Do we need to rethink the word ‘girly’?

I'm a Girly dolls on BritMums

The I’M A GIRLY dolls

Is there such a thing as ‘too girly’? 

That’s the question we were asking ourselves when some people took issue with the name of a Swiss fashion doll being launched in the UK, which we’re working with. The brand is called I’M A GIRLY.

It’s this word ‘girly’ that’s triggered responses, rather than the dolls themselves. After all, the range of 5 dolls — put together by a mother and entrepreneur — features realistic proportions and a range of hair colours, hair textures and skin tones. The trendy accessories for the dolls range from trainers, horn-rimmed glasses and jean jackets to faux fur coats, llama pyjamas and silver sandals. The ambitions of the dolls range from being a vet in Africa to an astronaut to a gymnast.

As parents we like that toy aisles are moving away from the stereotypical pink-for-girls-blue-for-boys. We want toys these days that let our children develop their interests and explore through play. Any child can play with any toy. 

But does it follow that every toy has to do everything? Must every toy broadcast the message that all children and indeed all people are alike in every way?

It’s natural and right that as parents and as a society that we don’t want children put in a box because of their gender. But at the same time, there’s nothing wrong with noticing that children enjoy different activities. We understood the name I’M A GIRLY to refer to the dolls themselves — the dolls are all girls — rather than the children who own them. (The company develops the dolls and accessories using a panel of girls and boys aged 9 – 13. The high-end fashion-dolls are available at Harrods and Hamleys. If you’re interested in being among the first to see and style the dolls, check out this exclusive event!) 

“I’M A GIRLY is not about gender, rather it’s a feeling or expression,” says founder Theresia Le Battistini, who notes the name hasn’t provoked any controversy in its native Switzerland.

I'm a Girly dolls collage

Kayla, left, loves playing volleyball. Lola, top, wants to be an actress. Zoe is a hippie chick.

We can’t help but wonder as well if there’s a whiff of unconscious bias in reactions to a doll aimed that celebrate the ‘girly’ and what are considered traditional ‘girly’ leisure interests. It reminds us of the way until quite recently an interest in fashion was considered less important or serious than a similar interest in, say, cars. Many ask, ‘What’s wrong with a toy that allows children to dress up a doll and do its hair?’ — like parents do with children and an activity many of our us enjoyed as children and with our children. We like that with I’M A GIRLY, children can play with a doll whose proportions, skin tone and hair texture resemble their own.

Which leads us to our next question. Of course playing with dolls isn’t only for girls. Wouldn’t it be great to imagine a boy picking up fashion-doll Jasmine (loves her golden retriever) or Lucy (wants to be an astronaut) and not feeling like playing with his ‘Girly’ makes him any less of a ‘boy’. 

From its inception, BritMums has been a feminist organisation — promoting equality of opportunity between men and women and between mothers and fathers. We’ve written about tax breaks for childcare (just like you get for your chauffeur!), championed dads to be as much as part of the parenthood conversation as mums, and proudly worn the label ‘feminist’ when it was common a few years ago to say, ‘I’m not a feminist but…’.

We are feminists and we think it’s great to celebrate children and their interests. That includes being a girl, being a boy, being any way you want to be. 

 

Disclosure: BritMums is working with I’M A GIRLY in a paid relationship. All opinions are our own.

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About Jennifer Howze

Jennifer Howze is the Creative Director and co-founder of BritMums. She blogs about family travel at Jenography.net, tweets at @JHowze and Instagrams at @JHowze. Previously, she wrote the Alpha Mummy blog at The Times and as a journalist has contributed to The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, Budget Travel, CNN.com, Allure, SELF and Premiere, among others. She won The Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for a health article in Seventeen magazine.

21 Comments

  1. 09 November 2018 / 18:06

    This has really got me thinking. If you asked me to describe my daughters one of the many words I’d use is ‘girly’ and it doesn’t make me cringe in the slightest. They wear pretty dresses and sparkly shoes while climbing rocks. We embrace every aspect of their personality and I see them as lots of things and as much as they are girly, the play with all kinds of toys. They love being creative as well as learning about topics such as space and numbers. I don’t think ‘girly’ is the label it used to be, and my daughters are a testament to that I feel. When I look at this doll I see a healthy body image and diversity which I think is the point here

    • 09 November 2018 / 18:42

      Zena, I agree. Diversity, inclusion, stereotyping — these are all important topics when it comes to thinking about the toys our children play with and the messages we are giving them. I’ve just become more over the past several years that sometimes liking certain things or acting certain ways has become politicised, which is really the opposite of the intention. I can be a feminist and still enjoy the etiquette of men opening doors for women. I can believe girls should know they can grow up to be anything they want but still like playing dress-up as a princess or be interested in a fashion-doll. If only fashion dolls in my day had looked like all the girls in my school!

  2. Mad Mum Twice
    09 November 2018 / 18:15

    Sometimes there is too much analysis done by adults, children will be the better judge. Some will want to play with dolls, some won’t. Let the end user decide and let’s get back to more important questions like … tax breaks for childcare! Go Britmums!

    • 09 November 2018 / 18:44

      Ha ha. YES! Tax breaks for childcare and more equitable parental leave for all! Thanks for commenting.

      • Jen O
        10 November 2018 / 03:04

        I fully agree with the idea of letting the “end user” decide! After all, the ability to make informed choices for oneself is also key to being a feminist. That said, while I really enjoyed this piece and it made think quite a bit, at the end I’d be lying if I didn’t struggle with the “girly” label a little. The dolls themselves look great though, and I know an end user or two who I am sure would love to play with them.

        • 10 November 2018 / 14:44

          Interesting comments, Jen (and great name, by the way!). Informed choices is key!

  3. 09 November 2018 / 18:19

    I like that the dolls aspire to all sorts of ambitions … from STEM careers like being an astronaut or vet to being an actor or musician.

    I also like that the dolls are of realistic proportion and different skin tones and hair textures.

    Let’s face it life would be really boring if everyone were the same!

    (disclosure: I am a BritMums Co-Founder)

  4. Jayne
    09 November 2018 / 18:32

    Its a doll at the end of the day and they look awesome. My daughter would love them because she is a girly girl ( that term doesn’t offend me at all.) Yes, I have a daughter that loves pink and sparkles and played with train sets and trucks over dolls and a son that is a boys boys and loved playing with dolls and prams.

    We need to stop over analysing every little thing and just let children be children

    • 09 November 2018 / 18:46

      Jayne, your comment suggests something that is soooo important, which is that whatever toys our kids select, we should welcome their experimentation, learning and fun. Your son wants to dress up Lola in sequins? Go for it! Your daughter wants to build her own transistor radio? Here’s the screwdriver! It might be less about the marketing of toys and more about our acceptance of whatever they want to do.

  5. 09 November 2018 / 18:45

    Interesting topic. Good to see BritMums declaring themselves as feminist as so many women run away from that word to their detriment. Anything that helps girls and women to celebrate the individuals they are is a good thing as far as I am concerned. As for beauty, that comes in all shapes and sizes and if we are honest very much from our spirit and what lies beneath the surface. If you don’t believe that, you have not attended a BritMums Live event where it is so moving to see so many diverse women coming together in great numbers. Girls and women have shown just how strong and incredible they are in recent times through the #MeToo movement amongst other things. So the word “girly” has lots to recommend it in that way at least. Here’s to encouraging our daughters and sons to be who they want to be always acting from a position of kindness. If we get that right, we will be doing the world an amazing favour.

    • 09 November 2018 / 18:49

      I love this idea of acting from a position of kindness. I’m so amazed with my daughter and her friends who are so accepting of ideas (gay marriage, transgender) that just a few decades ago were so controversial. And absolutely — boys and girls should all be proud to use the F word: Feminism! x

  6. Margaret Karras
    10 November 2018 / 05:49

    I think it was really smart of the founder to call them “I’m a Girly,” because implicit in that name is the fact that the doll gets to label herself. She is telling the world “This is who I am.” Who do you feel like and how do you want to be named? Well, she wants to be called Girly! Great. Who is saying it and why matters. I think the word “girly” gets its negative connotation when it’s meant to imply that someone is too “too,” though I also don’t necessarily think of it that way myself. I also think that the girls or boys playing with dolls will associate the word “girly” with something positive–creativity, aspiration, play. And I’d have loved to have had a I’m a Girly doll when I was younger!

    • 10 November 2018 / 14:46

      I hadn’t thought about it that way, that it’s self-labeling. I agree that “girly” is often associated with the word “too”, as if only certain degrees of femininity or interest in traditional feminine activities is ok. Thanks for the thought-provoking comment.

  7. 10 November 2018 / 07:44

    Oh interesting. My daughter is the girliest of the girls but also loves playing with cars and climbing trees. Kids like what they like and should be allowed to experiment however they wish. I’m not offended by the word ‘girly’, it is not a negative word to me at all. I agree with Jayne ‘ We need to stop over analysing every little thing and just let children be children’. Hallelujah!! Exactly. x

    • 10 November 2018 / 14:46

      Ha — it would be great if we could do that! x

  8. Charlene Brown
    10 November 2018 / 15:09

    Nice dolls that have cool accessories, clothes, varying skin tones as well as interesting and diverse back stories. Don’t really understand the “gender stereotyping”, inevitably there will be some pink and sparkle in any range of dolls. With my daughters there was a definite “pink and sparkle” one as well as a “not bothered with pink” one.

    It will always be the imagination of the child playing with the doll that will either continue the back story or create a new one. All one can do is to allow for a child to have the opportunity to play with dolls that reflect the diversity around us and realistic aspirations. How the child carrys on the story is really up to them. Bring on more cool and interesting dolls!

    • 11 November 2018 / 08:40

      Charlene, I like the idea of how a child plays with dolls (or any toy) is up to them. (Probably why the boxes that presents come in are so compelling to kids, sometimes rivalling the toys themselves.) Perhaps one of the reasons we see dolls that are all very similar is that the industry is dominated by big manufacturers. More individual makers and entrepreneurs could help expand the offering so eventually we have dolls that better reflect the families who buy them.

  9. 11 November 2018 / 11:51

    I don’t think we need to re-think the word ‘girly’ – what’s wrong with being a girl? This doll range of female dolls calls itself ‘I’m A Girly’ but that is what it is, descriptive. However the aspirations and appearances of these dolls doesn’t confirm to gender stereotypes – one of them wants to be an astronaut or write her own music.
    I think rather than being hung up on one aspect of the range – the name, we should be celebrating the fact that this is a range of dolls with different shade of skin and solid body types – i.e. not the old fashioned kind of ‘skinny but curvy in all the right places’ kind of dolls I grew up with in the ’70s which reinforced the ‘you must be skinny to be worthy’ message I felt growing up. These dolls are fashion dolls for the 21st century, and with the fashion industry being worth nearly £21 billion directly to the UK economy (source: British Fashion Council) as an ex fashion student, I for one think this is something exciting.

  10. 11 November 2018 / 21:19

    I really enjoyed the post, and sometimes when we see things with our ‘grown up’ eyes, we over think things. The range of dolls is great, and there will be one for each child, and that each child can relate to. Boy or girl.

  11. 12 November 2018 / 12:58

    Girly is not a word I would use to describe my daughters however, that’s not because I have a problem with the word. It’s more to do with the fact that they are not stereotypical girls. I think nowadays we are all a bit touch about everything. Gone are the days of free speech. You now really have to watch what you say, where you are when you say those things etc. It’s crazy. Just because it has such a name doesn’t mean they are alienating boys from enjoying the toys… I’m just happy a toy company has come out with a diverse range!

  12. 12 November 2018 / 18:39

    Fab post! I like that the range of dolls is diverse and features dolls with various hair colours and hair textures as well as different skin tones. It is nice for children from different backgrounds to be able to discover dolls that they feel they can relate to, or appear to look similar to them.

    My daughter has moments where she loves to dress up as a princess or even days where she decides she will be a superhero, stating with pride that she is, “Batman” or “Superman.” I am very much into Superheroes myself (as a fan of action films) and I have told her that there is a Batgirl and a Supergirl too. Although, I have no issue with her exploring and I leave her to do so. I adopt this approach because she is a free spirit, so I support this by not restricting her (unless she is in danger of getting hurt.)

    I have no issue with the word “girly” and feel that although it may have negative connotations to some, children should be free to play with what interests them. Their imagination is one of their greatest tools and it should be enhanced by allowing them to access a wide range of toys, play opportunities, etc.