they want pink, princess, hello kitty stuff all the way (even when like you mention the parents are not stimulating it).

      We just had a birthday party, of our 4 year old neighbor (girl). As we were looking for presents I was inclined to get machines to make things (like smoothies, ice-cream, chocolate) or science-like toys (ant farms, mini microscopes,chemistry sets etc) and books. This is stuff I would have liked myself at that age (even now!). But, the thing is, this girl (who has a brother, is exposed to legos, puzzles, books, colors and all kinds of non-gendered toys) is in fact in that stage where she is crazy about pink, princesses and hello kitty. I know that I have liked (even still do a bit, or a lot, let’s say) the color pink, in all its shades (and flamingos)… and I know as a kid I also liked Hello Kitty, though I was not obsessed.

      In the end we got her a set of canvas with drawings, watercolors and glitter so that she could make her own art and a pretty turquoise green dress. It’s hard to balance all these things while still trying to get something the kid will actually like and enjoy and is not a reflection of us, as adults.

      As for babies, I hope the yellow and the green clothes are still around when we are ready because I love those colors. I do know of a shop in Amsterdam where they sell Che Guevara, The Beatles, Sex Pistols. Barbapapas, Heidi, Star Wars, Little Miss / Mr… and other “alternative” / old-school onesies. (Like a pretend neopren diving suit, or one that seems tha baby has a camera / DJ headphones hanging in their chest).

      Now that I think of it the one with the headphones would be perfect for Penny’s baby. Penny can we have your address?

  7. Posted March 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone else seen the new Weetabix chocolate advert? It’ here…, and it sums up exactly what I think the problem is!

    Is it just me or is this whole pink/blue thing worse than it used to be? In photos of me as a baby, and throughout my childhood, I’m dressed in a whole range of colours, blue and green and red and pink and orange and all sorts. So is my brother. Sometimes I’m in blue with trucks on and other times I’m wearing a dress and a cape (yes, I did want to be a flying superhero in a princess dress, obviously).

    I used to see baby clothes in yellow and red and green, now it’s all pink and blue. If I have a daughter, one day, my husband will dress her in a Welsh rugby team babygro regardless, and buy her Dangermouse t-shirts and The Very Hungry Caterpillar things. I’ll make her wear tiny t-shirts with DNA helices on. We’ll do the same if she’s a he, too. I just want my kids to grow up the way I did, with gender not making the slightest difference to what we did. I climbed trees higher than my brother, and sometimes I did it in a bridesmaids dress (might have got in trouble for that one). We baked together, he used to love pretending to Hoover. I hate that as time passes, we seem to be regressing further an further.

    Did you know that many years ago pink was a boys colour? It’s a derivative of red, which is masculine, compared to blue for girls, which was feminine. It just goes to show that it’s all meaningless, the meaning is created and enforced by society, in order to maintain a status quo. Ugh, I just find it depressing… Alice, I love this book. I want it for my children, one day.

    K x

    • Posted March 21, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      That weetabix ad made me laugh. But I suppose the point of an ad campaign is not to make a stand on gender issues but to sell more cereal by appealing to people’s understanding about sibling stereotypes. The benefit to stereotypes is people can relate to them even if they don’t identify themselves as falling into that cliché.

      Next doesn’t even have a unisex option in their baby section online. You have to choose Girl or Boy before you can see the clothes, but at least then you search by the colours you want to look at. I think this is a response to the vast majority choosing to find out their baby’s sex before birth and a commercial assumption that the majority don’t have a problem with gender stereotypes. And how will they ever know if the majority of people buy into it?

      There are options of you want to go for more colourful unisex clothes, I saw a hungry caterpillar collection in the supermarket the other day which you’d love!

      • Posted March 21, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        True child of the 80s here, I was often dressed in orange or brown! My favourite party dress was blue, a wonderful puffy sleeved number too :)
        Maybe we should post some baby photos on AOW…

        • Posted March 21, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

          Katielase just spotted the pretend hoover line in your comment, I loved my ‘hoo hoo’ when I was little and was rarely without it. How times have changed!

    • Gemma C-S
      Posted March 21, 2013 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

      Yes KatieLase! I was going to say the thing about colours and historical apportionment but I thought I’d yapped enough today.
      And welcome other Gemma… xxx

  8. Posted March 21, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I can’t remember where I read or heard the argument for making a point to use the word ‘sex’ when you mean male or female and ‘gender’ when you are talking about social constructs about masculinity and femininity, but I think it’s a valid point.

    • Posted March 21, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

      Ooh, this takes me back to my feminist and queer theory modules at uni! I think the gist of the argument for the sex / gender split is to avoid ‘biological determinism’ (the idea that biology is destiny), but some people argue against the split as they find even the man / woman dualism problematic. I’m missing out all the nuances in these definitions! But check out Judith Butler if you’re interested in this stuff – when I first read ‘Gender Trouble’ at uni it completely opened my eyes to different readings of sex, gender and sexuality – fascinating.

    • Gemma C-S
      Posted March 21, 2013 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

      I agree L, but you’d also use gender to talk about characteristics, like, biological characteristics, no?

  9. Posted March 21, 2013 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    I love it, I want this book.

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