(This piece originally appeared as part of this Irish Times Article)
For some people the word bold means naughty, a character trait to be punished and curbed. For some the word means brave, a character trait to be encouraged and praised.
When we are young, if we’re lucky, girls get to be bold in all the same ways boys do: we splash and mess and shout and run and hang upside-down from the monkey bars. We get the best of both worlds with our tutus and our tea parties and our karate and our science. But then something happens and suddenly the same behaviour that is rewarded in our brothers – outspokenness, assertiveness, self-confidence and physicality – is disapproved of in us. We find ourselves dismissed as bossy, opinionated, pushy, selfish.
One after another, doors start closing on us. Some are closed so quietly that they’re shut before we even know they exist – we may never fully understand what those doors have excluded us from. Some are slammed violently at the very last moment, shocking us, as until then we’d believed we’d as much right to walk through them as our brothers. Throughout our lives these doors will be many and varied, but they will all have one thing in common: they will be closed on us because we are not boys.
Let me tell you a true story. I wrote a book once, featuring a brash, outspoken, assertive, no-nonsense little character who takes no guff from anyone. I wrote two versions. In one version the character was a boy. In the other, the character was a girl. The two stories were exactly the same in every single way. The only thing I changed were the pronouns involved (‘he’ became ‘she’, ‘his’ became ‘hers’ and so on).
Readers loved the character as a boy.
Readers thoroughly disliked the same character as a girl.
The same actions, the same dialogue, the same thought processes that made readers love the boy made them uncomfortable and disapproving of the girl. The discomfort was not prompted by anything that was said or done, but by whether or not it was said and done by a girl.
It was a shock to me to discover this prejudice not only in my normally open-minded readers, but also in myself. I realised that I’d had to force myself to think of a character as a boy before I could get them to behave the way I wanted.
I learned something from that. I learned that brave is brave, strong is strong, determined is determined. But sometimes the world refuses to see these things in a girl. Sometimes it refuses to allow these things. If that’s going to be the case, we bold girls must see these things in each other. We must witness each other’s boldness. We must support it. If doors are closed to us, we must open them for ourselves and for all the bold girls to come. We must acknowledge our own greatness and be unafraid and unashamed to say,
‘I am bold. I am a bold girl! Make of that what you will, world, because I’m not changing just to please you.’
Celine Kiernan was born and raised in Dublin. Her books combine fantasy with political, humanitarian and philosophical themes. They’ve won the RAI Best Book Award twice, the CBI Book of the Year Award and Children’s Choice Award, and have been included in The Irish Times best children’s books of the past 25 years.