With my attempts to complete the writing of my second book and efforts to resuscitate a business I let languish, I have been pretty much MIA on the blogging and social media front, but a post has been rattling around in my mind for several days, so here goes.
We’ve all heard the expression “boys will be boys,” an unfortunate turn of phrase that brings to mind all kinds of negative stereotypes about boys. I’ve complained about that expression before, but today I wanted to highlight some stories of boys who are challenging its traditional meaning.
It starts with some of the boys at my sons’ school and, specifically, their clothes. There’s been an explosion of colour among the boys in the primary grades this year and it is amazing to see. Where once boys were limited to pants in navy, black, grey, or brown, they are now wearing bright red, orange, turquoise, kelly green, yellow, and bright blue. Many have an equally wide range of colour in their footwear, sporting shoes in orange, turquoise, green, red, and even metallics. I don’t want to see boys (or girls for that matter) become slaves to fashion or inordinately concerned with their appearance, but it is refreshing to see boys so readily and fully embracing colour and a little self-expression. This is a sea change from when my older son was in the primary division just a few years ago, a time when colourful clothing for boys was limited to shirts and the hues were decidedly more muted.
Then there was this story in the Toronto Star about boys breaking ballet stereotypes, which notes that, in 2013, Canada’s National Ballet school has experienced the largest enrollment of boys in its 54-year history.
And this piece about the Olivet Middle School football team in Michigan, which got a lot of play in social media.The narration in the video clip lays it on a little thick, but the story showcases a group of football players who went to extraordinary lengths to make a special-needs student not only feel like part of the team, but also play a major role in the game. The behaviour was notable because it is so far removed from the stereotypes many people hold of football players.
And today, Rebecca Hains blogged about a boy in grade 8 who was suspended for carrying a purse to school. The original report notes that the suspension will remain in place until the boy, Skylar Davis, agrees to stop wearing the purse. He has refused to do so.
Boys will be boys indeed: having fun with colour, being artistic and compassionate, and standing up for their rights to carry an accessory traditionally associated with women. (Why men can’t carry purses is another question entirely. Don’t they have stuff to carry too?)
Isolated cases, yes, but I take these stories as an indication that attitudes are shifting and that boys in this generation are actively redefining masculinity or at least ignoring its basic rules. Cases like that of Skylar Davis show how much further there is to go, but the fact that he is not backing down and has the full support of his family is another good sign.
The big day is drawing near for the Brave Girls Alliance. This Friday, October 11–the International Day of the Girl–is the launch day for the Alliance’s campaign to take back media.
Through a crowdfunded campaign, the Alliance has raised enough money to rent billboard space in Times Square to share constructive, proactive, and inspiring “tweets” from people concerned about media representations of girls and women. Here is just a small sample of the types of messages that will be shared:
- #BraveGirlsWant to be builders, engineers, and scientists (@PFZinc)
- #BraveGirlsWant out of the pink aisle and every stereotype that resides there (@PigtailPals)
- #BraveGirlsWant to be celebrated for all their shapes, races, cultures, sexual orientations, and abilities (@AdiosBarbie)
- #BraveGirlsWant roles for women beyond wife, mother & lovestruck damsel-in-distress (my own contribution to the campaign)
There are lots of other things happening in tandem with this event in New York. Many Alliance members are gathering there to meet with each other and engage with passersby. Some are attending the Girls Speak Out forum at the UN. And I hear there will be dancing. Lots of it.
Although I am unable to attend, I am thrilled to be part of the Alliance and offer my support to their efforts. For others who cannot attend, there will be social media coverage on the day of the event. Follow #BraveGirlsWant on Twitter or visit the Brave Girls Alliance Facebook page.
I want to extend my congratulations to all of the Alliance members, and especially founders Ines Almeida of Toward the Stars and Melissa Wardy of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies. This is an extraordinary undertaking and it will certainly be a weekend to remember!
Go Brave Girls and Women!
For more information on the campaign and to make a donation, visit the Brave Girls Alliance website.
On September 23 I posted this item on my Facebook page: “My friend Marci of Fit vs Fiction and I are prepping a letter for Toys R Us Canada asking them to follow the lead of Toys R Us in the UK and stop gendered labelling in their stores and marketing materials.”
After a bit of back and forth with editing and revisions, we sent the letter by email today to Liz MacDonald, Vice-President of Marketing and Store Planning for Toys R Us Canada. In it, we referenced the concept of visual segregation, noted in this National Post article which also includes some statements from Ms. MacDonald.
In our letter, we point out examples of visual segregation in Toys R Us stores and flyers, accomplished mainly through the use of pink and blue and gender-specific vocabulary like “adventure and discovery” for boys and “creativity and fantasy” for girls.
We conclude with this passage:
Children learn and are limited by these visual cues from a very young age. Given that toys are so essential to their development, they need the freedom to explore all toys without arbitrary gender limits imposed by toy sellers and manufacturers. Toy vendors, like Toys R Us, need to eliminate the use of highly gendered colours and, instead, promote the idea that all toys and books are available to all children.
We are asking for Toys R Us Canada to follow the lead of its counterpart in the UK and publicly commit to gender-neutral toy marketing and in-store promotion and signage. There is currently a petition by American group A Mighty Girl asking Toys R Us in the United States to do the same. The Canadian stores could be proactive and show leadership in taking this important step now by:
- showing children of both sexes involved in a wide range of play, including un-stereotyped, non-traditional play;
- reducing or eliminating the use of pink and blue as non-verbal gender signals;
- modelling boys and girls playing together with the same kinds of toys.
We also included a two-page “What the Experts are Saying” document with quotes from various individuals about the problems with gendered toy marketing. If you would like to use these quotes or even the whole document in your own petitions or letters to toy retailers, please feel free. We have attached a copy here: What The Experts Are Saying about Gendered Toy Marketing.
Marci and I will keep everyone up-to-date on what happens next. We’d also like to thank Rebecca Hains for reviewing the letter and offering some helpful suggestions for improvement.