Not Just For Boys

My early childhood years weren’t shaped the way many other young girls’ childhoods were shaped in my 100:1 white-to-black hometown; while my fellow Gymboree students argued over which Princess dress would look best on them, I was content ripping off my shirt (much to both my teacher and later my mother’s dismay), hiking up my brown skirt that I believed to be a treasure buried deep in the dress-up bin, and banging on my bare chest like a gorilla. If you haven’t already guessed, I was supposed to be Tarzan.

If I narrowly escaped my teacher’s grasp before being sent home for “disrupting the class” (her words, not mine), I would run and jump around the room just as Tarzan would, verbalizing his trademark “Ahhh, ahhhh!” The girls got scared while the boys poked fun, but I could not care less, because I felt free (yes, I was a handful. Bless my mother’s heart).

Fast forward a couple of years – I am ten years old, sitting in the barber’s chair. At this point in my life, I had already been bullied in my catholic elementary school for quite some time about my height (I stood at 5’ 1”, almost a half foot taller than most of the boys in my class), my build (they nicknamed me “steroids”), and dress (I opted to wear the more comfortable variant of the uniform, god forbid – pants!), led by none other than the ring leader, the Principal’s son.

As I sat in that chair, all I could think about was having short hair. It would only confirm what I had been hearing for years, so why not just chop it all off? So I did.

Bob. That was their name for me. I shouldn’t have been as offended or hurt as I was, particularly because of the lack of creativity and obvious insecurity on their part, but I was. My best (and only) friend had just transferred schools, and I felt alone.

So I joined the swim team. No one at my school swam, and for my overly-competitive nature my parents thought it best if I “blow off some steam once in a while.”

And look where I am today – and where they’re not – a Division I Student-Athlete at an established University (suck it, Nick!).

I have told this story many times, not to receive pity, but rather to illuminate gender-related issues such as these that can have major impacts on young girls’ lives.

Maybe it was the essential and inbred feminism at my all-girls high school, but gender issues – whether affected by boys, girls, or those in between – are rampant today, almost ten years after I had experienced the same issues. Giving young kids like my younger self the confidence to be whoever and the inspiration to do whatever they put their developing minds to is extremely important for the future of our society.

I know my story isn’t rare – in fact, it’s almost all too common. However, it shouldn’t matter if you want to play with Barbie Dolls or with action figures, play dress-up like a princess or dress-down like Tarzan, or have short hair or long hair. What should matter is what we are teaching kids about tolerance and acceptance and that being different is just being unique.

Because art is a powerful platform that can elicit change, I decided to put this idea of gender stereotypes into something tangible - something people can see, because clearly, talking about it isn’t enough.

I then asked myself: What do boys have that girls don’t?

Other than the obvious additional 19.5% that they receive in their yearly wage, there are so many other things that men receive that, while on a smaller scale, contribute to the culture of gender-division; things that are, simply put, Not Just For Boys.

The first seemed too simple, almost trivial: but you see it in every kid’s clothing section at Target, every birthday party that your aunt hosts for her newly-turned 5-year-old.

For some reason, our society had deemed it acceptable to assign color to gender. Maybe it was out of laziness – to dissipate confusion between different gender twins. But for as long as I can remember, as long as most of us can probably remember, boys and men have owned the color blue.

I have always been fond of the color, but I would never dare say it was my favorite in any grade school ice-breaker for fear of augmenting the bullying culture.

So my objective for the first piece, Not Just For Boys: The Color Blue, was to juxtapose the stereotypically male color and reclaim it with the body of a woman. There shouldn’t be a stigma with things as trivial as colors; no one has a right to claim something natural – like a refraction of light, for example – as something of their own.

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The second stemmed from a personal experience. I have recently been babysitting to earn extra money, and I observed a clear difference between the toys of the children.

The boy’s room (which is obviously blue) is cluttered with action figures, dinosaurs, and trucks. Tons of trucks – dump trucks, 18-wheelers, and at least four different shades of red firetrucks.

While the parents are amazing, what they and many others don’t realize is that gendering toys for children can restrict their development and creativity. So the second piece, Not Just For Boys: Trucks, illuminates the importance of dissolving this hindrance.

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The third piece, while adhering to the theme, deviates from the child-driven necessity for gender stereotyping.

This time, it’s about adults.

It’s no secret that women in STEM fields are severely outnumbered, but I had no idea how severe until talking to my friend who is studying Mechanical Engineering.

“I’m almost done with my major classes and I have only met four other girls in those classes,” she said.

I was shocked. While I knew the statistics were disproportionate, I had no idea how much these numbers needed to change. So my last piece, Not Just For Boys: STEM, seeks to elucidate these numbers.

While I alone cannot fix this problem, I can help in the best way I can. By using my own talents, my goal is to attempt to ameliorate these issues – and I encourage all girls and women to do the same.


Author: Courtney Coghill

Courtney is a second-year student at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. studying Political Science with a concentration in Public Policy and minoring in Journalism. She is a member of the GW Varsity Swim Team and embraces music and the arts as a means of promoting personal health. As a part of the Make Muse team, Courtney uses her athletic background, artistic passion, and creative mindset to empower other women to take charge of their well-being.