A girl sits under a tree in the woods

How my daughter – and yours – can benefit from ‘Redefining Girly’

When it was time for our daughter to move from a tricycle to a big kid bike, all she wanted was a red bicycle. The first birthday gift I remember getting was a red two-wheeler for my fifth birthday, so we were both pretty excited to go the store and pick hers up.

But to our surprise there were no red bikes. She was 6 and her only choices were pink or purple. Her excitement about riding her red two-wheeler faded fast. Instead we bought her a second hand red bike and took off the Hot Wheels decals. But she knew the difference.

We’ll never know what would have happened if she had been able to find the shiny, red bike of her dreams, but I suspect she would have been a much more eager bike rider. As it was, the Hot Wheels bike sat untouched until she outgrew it and was forced to look at the slim pickings available in the next size.

Two-wheeler #2 also sat virtually untouched.

There’s a serious problem with girls not being as active as boys. It’s a problem because we know that being active is good for every child’s physical, social, and emotional health, not to mention their confidence, self-esteem, and academic success.

Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, From Birth to Tween

Redefining Girly, by Melissa Atkins Wardy
Author: Melissa Atkins Wardy
Published by: Chicago Review Press
Pages: 256
Format: Trade paperback
Price: $18.95

And after reading Redefining Girly it’s becoming clear to me that this disparity in activity can, in part, be tracked back to the “pink or princess culture” (which is different than just liking pink or princesses but you’ll have to read the book to find out more about that).

Melissa Atkins Wardy’s book is a parent’s guide to understanding the sexualisation and stereotyping of girls by marketers, media, and manufacturers, and helping us steer our own daughters in a healthier direction.

Redefining Girly shows how so many of the choices that parents face are coming from forces that stem not from a concern for our children’s health and happiness, but a desire to make money at the expense of their health and happiness. We see how corporate bottom lines are influencing the way our children feel about themselves, each other, and the world they are growing up in; and just as importantly, what we can do about it.

As parents it’s essential to understand that if we buy into the “pink culture” we’re giving our daughters an extremely narrow definition of what it is to be female and while there may be some activities and sports that fit that definition, the vast majority do not.

It takes a conscious effort to raise kids who are exposed to all the colours, toys, sports, and play opportunities. It takes a conscious parent to make sure that girls get all the chances that boys do to get dirty, explore, take risks, and learn skills (and that boys get all the opportunities girls do to nurture, be creative, and express their emotions). Our current culture isn’t really set up to support this though, so we may find ourselves going against the grain.

Atkins Wardy helps us navigate everyday situations such as birthday parties, presents, and Halloween costumes. She has advice about handling teachers, doctors, and other adults that perpetuate gender stereotypes around our children, in a respectful, thoughtful, and easy to do way.

Redefining Girly is a quick read that is full of letters from the experts and practical advice for parents. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to raise a confident, happy, and active daughter or who wants to support other mothers and fathers raising daughters that are in the words of Atkins Wardy, “full of awesome”.

Maybe if enough of us stop accepting the limits of pink and blue for our children we’ll be able to use our collective voice to tell manufacturers that our kids not only deserve more choices, but their health and happiness depend on it.

8 responses to “How my daughter – and yours – can benefit from ‘Redefining Girly’

  1. OMG. I had the same experience with my daughter wanting a red bike! We couldn’t find one and opted for a pink one but it doesn’t get used either! Perhaps I’ll get a bottle of spray paint and paint it red for her!

  2. I just came across this article and would also like to recommend the book Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. These conversations, posts and books are so important for our daughters!

  3. I will read this book and thanks for sharing. As the mother of three girls, one of whom is a tomboy I am tired of having to shop in the ” boys” section of the Gap to find clothes fur my daughter that are sequin free and in primary colors. I am tired of fighting with the person at McDonalds when I get a happy meal and am asked if I want the girl toy or boy toy. It is really frustrating.

  4. I have a 8yr old daughter who I have raised to love family, God and her neighbors. She loves watching Barbie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Xena Princess Warrior. Many of the same things I watched growing up. She has two younger brothers So I can see society and commercialism every time we go to the store to buy presents. And yes the boys will get things like trains and cars, Baseball stuff and clothes that are meant for boys. My daughter got things like a Furby, Easy bake oven, Arts and craft supplies and a Basketball. Boys and girls can be different and I think that is okay. My daughter plays well with her Brothers but sometimes she says things like I do not want to play with all the boys stuff. Sometimes she loves to just be who she is. If that means watching a Barbie movie then her and the boys cuddle on the couch and watch. My boys love them. If it means baking, her and the boys make the most hilarious stuff. And when it comes to Art well that is when she comes alive. She loves designing clothes. Something her brothers have no interest in. The point I am trying to make is that it is okay to be a girl and to love yourself no matter what. My daughter is not totally into sports actually non of my kids are. Even though our family is full of athletes. They play Soccer, love swimming, and while our son is in Karate(he is a little crazy and needs a venue to let that out.) I am pushing piano on my daughter. It is not her favorite but our plan is that She will try it. Next year she can choose guitar or Drums. I did not make these decisions to adhere to society’s ideal’s of what a girl should be like. My mom did a good job She taught me to follow my heart. And whatever I want to do I can. That is what I am trying to teach my daughter all the other things like TV and toys are just stuff they do not determine who you are . And if one day my daughter says she wants to be a pro basketball player then i will say go for it. Her cousin Debbie is in Europe being paid to play the sport she loves. My daughter has plenty of role models that will inspire her to be anything she wants and her being a girl is only going to make her stronger!

  5. Parents need to lead by example, particularly the same-sex parent. While my daughter wanted a more gender neutral bike as well, I demonstrated that bike riding is bike riding, no matter what color her bike is. If she wanted to ride a bike alongside mommy while mommy went for a run, then she needed to suck it up and just ride the bike that she had. We ended up running/riding together 5km three times a week while mommy pushed her baby sisters in the jogging stroller while I was on maternity leave and we developed a great bond together by being workout partners. She shared in the joy of helping me train for a half marathon when I gave her my medal to thank her for her hard work. I liked that the act of training together also demonstrated that being active is about becoming a better, healthier you and not only about attaining esthetic ideals unlike what the mass media tells girls.

    1. Hi Janice, thanks for your comment. It’s excellent that you were able to be such a wonderful role model for your daughter.Great idea to include her in both your preparation for the half marathon and in your success. She’s a lucky girl and you sound like a great mom!

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