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Monthly Archives: May 2015

  • Oh I'm just a girl

    Space pics
    You walk into the children’s clothes section of a shop. You see rows and rows of neatly arranged clothes on tiny hangers sprawling in front of you. You spot a particularly adorable t-shirt, prominently placed at the end of a rack, displaying the slogan “Future Astronaut” in bold, bright lettering across its front.

    What colour is the t-shirt you just imagined? Blue? Pink? Green?

    What did the sign above this rack of t-shirts read? Boys? Girls? Unisex?


    The unfortunate reality, dear reader, is that most of us will have pictured a blue t-shirt beneath a sign that proudly proclaims ‘Boys’. A few of us may have caught ourselves doing this, scolded ourselves, and mentally changed the colour to pink and the sign to read ‘Girls’. Very few of us, myself included, will have jumped first and foremost to a gender neutral colour beneath a gender neutral sign.

    Now, I may hear a few protests that girls can wear blue and boys can wear pink, and, of course, I agree. However, it would be foolhardy of us at this point in time to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that the majority of people are happy to look past those associations immediately. In much the same way that it would be foolhardy of us to think that all people look at girls’ clothes that have been emblazoned with slogans such as the seemingly innocuous “Little Princess” or the far more unpleasant at first glance (but actually very similar) “Future WAG”, and think that they are contributing to a far deeper problem relating to the aspirations of future generations. For many people, a t-shirt is just a t-shirt and the colour that they choose for their son or daughter is something that is simply a given, that they never give a second thought to.

    Oh I'm just a girl, all pretty and petite

    So why do I want to make so much noise about this? Why does it matter so much if they’re just clothes? Because (to paraphrase Gwen Stefani) I don’t want girls that are born today to just be girls because that’s all that we’ll let them be, and for that matter, I don’t want boys that are born today to just be boys because that’s all that we’ll let them be.

    Too many times, I have been met with shock over things in my life that, if a man did them, would have been deemed unexceptional, from joining in with arm-wrestling tournaments to moving to a foreign country half way around the world at the age of nineteen, alone. Too many times, I have heard behaviour amongst males that I perceived to be deeply unacceptable, explained away as ‘boys being boys’ or ‘lads being lads’. From men verbally abusing one another in the cruellest ways imaginable under the guise of ‘banter’, through to adult males grabbing women’s backsides without permission or invitation.

    If you think that these behaviours and those pink and blue t-shirts are unconnected, think again.

    The Gender Narrative

    Those t-shirts tell girls that they should aspire to be looked after, to be defined through their relationship to someone else. Those t-shirts tell boys that they can be whatever they want to be, do whatever they want to do, and write their own future. Those reactions, when I have done as I have pleased in my life, suggest that somehow my fiercely independent behaviours are a negative to be apologised for or explained away. Those excuses, when made for males misbehaving, tell them that they can behave however they want to behave, do whatever they want to do and write their own rule book. Same narrative, different age group.

    We aren’t doing our daughters or sons any favours by perpetuating this cycle of low aspiration for girls and ready excuses for boys, and this is why we need to start from a different point; a point that allows girls to aspire towards any future they choose, independent of others, and a point that allows boys to aspire to be better than those that came before them, to not need to fall back on those overused excuses. A starting point that bridges the chasm of expectation between the genders that we have right from the moment of conception. A starting point without gendered sloganeering and colour-coded stereotyping. Isn’t it time that we close that gap?

    Isn’t it time that we 'clothes the gap'?


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