Cast your mind back to being 11 years old. It’s a rainy Saturday and, as a treat, your parents are taking you shopping for a new toy.
You excitedly enter the toyshop with the highest of expectations, hoping to leave with a cool new train set, a crystal-growing science kit or perhaps some action figures of your favourite Star Wars characters. But these are boys’ toys and, because you’re a girl, you’re expected to browse in the candy-pink section of the shop. Here, your choice is limited to Barbie dolls, plastic telephones and dubious “fun” cleaning products.
This is the very real scenario that three 11-year-old girls living in New York find themselves in on a regular basis, and they’ve had enough. Fed up of only being offered girly products when they enter shops, the trio have taken their dissatisfaction with the pink/blue gender divide to the global platform that is the internet, and launched their own feminist website.
Called Girls United, with the brilliant strapline “Because girls are more than just cute and cuddly”, the site is intended to level the playing field between girls and boys and prove to companies (and the world) that both sexes can, and do, have interests beyond their typical stereotypes.
Written, edited and published entirely by the girls themselves – three friends called Ella Rose, Amelia Sage and Sela Eve – the website was launched in February and has already received a lot of interest.
Speaking to stylist.co.uk, Ella said the idea behind the site was to “change the way people think about what a girl is”: namely, that being a girl doesn’t necessarily have to equate with being girly.
“We started the site because we really didn’t like all the gender bias we were seeing,” Ella said. “I got the Star Wars Monopoly set for my birthday and, even though Rey is the main character, she wasn’t in it. That made me really, really mad.
“I love Star Wars, but all the Star Wars clothes are pink and I hate that.”
Unsurprisingly, one of the key messages the girls hope to get across is that products for girls don’t need to be pink. The site has a ‘stories’ section dedicated almost entirely to tales of frustration the girls have at being directed towards the pink sections of a toy shop, or finding only pink choices when shopping for clothes.
And Ella believes that marketing products for girls exclusively in this traditionally feminine shade “shows girls that they should only like this colour” and sends out the message that they “won’t like something unless it’s pink, which isn’t true.”
The Girls United founders, who list yellow, blue and purple as their favourite colours, aren’t the only ones fighting against this ‘pink-ification’.
There has been a call for change over the past few years from parents who are sick of only being able to find traditionally girly products for their daughters, amid increasing worries that rigidly enforcing such gender stereotypes from a young age can be damaging.
After all, if we want to encourage our future generation of girls to grow up to be anything they want, presenting them with as many options as possible from a young age can only be a good thing.
But while some companies have taken note and started to put the wheels of change in motion, such as Hamleys, which has gotten rid of its pink and blue floor labelling, there is still a long way to go before young boys and girls are finally presented with the same, gender-free options.
This is something the Girls United trio hope their site will help achieve, by proving that girls can enjoy the same things as boys without the need for added feminine frills.
Ella, who likes reading, writing stories and making robots, used the example of Lego to make this point. Despite the brand releasing a hugely popular line of female scientists last year, with the hope of encouraging more girls into studying STEM subjects, they received criticism for adding make-up to the figures.
“Why do all the girl Legos wear lipstick?” Ella, who one day hopes to become an engineer, wrote on the site. “Even Rey from Star Wars has lipstick which doesn’t even make sense, she’s poor and lives in a desert, where would she get lipstick?”
As well as sharing their grievances about such examples of sexism, and in order to drive home their message that girls and boys are equal, the founders of Girls United shrewdly incorporated a “boy’s perspective” section onto the site.
“If people see it’s only girls on the site they will think we think girls are better than boys, or that if you are a feminist you think girls are better than boys – but that’s not true,” Ella explained. “Also, gender bias can affect boys as well, if they don’t fit into the mould of what a typical boy is supposed to be.”
The contributions to this part of the site, which have so far been written by Ella’s eight-year-old brother Logan, include examples of the sexism that boys can encounter at a young age. One of Logan’s stories is about the bathroom passes at his school, which he dislikes because the girls’ ones are pink and flowery while the boys’ ones are black and plain.
“Basically, it is saying girls are pretty and dainty, and telling them that they should be, and saying boys are funny, but plain and simple,” he wrote.
Speaking to stylist.co.uk, Logan said it was important for feminist websites to include a male point of view. “If they didn’t, boys wouldn’t be convinced that they can believe in this too,” he said.
So what is next for Girls United? The girls are currently accepting story submissions for the site and hope that one day their message of equality will help push people to finally treat women and girls in the same way as men and boys.
“We think girls and boys should be equal,” said Ella.
“We hate this unfair situation and urge all girls to be themselves despite what their surroundings tell them.”