Boys Climb Trees, Girls Look Pretty

Boys Climb Trees, Girls Look Pretty

Audrey, my three year old daughter is named Audrey for three reasons; 1., After my fabulous Nan who is also an Audrey. 2., I just think it sounds nice and 3., because of its meaning. The name Audrey comes from the old English name Etheldreda which means noble and strong.

I wanted my daughter to have a name that was not pretty or dainty or flouncy in any way. I wanted her to have a name that was feminine yes, but also strong. It says a lot that those two characteristics are often seen as opposites.

I was a bit of a tomboy growing up. Girls who would rather climb trees than play with dolls are tomboys right? That is the name we give them anyway. As a teenager I was very tall, much taller than other boys my age and rather gobby. I felt that my opinions were important and expressed them clearly.  I did wear make up and occasionally dresses (with doc marten boots obviously) but really, I tried to be funny much more than I tried to be pretty.

I have never been a ‘girly’ girl. I have never been short, slight or shy enough to be girly. I have never been weak enough. I have never wanted to smile and look pretty but say very little. That’s what all the pretty girls were like. Maybe if you are pretty that will do. You have met your requirements. If you can do pretty, why be funny or clever, why be strong?

Women who are funny, women who are tall and women who are confident are not that popular with the majority of men. A woman of large stature and quick wit needs no protection from a man and is not easily dominated by one either.

My identity as a woman is a mile away from the glittery princess dresses and tales of passive damsels in distress which are so adored by my three year old daughter. There is a world of Disney prisons out there for the minds of little girls and mine loves them with a great passion.

Despite my best efforts to encourage Audrey to have a limitless view of what she can do and who she can be in the world she does so love the idea of being a glittery princess who needs rescuing and feels she can only play with ‘girls things’ and play ‘girls games.’

I feel sorry for little girls in toy shops. Recently Audrey picked up a Bratz type doll in a toy shop and said,

‘Mummy what does it do?’

‘Well,’ I replied. ‘It doesn’t really do anything. You just pretend with it.’

‘What can you pretend?’

‘Well, you can really pretend anything you like but this set is, um, what is it? Errrr, well, she’s got different handbags and shoes you can put on her and dresses. Maybe you just dress her up?’

Audrey looks from the ‘girls doll’ to the karate chopping Buzz light years and superhero dolls for boys. It seems that the boys toys save the universe while the girls ones mainly go shopping.

Of course I encourage Audrey to look at all of the toys and have always made an effort to sell the ‘boys’ toys just as hard as the girls, if not more so when she has some pocket money to spend in a shop. Marketing is clever though, girls toys are colour coded pink and purple (Audrey’s favourite colours, or are they really?). She knows which are the ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ toys and does not want any ‘boys things’. Although I have always discouraged this polarisation, she desperately wants to stick to her corner.

Somehow my three year old has soaked up a strong dose of sexism from her, so far, quite limited experience of the world. One day as we were walking along Audrey said to me,

“When I grow up I want to be a nurse.”

“That’s a great thing to do.” I say but throw in for good measure, “You could be a doctor you know? They do an important job helping people get better too.”

“No mummy, girls aren’t doctors, girls can only be nurses.”

Now, I would say that 80% of the times Audrey has seen a doctor it has been a female doctor and yet she stills feels, at the age of three, that her gender prevents her from choosing this career path. Where does this come from?

We play doctors almost every day, it is one of Audrey’s favourite games (and mine because I get to lie down) but when she is pretending to be Doctor Audrey, have I also not noticed that she is simultaneously pretending to be male?

I am not going to stop her from watching or reading about princesses in towers and to be fair to Disney they have made a bit of an effort recently to come up with some rather more unconventional female heroes and storylines for them. I was so grateful to Disney when Anna turned out to be her own saviour or when they gave us Merida who wants to gallop around on horses, climb cliffs bare handed and shoot things with arrows.

There is still quite a way to go though in the worlds of our girls and to be honest, when I look around the toy shops, where we now have either ‘girls’ or ‘boys’ lego (boys can build a space ship, girls can build a nail salon) and dolls that look even less human than Barbie, I am amazed that we have let this happen to our children. Surely they deserve better?

I recently took Audrey to get some new shoes which is always rather stressful and often requires taking out a second mortgage. After ten minutes or so of trying on shoes and forcing Audrey to walk around the shop in them saying which is most comfortable we finally settle on a pair of red shiny patent leather brogues.

“Right, go on then,” I say to the shop assistant, “how much do they cost?”

“These ones are fifty five pounds,” she says (WTF?) and my heart sinks. The thing is, I will pay £55 for her shoes if I have to. Audrey has very funny narrow, long shaped feet, frogs feet basically, she got them from me, poor child but the thing is I know that Audrey will shred these beautiful shoes to pieces within a week.

“Right,” I say, “The problem I have with these shoes, aside from the price,”

“I could do them for £45?” She throws in.

“Well, that would be better but even at £45 the trouble with them is that they will be ruined too fast. Do you have anything which is just as pretty but maybe has scuff pads around the front? My daughter climbs trees and scoots everywhere. She drags the toe of her shoes along the ground as a brake pad as she goes.”

“Well, unfortunately,” says the shop keeper glancing behind her at the wall of boys shoes, “girls shoes just aren’t made for that kind of thing,” she grabs a brown, thick soled, scuff resistant looking shoe off the boys wall and hands it to me to inspect.

“Boys shoes are made for playing in,” she explains. “Girls shoes are made to look pretty.”

Wow, I think turning the sturdy, but rather ugly shoe over in my hand. There you have it, the trouble with being female, even when you are three, is that what you look like seems to always be more important than what you are actually doing.

I am not putting up with this for my daughter.

“Right then,” I say to Audrey, “What I didn’t realise is that they’ve got some special shoes in this shop that are made for scooting and climbing things. Shall we try some of those on?”

Audrey is very keen to get ‘scooter shoes’ and tries them out by jumping up and down in them and galloping around the shop rather than looking in the mirror.

As I watch Audrey galloping with her long legs and crazed expression it occurs to me that despite her best efforts at being a girl, she, like me, may be too tall and too silly to ever be really girly. I cannot do much about that and I hope it does not really bother her as she grows up and is taller and funnier than most men. If men are her thing then I’m sure she can find one man enough to deal with it.

My main concern is that her fierce loyalty to the girls team and her passion for pink and princesses will not limit what she feels she can be or do. To me she will always be beautiful but I didn’t bring her into this world to look pretty. I want her to enjoy the world and everything in it and for that, she’s going to need a decent pair of shoes.

We settle on a pair of very sturdy red canvas skater pumps with rubber shell toes, especially for dragging along the ground. She is very pleased with her new scooter shoes.

Just please, no one tell her they are for boys.


5 thoughts on “Boys Climb Trees, Girls Look Pretty

  1. This really hits the nail on the head. It’s so irritating the way toys, clothes, shoes, *everything* is so ridiculously gendered. I wish they would do away with the color coding and just throw everything together and let kids just make their own choices without being guided by advertisement and product placement.

    As to the doll business, I managed to snag a couple of the Lammily dolls. If you’ve seen the Tree Change Dolls, you may have also heard of the Lammily dolls – they’re supposed to be more realistically proportioned than other dolls. She also wears virtually no make-up and is an avid traveler.

    In a similar vein, I just watched a Kickstarter for these bigger dolls (like American Girl size) geared toward boys get funded. They’re called Wonder Crew and they’re supposed to be superheros or rock stars or construction workers and the idea is that the little boys will bond with and care for them – encouraging their nurturing sides. Of course, the Kickstarter just ended a couple days ago, so, it will likely see awhile before they’re really available to purchase, but, might be worth the wait.


    1. Just today I took Audrey to the toy shop to spend some pocket money, out of everything we looked at she chose a ‘baby sitter doll’! It is horrid, she is seriously dolled up with a tiny miniskirt and crop top, lots of make up and a couple of babies hanging off her!

      I would be interested to see what the kids would go for if everything was marketed as gender neutral.

      Will have to check out the Lammily dolls.


  2. Yes, I absolutely love the idea of the Tree Change Dolls! I just can’t work out why toy companies have not wised up to the idea that parents would love to buys dolls like that?

    There is also sets of toys called ‘Goldiblocks’ I think who make engineering toys specifically marketed towards girls.

    I’m sure parents of boys (I do have a boy but he mainly just bites toys at the moment) feel the same way about what is available and pushed at their boys. Sometimes there is more stigma attached to boys playing with traditionally ‘girls’ toys such as dolls.


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