When you optimistically Google the word "femininity", hoping to find a definition to show your girls, you get the following:
“Qualities or attributes regarded as characteristic of women.” – Oxford Dictionaries
“The quality or nature of the female sex.” – Merriam-Webster
And the very first definition that appears in that block right under your search bar: “the quality of being female; womanliness,” for example, "she celebrates her femininity by wearing make-up and high heels".
Now, I don’t know about you but to me that example is rather presumptuous, restrictive and completely distressing to a little girl who doesn’t care too much about painting her lips a provocatively sounding shade of red and loves the comfort of her Chuck Taylors.
That is not to say of course that that specific definition of femininity is wrong. Maybe we should look at it as not being the definitive meaning, but simply, one definition. And there’s nothing wrong with that one definition.
Definition 1: Make-up and high heels
Growing up, I knew a lot of girls who were into all things pink and for lack of a better word (traditionally), “girly”. Many of these girls, now women, have actually made a career out of it and they’re living their best life, celebrating their femininity by wearing make-up and high heels, if you will.
Zoe Suggs (Zoella) is a UK fashion and beauty vlogger who, since starting her vlog in her bedroom during a boring internship, has over 12 million subscribers to her YouTube channel, published 3 books, and launched a range of beauty products under the name Zoella Beauty.
- Read more about Zoella here: Beauty for girls, pranks for boys – it’s the same old gender stereotypes for YouTube stars
The English YouTuber has become a household name and has made a career out of celebrating her femininity. And so many others have done the same the world over. We have our own Baked Online by Aisha Baker and Fashionbreed with Aqeelah Harron Ally here in South Africa, proving that young girls can be interested in things that are considered traditionally feminine and they can make a career out of it too. So I’d like to think you could call it fashion and make-up, or maybe style and war paint.
There is nothing wrong with conquering the world in red lipstick and breaking the glass ceiling with Louboutins. It’s just important to note that it’s not the only career path for ambitious little girls, or at least, it shouldn’t be.
Armed forces for the boys and teaching for the girls
Education and Employers, a UK-based charity, revealed in a report titled Drawing the Future, the difference between girls’ and boys’ career aspirations. The participants, between the ages of 7 and 11, were asked what they wanted to become when they grew up and they then had to draw a picture of their ideal future job, while also saying what influenced their decision.
The study revealed that in terms of gender stereotyping and career expectations, aspirations tend to lay in stereotypical masculine/feminine roles across the sample. Thus, one of the most popular jobs for boys was police and armed forces while teaching emerged as one of the most popular professions for girls.
The sample also mentioned that parents and other members of the extended family were often the biggest influencers if the respondent indicated that they knew someone personally who did that job. The exception was in developing countries such as Uganda and Zambia, where a teacher was often the biggest influence. If a young person did not know someone personally who did that job, TV/film was the biggest influencer. In all countries, less than 1% of children stated they had heard about the job from a volunteer from the world of work coming in to school.
In keeping with popular theories around masculine and feminine roles, boys showed preference for working with things, for instance as an engineer or scientist, whereas girls aspired to jobs working with people or caring professions like working as a teacher, nurse, doctor or vet.
But again, these career aspirations can be particularly troubling for a little boy who doesn’t want to become a policeman or a girl who actually wants to build things with her hands and become an engineer.
Definition 2: DIY school gadgets and glitter cannons
While we no doubt play a very important role in the career paths our kids choose to pursue, there are in fact YouTube channels that also encourage girls who don’t celebrate their femininity in the stereotypical way to follow their dreams.
Goldiblox, for one, is a channel that encourages young girls to create and build things that will change the world, much like the Goldiblox toy company founded by engineer, Debbie Sterling, after realising there were too few women in her class at Standford University. She then set out to create toys other than your usual Barbie doll, basing Goldiblox on the story of Goldie, a girl inventor who loves to build with her construction kit.
- Also read: Review: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
The YouTube channel similarly encourages girls to pursue their dreams of inventing and constructing things that can change the world.
“Hi there, it’s Goldie,” reads the YouTube description. “Your DIY hacker, inventor, engineer and waffle enthusiast. Here you’ll find lifehacks and craft ideas as well as toy cartoons, and a bunch of stuff you can build. And plenty of stuff you can laugh at. Wanna join the #GoldieSquad? We use creativity and engineering to invent stuff that makes life more fun like LED shoes, DIY school gadgets, and glitter cannons.”
Below is the "Princess Machine" video showing, as in the Goldiblox video above, that you can be a girly-girl in your tutu and all, and still want more than just shelves upon shelves of dolls and videos of girls singing in tiaras.
Research has revealed that parents, family members and teachers have the power to inspire and motivate children to pursue particular career paths.
And becasue we have this special power, we also have a responsibilty to rear our kids accordingly, taking note of what they love and exposing them to various career paths that they can choose from, free of any gender stereotypes.
Debbie Sterling calls this idea "disrupting the pink aisle".
We'd like to call it celebrating your femininity by wearing make-up and high heels, war paint and Chuck Taylors, carrying your Barbie in one hand and your skateboard in the other and becoming whatever you want to be.
What are your girls interested in and what do they want to become when they grow up? Tell us by commenting below or emailing to email@example.com and we may publish your comments.
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