I have always had a fascination with large, toothy animals. Dinosaurs were my first love, like so many other kids, and I never thought there was anything weird about it. I have a very clear memory of six-year-old-me exchanging toy dinosaurs with my best friend Glen on the playground. I had dinosaur figures, dinosaur books, drew dinosaurs on everything… I’m sure you can relate. But it wasn’t until I got older that I realised that my dinosaurs seemed to all be in a blue aisle in the toy section, flanked by Action Man and monster trucks. Dinosaurs, obviously, were For Boys. It didn’t stop me from loving them (and still hasn’t – for other dino-obsessed grown ups, I highly recommend My Beloved Brontosaurus). I’ve always preferred “boys’ stuff”, and it had never bothered me until recently. Growing up I’ve shrugged off the notion that girls’ stuff is pink, boys’ stuff is blue, girls like princesses and boys like spaceships, blah blah blah. I like dinosaurs, I like Star Wars, I like comics, and I’m an adult who can make her own decisions.
But it’s 2014, and last week I took my reusable Star Wars bag to the grocery store, and the male cashier took one look at it and said “Did you steal this from your son?” What. The. Hell. I blurted out a loud “No, it’s mine!” (Note: Dude, I don’t even have kids. Rude!) It was not the first (or even thirtieth) time I’ve had a comment like that, but it’s no less hurtful: I was angry that I was challenged by another adult for liking a thing that I like, because my gender dictated that I Wasn’t Supposed To Like It. I hate that it happens to me as a grown woman, but I can handle it. I’m used to it. But how do those kinds of comments affect little girls? It’s 2014, and the toy aisles are still split into Pink Stuff and Blue Stuff.
This brings me to sharks. You’d think animals would be gender-neutral interests, right? Do me a favour: Next time you’re in the children’s section of a store, go and find the shark stuff. T-shirts, toys, whatever. Was it in the girls’ section? Or was it nestled in between the Avengers and R2-D2?* (Case in point: How many of these [frankly awesome] shark products look directed at young girls?)
The simple response to this would be “Well, nothing stops girls from buying this stuff.” That’s very true, but it’s not my point. My point is that the placement and promotion of these kinds of things, and the resulting absence of sharks and dinosaurs where girls can comfortably find them, perpetuates this idea that these things are Not For Them. And what does that do? Every little girl disappointed that the shark t-shirt doesn’t come in her size is a potential future shark biologist discouraged. Science is a Boy Thing, right?
Instead of sitting and complaining about it on the internet, I decided to use my art to do what little I can to encourage young girls to be proud of their love for sharks. Whether or not she becomes a marine biologist, no girl should be made to feel like she shouldn’t like the things she likes. I was also inspired by my recent viewing of Mission Blue, an excellent Netflix documentary about the wonderful Dr. Sylvia Earle, and by Dr. Eugenie Clark and other prominent women in marine science (Women Exploring the Oceans is brilliant!). These women have gone on to do amazing things for the ocean, and every little girl deserves the chance to follow in their footsteps.
I drew three popular species to feature on a design that could go on t-shirts or prints: the blue shark (a personal favourite of mine since I can remember), a smooth hammerhead, and of course a great white (hey, kids love great whites!). My hope is that even the existence of this shirt lets at least one little girl out there to feel justified in her passion for these awesome animals.
If you know a little girl who loves sharks, you can also encourage her to join the Gills Club and learn how to become a shark scientist!
*Please don’t get me wrong: I’m a proud nerd and I feel the same about the marketing of superheroes and science fiction almost exclusively to boys. But there’s hope in places like Her Universe!