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How I’ll Explain Feminism to My Niece

Writing by Haylee Penfold // Photograph by Emily Dozois // Are we really still upholding the same societal standards of limiting genders to particular constructs and colours?


My niece has always been uncontrollably curious, asking seemingly millions of questions each day. To watch such a young girl attempt to grasp an understanding of herself and the world around her is such a truly incredible thing to watch.

One night she sat with my nephew, her brother, before getting dressed for bed, looking at the two sets of pyjamas and socks laid out—one pink set, one blue. My niece asked to wear the blue socks that night, and a comment was made that she had to wear the pink ones, because they were for girls, to which she had replied with simply, “why?”

For a moment, I considered asking the same question as the curious red head child who sat next to me. Are we really still upholding the same societal standards of limiting genders to particular constructs and colours?

My nephew is older than my niece, so having grown up with an older brother, my niece likes to play not just with dolls and tiaras but also with the trucks and dinosaurs her brother has. At Christmas both of my sister’s children were given their toys at the same time; my nephew opened a truck with little cars inside and my niece got some stereotypically girly toy with tiaras and heels wrapped in bright pink packaging. And yet, something about the blue trucks and cars drew my niece to her brother’s toy more than her own. The reactions from the observing adults were mixed; some didn’t mind that the young girl was more excited by cars than princesses, while others seemed stuck to the idea that the cars were for boys.

People’s values vary, and I’m glad that my sister was letting her daughter be. If she wanted to play with the cars, she’d let her. Observing the adults who seemed so concerned with a three year old’s presentation (or lack thereof) of stereotypical femininity took me by surprise. Is stereotypical femininity really something we still hold with such high value? I don’t understand the persisting desire and need to patrol the interests of children, encouraging them to fit neatly into antiquated understandings of gender.  

One day, when my niece is a little older, maybe I’ll sit her down and properly explain to her what exactly feminism is… or maybe she’ll grasp it on her own. For now, I want my curious little niece to know it’s okay to wear the blue socks and play with the trucks and cars. I’ll tell her it’s okay to dress as she wishes, be genuine, and love herself. I hope that by the time my niece is my age, feminism will be a more integrated and understood concept amongst society, and perhaps the stereotypical ideas of connecting gender values to colours and interests are left behind.

Haylee Penfold

Haylee Penfold, she/her, is a twenty something, chronic illness advocate who is passionate about all things sex education and pleasure positivity. Will also bring up Harry Styles in any context she can.

Emily Dozois

Emily Dozois is an 18-year-old photographer from Ontario, Canada. She is known mostly for her conceptual self-portraits that are mainly inspired by her struggles with a severe lung disease. At the age of fifteen, Emily discovered photography and the artistic freedoms it gave her to express the troubles that she faces on a daily basis in a healthy way. Since then, Emily has not stopped creating with the hopes that her images can inspire others to do the same. See her photographs on Flickr.

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