What Are Little Girls Made Of?: Breaking The Stereotypes In My Head

What are little girls made of?

Sugar and spice and all things nice

That’s what little girls are made of.

You know something, until I was eleven, ‘SUGAR!’ was a swear word. Mum didn’t want to swear in front of my sister and I so she’d say ‘Sugar’ instead. I even got in trouble for copying her once, which looking back seems a little ridiculous as I wasn’t technically swearing, and it hasn’t stopped me cursing as an adult. She does swear in front of my sister and I from time to time these days, but sugar has remained fairly prominent in the family vocabulary. It’s quite amusing.

Aside from being my family’s swear word substitute, sugar is also one of the key ingredients in creating little girls. If you have any snips, snails, or puppy dogs tails lying around then you can make yourself a little boy instead, but for this post we’re going to be focusing on the feminine. Nothing personal, I just have the first hand knowledge to go with that half of the poem and only a vague understanding in regards to the other half.

Off the top of my head, I think it was my great gran who first told me this little rhyme but honestly I can’t remember. It’s one of those poems where I feel like I must have known it from the moment I was born. It’s so ingrained in my memory that no matter how hard you shake me, it won’t fall loose. Which is frustrating as I can’t work out how to replicate that with actual, useful information such as changing a car tyre, replacing a fuse… erm… laying bricks? Yeah, that’s useful information. Who doesn’t need to know how to lay a brick from time to time in their life?

IMG_1761It’s one of those poems that everyone knows but no one seems quite sure where it came from. Don’t worry, this isn’t a history of the poem post, I think someone did explain the back story to me once but I have since forgotten it and you’re more than capable of heading over to google to check for yourselves. What I want to talk about is how this rhyme ties into the ideas of how girls should act, and the impact that has had on me. Or more simply put, I’m going to talk about shoes.

I saw a Facebook post from a friend of a friend talking about Clarks shoes and how Clarks should be ashamed for the gender bias in their shoe selections. This woman pointed out that the boys’ shoes were often much sturdier and were designed for running, climbing, ‘being boys’, while the girls’ shoes were more angled towards ballet flats and the likes. She said that her daughter knew what she liked, but wouldn’t buy something that was clearly marketed at boys. This struck a chord with me.

Now I normally wear heels no matter the occasion, but I had never considered how shoes are presented to me in a shop. On Monday I was in Tesco’s trying to find a couple of pairs of shoes to wear for work and spent about twenty minutes browsing through the women’s shoe section. (There was something of a shoe malfunction earlier in the day but we won’t go into that). I wanted two pairs of shoes, one pair of court heels and a pair of ankle boots. I got both. (There was some difficulty involved, I have wide feet which means I struggle to find shoes that fit me.) What I realised today is that I had picked up and put down a pair of shoes that I’d quite liked, and thought about buying, just because I was worried about them looking too masculine. I had made a decision based on what I thought women’s shoes should look like and dismissed the only pair to really catch my attention because of that.

Now, shoes are perhaps my second favourite thing to buy, beaten only by books. However, when I look at my collection there is hardly a ‘reasonable’ pair among them. They almost all have heels, some I rarely rare because they are hugely uncomfortable but I have them because they look amazing, and a lot have been worn completely through. I’m not saying that I don’t put my shoes through a fair deal day-to-day, but I have noticed that the shoes I buy don’t last many weeks before they need re-heeling or in some cases, resoling. Actually, I probably only own two practical pairs of shoes. A pair of brown, knee high boots with a flat sole that came from Sainsbury’s (£25 I think and perhaps one of my best buys ever, super comfortable), and the wellies I’ve owned for donkey’s years. (Farmer’s daughter, I will always own a pair of wellies.) Both I bought because they were handy to have for point-to-points or other countryside events.

IMG_1766Even the two pairs of shoes that I bought yesterday don’t fit into the category of practical and I told myself on the way to Tesco’s that I wanted to buy some ‘sensible shoes’. The ankle boots have a two inch wedge heel and are suede, the court shoes have a similar IMG_1760heel and while being a more waterproof material, don’t cover my whole foot. Basically, if I need to cross a particular wide puddle, I’m stuffed.

The ideas I’ve carried with me into adulthood about how a girl should dress mean that I wasn’t willing to buy shoes I actually liked and wanted to get. The ones I picked up and put back down would have been perfect for the unending rain here in England and still looked really smart for work. They were women’s shoes for god’s sake! I still couldn’t bring myself to get them though because I knew I’d feel self-conscious wearing them. That in itself is utter nonsense. My mother is the most practice women you would ever meet. She even shops in the men’s section for trouser because, and I quote, ‘they don’t make deep enough pockets in women’s trousers.’ She doesn’t care. She wants deep pockets so she will buy the trousers with deep pockets. She raised both my sister and I to focus on the practical rather than the aesthetic, so where did I get this idea that I can’t wear something because it might be ‘too masculine’?

Really this comes down to me being willing to step outside my comfort zone and not think so much about what other people might be saying about me. Shoes are to keep our feet warm and dry. As long as they do that, why should I worry about them matching with some childish idea of sugar and spice and everything nice?

To be honest, I don’t even like this rhyme. It’s always annoyed me somewhat, and it annoys me even more when I realise that I have taken some of the gender stereotype in it to heart.  I’m not saying that it’s a completely horrible message. Sugar and spice could be seen as an awesome combination of beauty and edge, but I need to re-evaluate that image of women and girls in my head and realise that I don’t need to match anything but my own standards.

To finish:

What are little girls made of?

Sugar and spice and whatever else they want.

That is what little girls are made of.

Inspired by Daily Post: Spicey


  1. very nice point of view. I didn’t think of how shoes were presented in shops before this. Thanks for writing this up.


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