Thursday, July 16, 2015

Coloring Outside the Lines

I recently logged onto to print off coloring pages for two busy children in need of entertainment. On the Crayola website, the coloring pages are sectioned off by subjects such as “holidays” and “animals.” (They even have a section for grown-up coloring fans that I highly suggest checking out.) 

Among these there is a section titled “Careers” which has twenty-eight available pages. As of today (July 15, 2015) when you remove careers like “superhero” and “pirate” (I’m assuming pirate is being viewed as a fantasy career…) we are left with the following careers depicting males:
Soccer player, ice cream vendor, drummer, firefighter, football player, guitarist, bugler, traffic cop, soldier, and veterinarian.

For careers depicting women we are left with: 
Surfer girl, singer, princess, and runway model. (There are three different images for that last one.)

Crayola offers a few coloring pages with gender neutral options (by “gender neutral” I mean options that don’t explicitly show a boy’s face) which are all either race car/monster truck drivers or astronauts. 

There is one Labor Day coloring sheet that has two men and a woman pictured on it. The woman in the drawing appears to be a doctor or nurse. The men are a policeman and a construction worker.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this, right?

I’m not writing this to “call out” Crayola in any way. (Although, perhaps I should?) I love their free coloring pages, and we all know I cherish my adult coloring books, in which I always use Crayola products. But this issue goes further than Crayola. This is merely a prime example of a much bigger issue.

I wish to paint (color?) a picture for you of why you see “all this stuff for girls” on the internet and so little for boys. You’re right, there are a lot of memes telling girls they can be anything they want to be, and celebrating women who have achieved amazing things. Every day that I go on social networking (which, let’s face it, is every day) I see posts and articles celebrating women. But there is a very good reason girls are being singled out as the children we need to raise up: Our media is already telling boys they have more career options. 

(I think it’s important to note that I am writing this in a hotel lobby. There is a group from a relatively large appliance company meeting a few tables over. Of the eleven representatives of that company here, ten are male.)

The fact remains that our media, our society, and even our coloring books are still telling boys they have a variety of options for what they want to do with their lives, while limiting the options girls see themselves being given. True, we aren’t yet telling boys they can be anything (after all, a male nanny is still a laughable occurrence on primetime TV) but the choices for young men are vast compared to the typical choices being presented to young women. As Crayola’s coloring pages show, from a young age boys are being told they can be policemen, construction workers, firefighters and veterinarians. Girls, on the other hand, are being given the options of princesses and runway models. There is that one example of the doctor (or is she a nurse?) but she is still a rarity. (I’ve listed sources at the bottom of this post if you are looking for further reading on the statistics of women in careers and women in media.)

Books that focus on “women’s achievements” are a niche publication (and aren’t marketed to boys, though we market books about male accomplishments to all genders.) Women who are writers, politicians, doctors, firefighters and police officers are still labeled as “women writers,” “female doctors” and “women police officers.” 

Note: Stay-at-home dads and “male nurses” are also an anomaly, and this does deserve attention. My brother still gets angry when he talks about the fact that he was told it “wasn’t appropriate” for a male to volunteer in the church nursery. Actually, I’m still angry on his behalf for this, and it is a subject that deserves attention. We do need to tell boys that it’s okay to choose careers that we normally see as women’s jobs. But the fact is that the number of professional positions available to men is greater than the ones available to women and for this reason the focus for the last few decades has been on the majority issue: the girls.

A friend of mine put it perfectly when she said, “We are all being put into boxes. It’s just that the box for boys is bigger and more diverse than the box for girls.”

(A few years after the church nursery incident my brother found himself a single parent with two children, doubling the frustration with the belief that being male was evidence he couldn’t be a caretaker.)

We’ve made progress, and I don’t want to pretend we haven’t. We have a candidate for president who is currently leading in campaign funding and is female. I’m watching Caitlyn Jenner’s acceptance speech for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on repeat on the hotel television as I write this. The question of gender is being discussed around the country and in some really wonderful ways as many prominent people break gender stereotypes and prove the gender binary false. The very fact that women are police officers, soldiers and doctors is progress from just a few decades ago. 

Still, our culture is largely treating these women as token examples of the idea that women can succeed, instead of being simply what they are: Successful people. We still hear things like, “She did so much, especially for a woman!” 

And every single one of these women has a story about how their gender made success difficult to come by in one way or another.

I truly believe that we are on the path toward equality for all genders, and I believe that this path will mean breaking all gender norms, but as we take society down this path it is important to look at why the focus has been on girls for so long. 

It’s important to understand that the focus of these memes is not to ignore boys, but to simply offer girls the things society has been offering boys for generations.

Some further reading, a couple documentaries and a handful of statistics: 


  1. We couldn't agree more! That's why I started the company Equalitoys, because even things as simple and cheap as coloring pages are totally gendered.

    At Equalitoys, we created Her Highness Builds Robots to try to attack the "princess stereotype" from the inside. We created 7 new princesses with different ethnicities, abilities, and passions. Princess Holly designed uniforms for her wheelchair basketball league while Princess Priya is a chemical engineer.

    You can check out some sample pages here:

    Here's to a future with less-gendered toys!

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