This piece was written for the Body/Language creative writing workshop, co-organised by We Can! Singapore and Etiquette SG. IMG_2737

There used to be a postcard on the inside of the door of my university dorm room. In black and white block letters against an eye-catching red background, it read: ‘WARNING: OPINIONATED FEMINIST’, and was pasted above the peephole of my door. A few months ago, a schoolmate who was in my room asked, “Shouldn’t this sign be outside? What’s the point if you put a warning sign and no one except you can see it?”

I didn’t know how to explain it to him. But I said, “I’m afraid I’d scare away the boys!”

He plopped down on my bed and laughed. “I thought I’m the one who’s into boys, not you.” He looked at me knowingly. “Are you even interested in boys?”

Maybe he thought I was only interested in girls but I don’t think he knew how much I used to hate them, especially the long-haired variety. Girls were a foreign species, too emotional, docile, and weak. So I observed the ways boys acted and tried my best to emulate them. ‘Top baby boy names in 2012’, I googled, then decided on a male name for myself – Sherman, which translates to ‘wool-shearer’. I became one of the boys when I cut my hair short in Junior College. Not pixie short, but boy short. It took me quite a while to master the art of styling short hair, but when I did, I thought I looked f**king fabulous. I shunned dresses and skirts, wore shirts and pants instead. I had never really wanted to burn bras, but I once contemplated setting my school skirt on fire in the middle of the school garden upon graduation.

Halfway through my last year of school, I struck off number 24 on my bucket list: wearing boy pants to school instead of the school skirt. That day, my friends said something I knew was a long time coming. They told me I was a lesbian long before I identified as anything other than straight. Others didn’t say it but I could see it in their eyes when they walked past me in school corridors.

78 judgmental looks and 21 unwarranted remarks later, I settled down at a small table outside the school library to summarise ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’ for a literature class. Chapter 6, the church finds out about Jeanette’s and Melanie’s relationship of “unnatural passions”. They are pulled up and accused of falling under satan’s spell.

I looked up from my book. Jacob, an ex-classmate, was walking towards me with a hotdog in his hand. He took a seat at a table directly opposite mine. We were less than 2 metres apart, a little too close for comfort. I tried to ignore him and focus on my book but from the corner of my eyes, I could see that he was looking at me. A bite in his hotdog, he stared straight at me. A few minutes, then another bite, his eyes still fixated on me. I put down my book. It was late in the evening and there didn’t seem to be any other students around. I started throwing my study materials into my bag, all the while keeping my head down. A couple of his classmates joined him at the table with their own snacks and I quickly left the area with my things messily stuffed into a bag that was not properly zipped, feeling his gaze trailing my back, burning a hole through those dreaded pants of mine.

My phone beeped. A text message from a friend who was at his table. “Jacob is asking us what the f**k is wrong with you, says you’re a lesbian who will grow up f**king girls.”

I ran straight to the handicap toilet and locked myself in. For half an hour, I sat on the toilet bowl seat then paced around in the tiny cubicle, too afraid to go out. At some point, I un-zipped my bag, took out a pair of FBT shorts and changed into it. But I felt like a coward for giving in so I changed back into pants. I unlocked the door and was about to open it when I heard voices from outside. School kids laughing and shouting to one another. I locked the door again. I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t walk out of the toilet like that. So I changed into the FBT shorts, waited until the coast was clear before I made a beeline out of school. The stares wore me down, and Jacob was my tipping point.

I fantasised about going up to Jacob on the last day of school in a complete male school uniform (a button-down shirt, pants and a tie) and telling him to his face to take his queerphobia somewhere else because who I am and who I end up sharing my bed with really is none of his f**king business. I mapped out the precise location he would be sitting at in the canteen and the company he would be surrounded by. I even scripted my lines. But of course, that never happened. Instead, I did the most instinctive thing a young, would-be queer could possibly do. I wrote an angry blog post about gender and sexuality on my WordPress website.

For the rest of the year, the ‘click’ of the handicap toilet door as it locked would become a familiar sound. I had few friends, sometimes I had no friends. And gradually, the handicap toilet became my best friend.

I bumped into Jacob recently at my school lobby when he came to visit his girlfriend who studies here. Our eyes met for a second then I quickly averted my gaze, ran back to my room and locked my door, taking deep breaths to calm myself. I looked at the postcard on the inside of my door. “WARNING: OPINIONATED FEMINIST”, it read.

I didn’t want to proclaim to the world that I’m a feminist because I have never felt particularly welcome nor safe in my own university. Once, somebody anonymously posted a letter publicly addressed to me on my university’s Facebook group:

“Dear Sherlyn
Everything seemingly misogynistic, rape-positive, sex-negative, anti-feminist, slut-shaming, anti-woman is NOT ALL THE S**T YOU THINK IT TO BE. PLEASE STOP YOUR PSEUDO-FEMINIST AGENDA. Get a sense of humour. If you don’t, the only ‘change’ you’ll create is your number of friends… closer and closer to zero.”

That was not an isolated incident.

In the wake of all these, I create a performance art piece cum public statement. In the school library, I print out all the anonymous attacks I’ve received on A4 sheets of paper. Each sheet of paper features one anonymous comment. No two sheets contain the same comment. I print out 16 of those. Then I print out another sheet of paper with all the comments and cut them up into smaller strips. I head to the nearest utility shop and purchase blu-tack, scotch tape and small table mirrors. During lunch break, I walk to the middle of the dining hall and arrange the printed sheets in a circle, sticking them to the floor with blu-tack. Behind each sheet of paper, I set up a mirror facing outwards. I stick the small strips of comments onto my back with scotch tape. Finally, I step into the middle of my circle and sit down. Some students ignore me entirely, others come up close to read the words. I invite them to take a stand by sitting with me.

In my head, no one joins me.

In reality, none of that ever happened and it probably never will. Instead, I did the most instinctive thing a young, angry queer feminist could possibly do. I left my university’s Facebook group and wrote a post on an anti-violence against women blog.

There used to be a postcard on the inside of the door of my university dorm room. It’s a sign that reads: “WARNING: OPINIONATED FEMINIST”. At some point this semester, I moved the sign to the outside of my door. When I look through the peephole, I sometimes catch students sneaking a stare at my door decorations when they walk past my room. Could any of them be the ones behind the personal attacks? In a school where ‘feminist’ is a dirtier word than ‘f**k’, where being queer makes you a walking target, what do you choose: hiding behind locked doors, or social suicide? I am tired of playing this game, and if there’s one useful thing that 14 years of schooling has taught me, it’s that you can’t win either way.

About The Author: Sherlyn turned 20 this Halloween. She likes insects and arachnids, and once had a pet snail named Fluffy that was unintentionally murdered by a schoolmate. She’s a second year student at Yale-NUS with plans to specialise in creative writing and work as an editor/writer at some place that won’t cen-sor her subversive “pseudo-feminist agenda”. She’s been quoted to “only ever wear social justice tees or gothic clothing”.


Because Love Shouldn’t Have to Hurt

by Carolyn Chan, Change Maker

People are often very quick to blame someone for staying in an abusive relationship. In my opinion, they have no right to judge victims of abuse until they have had firsthand experience. These people tend to be quick to assume that victims do not do enough to walk away from abuse when they do not view the situation through the same lens survivors do.

I was in two abusive relationships. I am in my twenties now, and I am shaped by these experiences I had as a teen and young adult. Even as I write this, I can’t help but feel that twinge of shame despite knowing that abusive behaviour can manifest in any relationship.

I loved my first boyfriend unconditionally and forgave all of his mistakes, even when he kept reminding me that he was the best I was ever going to get. Once, he abandoned me in a part of town I wasn’t familiar with over a small argument. He found fault with me at every turn and blamed me for everything. After several months, I grew increasingly unhappy and I knew things were getting worse. The only reprieve I had was during the school holidays when I spent a week at home to think about how I wanted to proceed with this relationship.

Screenshot_2One evening, I picked up the phone to end the relationship once and for all. It was one of the hardest and most painful things I had to do. He did not make it easy for me and threatened to throw away all the belongings I kept at his apartment. It wasn’t easy and I cried for days but it was worth it. I was never physically abused by him, but even now with my current partner, there are moments when I think to myself, “Why is my boyfriend being so nice to me?”, “Why does he understand?” or “Why isn’t he getting mad at me?”. I was conditioned into thinking being treated badly was the norm.

The second relationship I was involved in was more physically abusive. I was strangled on several occasions and sexually coerced into doing things I didn’t want to. Of course, I didn’t tell anyone this. I did everything he asked because I thought I owed it to him. I was his girlfriend, why would I say no to sex with him for no good reason?

I cheated on him with a colleague and guilt-ridden, came clean to him about it. The hostility I was met with was nothing I had ever expected. I was looked at with contempt and anger and called all kinds of names like slut, dirty whore, and bitch etc. He barricaded me in his room and refused to let me leave to take a breather or a walk. I felt horrible, as though I had committed one of the gravest crimes in the world. I cried the whole day I was at his house.

Before I returned home, he told me never to tell any of my friends or family about this. When I left, I sought help from a counsellor and poured my heart out. I told her every shameful thing that he ever did to me. It was the first time I ever opened up to anyone about it, and it was such a relief! I knew on a deeper level that I deserved better than him. After he had crossed the line, I could no longer trust him anymore. He had lost my trust a lot earlier, but I just didn’t know it at the time.

I know my story isn’t an uncommon one, even my friends and family members have powerful tales of anger, sadness, frustration and betrayal. There are far too many teenagers and young adults who have gone through what I have.

When you are young, it’s sometimes hard to know what you need. Sometimes you don’t know your own worth. We are always taught to respect others, school property and yourself, but we are rarely taught that we deserve respect from others, especially from the men or women we hold dear in our lives.

carolynAbout the Author: Carolyn is a twenty-four year old horse-mad, salsa dance-loving, feminist who recently moved back to Singapore after spending seven years studying overseas in Canada. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from the University of Waterloo. She credits her undergraduate experience for igniting her passion for women’s rights especially young women. She is devoted to helping create a world free from inequality and violence. 


Redefine Masculinity

The following is by the creators of this video, Change Makers Alex Tan, Arvind Soundarajan, Hu Bing Cheng and Jeriel Teo:

“Through this video, we aim to demonstrate the underlying prejudices that most men perpetuate. A variety of sources, from the media to our family upbringing, has ingrained certain concepts of what it means to be a man on a profound and subconscious level. We hope to provide our viewers with a valuable perspective on how men view themselves and other men. Most importantly, we hope viewers will recognize how both the media and society impose stereotypes that influence the way we live, act, and speak. Then during this process, reconsider what being a man means to themselves.

In the early stages of the video, we had the intention to mock narrow conceptions of masculinity. However, we realized this satirical intent assumes that viewers can already identify the rigidity of gender roles. Satire can be easily misunderstood without prior knowledge, and this video could then be misinterpreted as reinforcing traditional gendered expectations.

The very idea of “masculinity” is problematic because it excludes and discriminates against those who do not conform. Also, “masculinity” is always defined against and in opposition to “femininity”, which reinforces the inaccurate concept that men and women are essentially different because of the biological sex they might have been assigned at birth.

Our message is not to bash on anyone’s concept of masculinity, but to suggest that there are alternatives to what society has been drumming into us from the beginning. Redefining masculinity is about realising how gender stereotypes are imposed on us and then making an informed decision on who we want to be.”


Disarm the Body Police

By Vincent Pak, Change Maker

Transitioning to a more relevant society today will, more often than not, be met with resistance, especially one with largely conservative Asian values such as Singapore. The dos and don’ts of how a woman should behave and carry herself is contested and policed everyday; they are incessantly subjected to the critique of the public. A woman’s right to her body is her own, but sexist societal standards still deem an open-backed dress as ‘slutty’, a short skirt as shameless.

Would we do the same to men? image

The week-old Takashimaya saga where a lady was shouted at by an older woman for dressing ‘inappropriately’ was the talk of the town. The older woman was angered by the lady’s open-backed top that revealed her bra, and warned her not to dress like that in public. A simple case of exacting personal moral judgement on the youths of Singapore.

The so-called appropriateness of a woman’s choice of clothes has been debated ad nauseam, but it is never acceptable to belittle her because of that. A browse through the comments on forums and Facebook will surface a common and disheartening sentiment amongst the peeved netizens: the lady should have covered up.image_4Imagine if it was a man wearing low cut jeans that revealed his briefs. I dare presume that the incident would never have happened. The double standards we enforce on girls and women harm them. We cite reasons like shame and modesty to police their bodies, and denigrate them when they fall out of our own standards. A woman who embraces her sexuality is frowned upon, while her male counterpart is cheered on for doing the same.

We place value on a woman’s body, and deduct it accordingly when she loses her virginity, or dresses revealingly. There is an inherent problem in the way we objectify and govern their bodies like it is our own. When will we realise that body-policing and body-shaming is simply another form of violence?

Alarmingly misinformed netizens went on to slut-shame the lady for inviting trouble with her revealing outfit.


image_1image_2The freedom of opinion is a right, but we must be aware of the sexism that coats what we read, hear and watch. The lady’s outfit may have offended the older woman, but we should seek to understand that it is not in anyone’s jurisdiction to police someone else’s body. The incident reflects the prevailing sentiment that a woman must display decency and dignity, and that is a stereotype we have to unlearn.

The next time you label a woman solely based on how she dresses, remember it is her prerogative, not yours.


About the author: Someone once told Vincent that liking pink as a favourite colour was perfectly fine. That was enough reason for him to subscribe to feminism, because it allowed him to drink strawberry milk with confidence. Still serving his National Service, Vincent enjoys the occasional fantasy that sexism is dead in the military, but stalwartly trusts that he won’t be in denial someday. He is passionate about naps, and prefers baby blue over pink now.

News & Updates

SHATTER- We Can! Singapore’s Youth Year Launch

Youth at the event came up with different gender stereotypes they'd like to break. Warning: images in this mirror might be distorted by socially constructed notions of beauty.
The SHATTER Sculpture was the centrepiece of the whole event. A compilation of stereotypes the youth reject, written on pieces of reflective paper, the SHATTER Sculpture is a symbol of youth shattering gender stereotypes that they face in daily life. These stereotypes include those related to body image, domestic roles, women in academia, as well as masculinity and sexuality.

One of the events we were most excited about this year was SHATTER, our launch event for the start of our Youth Year. SHATTER was held at the beginning of June at our partner venue, *SCAPE, and aimed to promote an inclusive youth culture through the celebration of individuality and the right to be free from shame, discrimination, bullying and violence. The event focused on shattering gender stereotypes that youth face in daily life, with various activities and performances to bring this message home.

We had 200 youth coming by our booths and watching the speeches and performances at *Scape.

Throughout the day, about 200 people participated in SHATTER, taking part in our community art booths, watching local musicians use their art to speak up against violence and youth speaking out and sharing stories of their personal experiences with bullying, shaming and violence. The name of the event centred on our SHATTER sculpture, a broken ‘mirror’ that we constructed with shards that we invited people to write on. Each shard carried a stereotype that they wanted to break. Other booths involved T-shirt stencilling and body painting with empowering slogans, a photo booth which invited free gender expression and graffiti walls marked with colourful handprints! We were also enthralled by the stories and music that was shared on the day. There was a great feeling of support and a sense of community which moved us tremendously.

We had 200 youths coming by our booths and watching the speeches and performances at *Scape.

We believe hearing the perspectives of those who came forward to share the challenges they faced as young people (such as cyber bullying, body shaming and dating violence) prompted other youth in the audience to think differently about how they view themselves and others. We hope that SHATTER got you thinking about what you can do to break out of restrictions that society places on all of us, and how you can help others be free to be themselves.

Both UN Women and SlutWalk Singapore had a booth at our event! It’s always nice to have allies.
Learn more about UN Women here:
and SlutWalk here:

Want to check out more photos from the event? Click here to go through our Photo Gallery!


Mass masculinity: Society, stereotypes and self-identity

by Lim Wei Klinsmann, Change Maker

Ask anyone what qualities are ideal in a man, and you’re likely to get the same answer repeatedly: confident, chivalrous, muscular, intelligent, rich. Every man – regardless of his personality, preferences or culture – is expected by mainstream society to meet this ideal of masculinity.

Those who do not are often deemed inferior for their inability or unwillingness to act out this very narrow set of personal characteristics.

I have always wondered if the people who mock those who do not conform to these expectations realise how oppressive their actions are.


My personal guess is that a very small proportion of the men in society naturally fulfils society’s requirement for “a real man”. As for the rest, the gap between who they are and who society expects them to be results in, at best, internal conflict, and at worst, being ridiculed and outcast by others.

It is no doubt difficult to endure ridicule or be ostracised for not ‘fitting in’. However, it’s equally difficult to pretend to be who we are not, everyday. Everyone makes different decisions when struggling with this dilemma, and experiences different consequences.

Personally, for me, there was a lot of controversy that I had to put up with when coming to terms this ‘masculine ideal’.

When I entered secondary school, I was a skinny, soft-spoken and shy boy who found it extremely difficult to befriend anyone. This made me a target for physical and psychological bullying. People would point out how I wasn’t as well-built as other guys, how I was not supposed to be flamboyant, and I was mocked for not “being a man”.

This constant barrage of reminders that I was not good enough made me question my own identity and left me at a loss. I felt helpless and worthless because I was only accepted by a handful of people, and ostracised by the majority.

Despite this, throughout my 4 years in secondary school, I never regretted being the way I was. While the bullying I faced in school was painful, the idea of being false to myself just so I could be like everyone else felt even worse. When I saw my other friends acting in stereotypically macho ways, it seemed clear to me that the behaviour was fake.

Even today, I still get the occasional comment about how I dress and carry myself. But I have come to embrace the fact that I am different. Yes, it would have been a lot easier to just give in and be like everyone else – I could have conformed to keeping up a stereotypical appearance of being ‘a real man’. But that would not have been me.

My hope is that people will eventually realise that there is no one ideal for what one half of the world’s population should be like, and always challenge this idea. It is to our collective benefit to work towards destroying the stereotypes that society holds over everyone’s heads, and instead, celebrate the unique, infinitely interesting things that make each individual special.

With that, I pose one final question to you:

“Who are you going to be?”


How Our Classrooms are Damaging the Female Body Image

by Choo Kai Lin, Change Maker

 “Math class is tough,” said Barbie. Those were the first words this iconic blonde symbol of the femininity declared back in 1992 in a segment titled Barbie Teen Talk. Clearly, gender stereotypes are not a new concept. Obviously, the world’s most famous doll agrees with the age-old cliché of females being intellectually inferior to their male counterparts. How often do we overlook the potential damage these stereotypes do, especially in an educational setting?

 In today’s society, gender bias influences each and every individual. As members of this gendered society, we recognize and accept characteristics of femininity and masculinity, moulding our bodies and altering our body images accordingly to fit social expectations.

 These gendered attitudes are emphasized in our system of schooling, creating and maintaining gender inequalities, part of which includes society greatly emphasising and controlling the female body. Young girls in Singapore today are at an increasing risk of negative body images and low self- esteem, which may be due to social stereotyping and cultural notions of female bodies that are reinforced within their schools.

 Stereotyping girls as intellectually-inferior to their male counterparts damages their notions of self-worth, and instead overemphasizes the importance of female physical attractiveness, instead of personal traits.  Hailing from a single-sex secondary school, my schoolmates and I were commonly described as “bimbos” and “girly” by others. The identity of an entire school community was reduced to simplistic, and not-so-flattering, stereotypes of femininity, often despite its evident merit in both academics and sports. In fact, it is common practice in popular culture for schools to be ranked based on the perceived physical attractiveness of their female students. This attitude assumes a woman’s natural state as an object valued for aesthetic appeal. Her potential as a person is undermined by sending the message that women are more valued for their appearance than for their talents.  What effects will the subtle, yet large-scale, objectification of female students in schools have on their perception of themselves?

 Perhaps what is even more distressing is the school administration’s growing role in imposing unrealistic ideals of the female body. At a recent family gathering, I found out that my seven-year-old cousin has been deemed overweight and forced to join a “Health Club” at school. Apparently, in many primary schools all over the country, it is becoming increasingly common for “overweight” children to be forced to join health clubs, skipping recess and partaking in physical activity as part of an initiative to combat childhood obesity. Essentially, “Health Club”, or more commonly, TAF (Trim and Fit) clubs, are premises to enforce rigid notions of ideal body types, and, perhaps even more dangerously, equate being thin with being ‘healthy’. As a result, adolescents are body-shamed into believing that being “skinny” is the ideal body shape.

In an interview with NBC News, a primary school girl expressed that she felt “sad…to look at people [because they were] so skinny and could wear so many clothes”. At just ten years old, this little girl has already developed a distorted body image and an inferiority complex. Demanding that she forgo food during recess in favour of dribbling a basketball, as in many such clubs in the name of ‘health’, will only worsen the problem. One could argue that these school policies, designed originally with good intentions, are now creating body image problems for future generations. By policing their bodies from a young age, these girls are taught that they must live up to society’s expectations of how they should look and dress. Damagingly, this then results in females themselves learning to measure their value by their appearance.

However, gender stereotypes are harmful to all, even male students. With emphasis on masculinity in the media, more boys are under pressure to live up to society’s notions of what a “real man” is. In a study conducted on participants who had undergone penile enlargement surgery, a majority of the participants had expressed previous reservations about going into shared school showers and engaging in physical activities in school–showing once again that the negative effects of gender expectations start from early on, most often at some point in school. Many participants cited anxiety about their peers’ perception of how ‘macho’, or masculine, they were as a prime reason for undergoing such an intensive surgical procedure. More and more young boys feel increasing pressure to have an idealised male body as popularised in the media, and uphold traditionally ‘masculine’ traits like strength. These attitudes are not helped by others in their peer group reinforcing and perpetuating these pressures on the individual. Gender stereotypes and expectations, if accepted as a normal, run-of-the-mill part of our society, may predict insecurities for the male population as well.

Obviously, society’s strict adherence to gender stereotypes and body ideals can be injurious to both females, as well as males. When education systems emphasize these suffocating constraints of gender inequality, there are potentially dangerous implications for one’s perception of self. Moreover, considering the power school wields over our youth, we, as a community, have to take steps to increase awareness of the harmful gender stereotypes we see in our classrooms, and everywhere else.


Superheroes and Princesses – A Matter of Gender and Genre

by Shruti Nanivadekar, Change Maker

There was a video that went viral on Youtube and on the news, of a little girl ranting angrily about how marketing companies were using stereotypical gender norms to market their products to increase sales. Her name is Riley.

Riley: Wouldn’t be fair for all the girls to buy princesses, and all the boys to buy superheroes. Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses. Some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses.
Dad: Absolutely.
Riley: Well then why does all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different colored stuff?
Dad: That’s a good question Riley.

There has been an increasing retaliation against gendered toys, and more so, advertisements of them, that use rigidly-defined gender standards and cater to a limited group of society. The most recent controversial advertisement is the new line of Lego Friends, for girls. Instead of taking on active roles as the males do – such as building houses and jet planes – the female roles in the advertisement are limited to passive activities such as waitresses at the café, and taking their pets to the vet. Lego’s division of gender roles promotes the adoption of passive roles by females – being ‘acted upon’ and having things done to them – in contrast to male roles which have the option to engage in imaginative, adventurous activities.

The notion of having a ‘pink aisle’ in most toy stores is alive and healthy.

In general, most toys made specifically for girls do not offer the constructive skills that boys’ toys do. Girls’ toys are made to teach them to be nurturing, taking care of the home and the hearth, and boys toys teach them to be ambitious, aggressive and logical. Of course, toy-manufacturing companies shirk social responsibility, stating that their only aim is to make profit, and well, if their product sells, and if girls like the toys, then what’s the harm in buying them? It’s true, parenting is not in the job description of toy manufacturers, but if huge toy brands are affecting millions of children’s lives every single day, they must feel like they owe some responsibility towards those kids, and the least they can do is refrain from having sexist commercials, or commercials targeted to a specific gender performance.

Speaking of parenting, parents’ choices and views of gender and sexism have a huge part to play in their children’s lives. As toys become more and more gendered, the struggle of kids to break out of their constrictive masculine and feminine molds gets harder and harder. This makes it harder for kids who find out that they have alternate sexual preferences and gender identities, to come out to the rest of the world, especially to their parents. Yes, surprisingly, a majority of parents are reinforcing the pink-aise-blue-aisle norm. They do not want their 4-year-old son playing with dolls instead of cars, out of fear that this might cause their child to be homosexual, or transgender.

“Why not let boys be boys and girls be girls?” is an argument from most. They say that their daughters always ask for Barbie dolls and kitchen sets, and their sons turn dolls into decapitated hand grenades. They say it’s ‘natural’ for girls to be drawn to the pretty pink toys. But what is usually accepted as ‘natural’ by society has been normalised by mass media, by social stigma and often, forced on children by peer pressure. Girls and boys think that specific toys are meant for them, and start to want those toys, through watching chirpy advertisements replayed on TV, and what they are told by their peers, parents, and other authority figures. Preferring certain toys, thus, is part of a wider phenomenon of gender roles being reinforced in every aspect of society. This cultural and media influence affects how children see themselves as persons. If their toys, and the books and films they love, as well as the people around them, tell them that they are limited to certain roles, would they not begin to believe it?  What kind of person will they grow up to see themselves as?

A boy should be able to play with a doll or a kitchen set without being judged, and girls should be able to pick up cars without thinking that they’re ‘for boys’ and to play with chemistry sets without thinking they’re ‘too difficult’. Parents can be more open-minded when they choose their kids’ toys, and when they let their kids choose toys. As their children’s first role models, they have the power to affect their children’s thinking more than anything they see on TV or around them.

Parents should encourage kids to express themselves freely and without fear. In kindergarten, teachers can bring productive, mind-bending toys that improve children’s cognitive skills, like Playdoh, blocks, puzzles and art sets. The variety of these gender-neutral toys, should be increased, and their use promoted, so that kids don’t feel like they can’t go anywhere other than merely that one aisle that represents their gender performance. This could affect a plethora of generations – their expressive and personal choices, their careers, and their ambitions.

The Let Toys Be Toys campaign focuses on allowing children to play with the toys that most interest them.

So far, Goldiblox has started a courageous and path-breaking movement to increase the educational value of girls’ toys, and has increased the gender-neutral corner of the toy market. The Let Toys Be Toys campaign, which demands that toys be sorted by genre rather than by gender, has made the society more aware of the banes of gendered toys. However, if kids all over the world want to see a change, there is still a long way to go. Parents can make a difference, by talking to their kids about these issues. Schools should promote discussions about sexism and gender, starting with little kids. Kids need to be told that it’s okay to be who they want to be. As a wise little girl once said, ‘Some girls like superheroes, some boys like princesses.’ The message can’t get plainer than that.