These Drawings Defy Society's 'That's For Girls' Mentality

"Children don't forget, they hold onto every word you say and it impacts who they become and how they interact with others."

When cartoonist and storyteller Damian Alexander heard a woman tell her son he couldn't have a Wonder Woman doll because "that's for girls" last September, he couldn't help but think about his own childhood experiences.

"I worked in a lot of kid-friendly environments, like the LEGO Store and Disney World, and I witnessed a lot of gender-bias interfering with kids having fun," Alexander told A Plus. "Parents would repeatedly steer their sons away from princesses and anything typically geared toward girls, and the same would happen to girls in the opposite direction." 

"What took me off guard was that it was often mothers who criticized their sons for engaging in anything seen as 'for girls,'" he added. "A mother refused to let her son have a LEGO car because it was purple, and another wouldn't let her son get the fairy godmother glitter sprinkled over him in one of the princess shops. It reminded me of my own childhood, and people constantly turning me away from anything even remotely feminine."

That's when Alexander decided to put his talent to use in an effort to convey his feelings on the matter:

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For Alexander, his childhood was far from ideal because of the men in his life. "My mother was killed by my father when I was a baby and I was raised by my maternal grandmother. I grew up seeing men be violent and cruel to women," he explained. "There are home movies of one of my mother's sisters in the hospital with a black eye and bloody nose because her husband was angry and took it out on her. I was constantly seeing men lash out at women, and I decided I would never be cruel and awful like they were."

Thus, all of Alexander's favorite characters growing up were young girls because, instead of violence or brute force, they solved their issues through creative problem-solving and working with others. Alexander notes this is a trait hardly ever found in stories with male leads. Sara Crewe from A Little Princess and Matilda became his favorites, as well as Mulan, Annie, and Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.

Yet, while Alexander defied others' attempts to deter his love for these female characters, his art explores the fact that, in many instances, boys internalize these objections, which ultimately impact how they perceived and treat women and girls later in life. As he emphasizes, adults need to take a step back when they're working with children and realize that everything they say and do has a huge impact. "Children don't forget, they hold onto every word you say and it impacts who they become and how they interact with others. For better or worse."

@DamiAnimated / Twitter

Of course, Alexander also notes that gender binaries have become the norm, ingrained in society in such a way that anything else becomes "other." 

"Parents are terrified of their children becoming "other." If your boy likes art or music instead of football, maybe he'll be bullied or live a sad life. Even the most accepting people are wary of their kid being too "different" because they don't want them to get hurt," Alexander explained. 

"Some of my girl friends have had their mothers worried they won't find a man to marry if they cut their hair short and that they'll end up alone," he added. "I've had Muslim friends whose parents tell them to maybe not wear their hijab for fear that they may be hate crimed. I know parents who have gay friends, but were upset when their kid came out because they didn't want them to get bullied or killed because of it. My grandmother wouldn't allow me to bring my dolls outside of the house because she thought I would get beat up. Even the most open parents are terrified for their children, and sometimes their own fear ends up hurting their kid almost as much as a bully could."

@DamiAnimated / Twitter

But Alexander hopes that adults who come across these images might rethink what they tell their kids, and the impact every word and action has on them in the long run. Since the nearly 9-month-old drawings recently blew up on social media, some parents have already contacted Alexander to tell him that his succinct, but powerful message has actually empowered them to reassess how they approach such matters. And for those looking for ways to right these wrongs, Alexander suggests allowing kids to simply do as they please.

"I think, if we simply allow kids to choose what they want to enjoy, that would make all the difference. If a boy reaches for a Barbie doll, just let him play with it. If a girl wants to play pirates, let her go for it. Let them just play how they want with what they want and we'll have a bunch of well-rounded kids that see each other as equals." 

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