Girls’ attributes

This will describe the girls’ attributes which text toys.

Preschool girls - and girls’ play

In Danish kindergartens we can observe how girls make “best friends” in very intimate girl-to-girl friendships.

Conflicts and drama threaten when there is a break up between best friends - and the unfortunate party ends up isolated outside the inner circle.

Sometimes the conflicts are visible but on other occasions it is more difficult for outsiders - well-meaning adults - to understand what is happening within these friendship patterns. The girls organise themselves within a flat structure without formal organisation or leadership.

Girls in kindergarten spend a lot of time discussing their internal relations, often whilst they are playing in the dolls’ corner, playing role play and play with dolls (e.g. “mothers, fathers and babies”, “doctors and nurses” and “hairdressers”):

These games are the type of play where the “recipe” and role list is a reflection of immediate social surroundings and of a direct and personal way of speaking to each other. The games are very much concentrated on caring and “taking care”.

The most important aspect of the game is, however, staging and casting. This gives rise to a more or less camouflaged discussion of the participants’ own situation and conditions and on mutual relations and conflicts within the girls’ group.

The most coveted roles, the role of the all-powerful mother, the uncontrollable child or the clever dog are gained on the strength of the best arguments. These processes display and are used to select and demote the group’s informal “leaders”.

These gender patterns are founded in kindergarten and are continued, developed further and varied at school.

Girl-to-girl dyads and clusters

Girl-to-girl dyads and clusters are often formed around the fulcrum of one or several dominant girls.

The dominant girls act as informal leaders on the strength of more or less random qualities such as appearance, social status and/or cleverness.

These girls can attain a very despotic position because they and they alone decide which of the girls are allowed to “come in from the cold”, to be close to the inner circle and accepted.

The same girls decide who is to be kept out in the cold, out on the periphery. But they also establish the level which is the norm for the entire group - what are the “in” interests, clothes and attitudes.

In positive cases, it is often the case that the central girls function more as spokeswomen or as a cushion for some of the weaker girls or for the girls’ group. The other girls in the group are more equal because within girls’ groups a lot of effort is spent on reaching agreement on fair decisions.

Amongst girls from 6-7 years there is already a gap between the informal (hidden) and decisive power on the one hand and the desire for a definite democratic consciousness on the other.

This means that older girls’ and adult women’s talk amongst themselves is concerned more often with internal democratic “rules of the game” and criteria for responsibility (e.g. tasks at work) than on hierarchical problems and organisation and leadership questions.

Verbalised culture - “chatterbox” culture

The girls’ culture is an extremely verbalised one:

In school - it is expressed via what has been called “the girls’ sub-openness” in the class. This is seen (or heard) as mutual talking in class beneath and parallel to the open/public teaching situation.

In the youngest classes, creative and verbal expression is emphasised and girls perform better than boys - even though the boys occupy the class and the teacher’s attention with their very physical brashness.

The desire to speak develops girls’ linguistic abilities so that they have an advantage over boys which is maintained until the senior classes.

Outside school -  girls’ relationships develop mainly through intimate communication in the girls’ playrooms.

They talk about parents, teachers, playmates and other important relations and persons and about feelings, their bodies and their appearance.

Girls’ mutual relationships are  - as with the early mother-daughter/little girl relationship - reflective and discursive. They are built on mutual feelings (the speaker assumes the listener shares her feelings) and they often switch roles (speaker/listener).

In this way the girls are mirrors for each other because the most positive relationships and constructive alliances confirm mutual proximity and equality. They give each other space for distance and for being different (and admire and support each other in this).

Girl-to-girl dyads can also develop negatively and become “infantile” when/if the two girls cling to each other in a claustrophobic and guilt-ridden enclosure.

Bedroom culture

Female (feminist) youth researchers, according to Bay & Drotner (1986) have described girls’/women’s culture as a “bedroom culture” (usually from ten years and partly earlier).

By this we mean that the girls aesthetically stage their bodies and the room in which they spend most of their time. They do this in order to establish a common friendship identity which is different from the others’ identities.

This is achieved by means of common (secret) symbols, the meaning of which is only known to close girl friends. A unique identity community is established which gives deep emotional satisfaction and confirmation. At the same time, this characterises the difference, distance and separation in the girls’ relationship to their environment.

One characteristic of the bedroom culture is the sense of aesthetics. This sense is expressed in other spheres through pre-artistic activity in the form of handicrafts (knitting, sewing, etc.) and in imagery (poetry, writing stories, drawing, etc.).

Girls’ culture is deeply rooted in a long female tradition which differs from one social class to another.

At the same time, the culture absorbs and integrates elements from modern media culture (TV series, girls’ books/magazines, hero worship) and new forms of physical expression, e.g. youth cultures.

Girls’ symbols

Helmut Hartwig (1985) who has studied the symbolic world of aesthetic and cultural practises among children and young people, makes the following general comment about the girls’ symbol world:

  • They typically choose living motifs from the natural world, e.g. plants, animals (especially horses) and special people or children with special talents.
  • They focus on relations between figures in their symboland fantasy world (adult/child, person/animal, boyfriends/love stories, etc.)
  • They collect objects where the sense of touch/feeling can be a quality in itself (soft materials, etc.) and where the colours, forms and patterns are of great significance.

The girls’ aesthetic expression can be characterised, therefore, as “the aesthetics of beauty” - a desire to create, produce (symbolically “to give birth to”!) something which can motivate to community, contact and closeness.

However, the aesthetics of beauty most often become outward forms and ritual expressions which can be seen as a replacement for something which the girl wants to harmonise and idealise but which she actually knows to be non-existent or unattainable.

This duplicity and contradiction in girls’ aesthetics is also seen later in life both in the vast differences in women (as compared to men) and strong female potential (i.e. that girls’ are seen to want to both demonstrate and seek beauty). However, innate in this dichotomy are hindrances and limitations (i.e. that some girls/women will succeed better than others and that the beautiful dreams are “maybe” both unattainable and unreal).


As a central symbol in female culture, the horse has quite special status. One only has to look at the commercial media culture of magazines, comic books, posters, badges, etc.

The classical explanation for this is that, through horse-worship, the girl acts out a dawning, latent sexuality which originated in her relationship to her specially dominant and directing mother and the very active form of lust associated to her.

The horse expresses the fullness and intensity of the original relationship as it is a strong but controllable force.

.. It might also be true just to say that girls simply like animals!

Model and fashion drawings

Another element in girls’ aesthetics (also followed up on by commercial girls’ culture) is the many model and fashion drawings which are supported by girls’ magazines and fashion products generally.

Here too we find an expression of the girl’s/woman’s lust, this time as “exhibitionist decoration of the face and body”. This can be regarded both as self-absorption and as a search for external confirmation of femininity’s existence and importance and for an external measurement of its value.

Exclusive alliances

Girls’ alliances are deeply serious and very exclusive.

They are only for the chosen few. The objective is to “stick together” while excluding all the others.

Such relationships between girl friends are just like the early mother-daughter relationship with its many deep contradictory emotions but, according to psychologists, it is also latently sexual. The girls’ relationships revolve around the theme: “to be loved/not to be loved” which is almost the same as “to be or not to be” (to live or not to live).

Friendship dramas

Exclusive alliances explain why there is serious drama when a dyad is threatened by a third party and a friendship triangle occurs. It also explains why a girl “pines” when she is deserted by a friend. The threat is always present and the girls always attempt to exorcise the threat by the use of external symbols, e.g. swapping friendship rings.

At the same time the girls guard and confirm each other by finding a common identity between them which outwardly contrasts the difference and marks the distance to the others.

The nature of such a common identity can take the form of adopting a style or an interest in horses, make-up, girl scouts, collecting, (later boys), etc., as a way to profile themselves for each other within their peer group.

Older girls (10-12 (15) years)

In the pre-puberty phase, sexuality increases.

When girl friends begin to show an interest in the boys in the neighbourhood, it is really still their common sexual (friendship) feelings and intimacy which motivates this and which is transferred to the opposite sex.

The romantic dream is a fixed ingredient of girls’ friendships. It would however be limiting if we gave the impression that the romantic dream is just a naïve devotion to someone of the opposite sex or a withdrawal into a traditional female role (as the feminist lobby has often claimed).

The romantic dream also liberates other qualities. It is an incredible qualitative feminine drive which can both include high professional ambitions and desire for the fulfilment of strong existential ideas. In addition, the romantic dream represents fantasies about the future and what it might bring.

On the other hand, Sichtermann (1984) has put forward an interesting theory that the dream in the encounter with the opposite sex (the prince!) also represents an encounter with an unfamiliar side of oneself (symbolised by the prince’s white horse!). With this, the vision of a double transformation of the entire personality (from poor little girl to adult princess with a personality structure which can handle a prince). I.e. that the girl is both the horse and the princess without which the prince cannot live as they are the be all and end all of being a prince.

Young adult girls

However, as mentioned, girl friends’ common and different presentation and interpretation of the dream are significant and important. A significant part of the girls’ friendships in the pre-puberty phase is the support the friendship can give in the rebellion against parents but especially against the mother. The rebellion deals with themes such as eating habits, personal hygiene, etc. and these are conflicts which are resurrected from infant’s symbiosis with the mother and which now resurface with new possibilities for release.

It is during this phase that some girls show signs of developing anorexia nervosa. In the same phase, girls reveal an entire repertoire of possibilities displayed as a violently strong appetite for life with little or no deference to accepted sexual norms.

There is therefore not much difference between the horse-loving girls and the make-up freaks - indeed it is very possible to be both, only not at the same time.


Attributes in girls’ toys

Girls’ key words

Most frequent terms used

  • cute
  • pretty
  • soft
  • “like Mummy”
  • correct
  • can be transformed (the magical)
  • “in” (fashion - the older girls)
  • dreamsand hopes

Most popular symbols

  • hearts
  • bows
  • stars
  • clouds
  • horses

Codes and concepts in girls’ toys

  • loving
  • caring
  • identification
  • matches/goes together
  • modern/”in”
  • idyll/romanticism

family fantasies and dreams



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