September 13, 2016
“Help us stamp out gender biases one click at a time with a photographic documentation of all the amazing #aboycantoo boys who open our minds.” Kirsten McGoey
Thea: Tell us how it feels to capture images of the enjoyment these boys experience while pursuing and excelling at their passions?
Kirsten: It’s a mixed bag of emotions – at times it is just connecting with them and seeing what I already know to be true of boys – silly smiles, big dreams and unique passions. Other times, someone comes in and surprises me with a story about how being an actor gives them a chance to be celebrated in the same way a soccer player might be, then someone else describes the way dancing makes them feel inside, or shares the passion they have for performing an ice skating routine… I also hear heart-breaking stories from other boys who explain that some people do not understand the path they have chosen – it’s the good, the bad and the ugly. Some of the boys talk about parents who do not approve, peers who tease them and even those who support them, but really do not get it… Hearing these firsthand accounts really reinforces my own feelings that the message of ‘gender equality’ is as much needed in society for boys as it is for girls.
Thea: What are their own reactions to seeing the beautiful images you create?
Kirsten: I usually show the boys their images during a session while I demonstrate the lighting effects or poses I am trying to achieve with them. They have such pride in seeing themselves in those images, even when they are young. During the shoots we also reinforce the importance of this project – to inspire other boys to follow their dreams and passions. The kids involved show different reactions, but we really notice the older boys recognising how important this is, knowing their story will influence others. It’s a lovely journey to be part of – capturing them in those moments as they inspire the world with their gifts.
Thea: Can you tell me what you find most challenging about the stereotypes your own boys encounter?
Kirsten: Gender stereotypes are deeply rooted in our society. People often make presumptions based on ideas they have about certain colours or activities ‘belonging’ to one sex. They make judgements about boys who like to wear pink or dance – they read things into this choice. When a boy wears pink or dances, he is often asked if he is gay. His parents are asked “Aren’t you worried he will be gay?”. Never has it crossed my mind that my sons dancing or wearing pink would correlate with their sexual identity. As parents we are more concerned about developing empathetic, strong and independent sons who respect themselves and their peers, family and other people they encounter in life.
“Never has it crossed my mind that my sons dancing or wearing pink would correlate with their sexual identity. As parents we are more concerned about developing empathetic, strong and independent sons who respect themselves and their peers, family and other people they encounter in life.”
Thea: Have you seen your own boys shy away from any particular activities as a reaction to gender stereotypes?
Kirsten: In my own household our kids are pretty brave and their disregard for pressure of this kind inspired #aboycantoo. My middle son does not seem to be bothered at all – he loves dance, gymnastics, singing and dancing. His point of view was the reason this became my personal photography project. He tried soccer and was not happy, so we encouraged him to find his path. I’m increasingly aware that not all boys have this kind of support – to follow their true passions regardless of the stereotypes – and can feel pressure to conform. Unfortunately, these are often the boys we don’t meet due to their unsupportive circumstances.
Thea: What sort of comments and feedback have you received in response to this project?
Kirsten: The comments and feedback have been overwhelmingly positive. We have received many thanks from parents (of all genders) with boys who needed to hear an encouraging message, and some parents who said they themselves needed to hear it. I know the boys in #aboycantoo are plentiful, but it is not always easy to be unique and brave in the face of strong societal gender norms. We still hear about the struggles of people of different genders in political arenas and in the workforce. Each boy, every family who sees and hears our message that #aboycantoo, helps to break down the stereotypes and normalise that all those boys are just doing what they love, what they identify as bringing joy and happiness to their lives – because boys should dance, sing, bake, figure skate, act, wear pink – and they do!!
“…it is not always easy to be unique and brave in the face of strong societal gender norms.”
Thea: Have the boys enjoyed being a part of this? What are some of the positive impacts you’ve noticed as a result of boys can too?
Kirsten: A recent visit to O’Neill CVI, a performing arts school in Oshawa, was a real eye opener in terms of recognising how much excitement the #aboycantoo movement has generated. We had a classroom of boys of all ages from the performing arts stream sharing not only their dance, but also sharing their stories during informal round circle about their journey to dance. They shared stories of support and challenges, with no two journeys the same, but a common thread bringing them all (various ages) together. They shared a positive field trip to learn how to create lifts that not only involved lifting girls but lifting each other in powerful ways. What resonated as we chatted was how strongly they identified with the stories and images of the boys I had captured on film for the project that I shared with them that day.
Thea: Kirsten, these images are just beautiful. They deliver such a powerful message in a wonderfully positive way – ignore the stereotypes and do what you love.
The #aboycantoo project has its own page you can follow: https://www.facebook.com/aboycantoo/
Kirsten McGoey is a professional photographer who started Trinity Design in 2016. Her first professional photographic series #aboycantoo lends a visual voice to boys who break gender norms to pursue their true passions.
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