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Origins: What Are Little Boys Made Of?

The only sensible way to illustrate this rhyme is with a photo of a frog with a snaily chapeau.

What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.

And what are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And all things nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.

Oooh, but this rhyme get my feminist hackles up. It implants gender essentialism in the youngest minds of our society before (arguably) they have the critical function to question such assumptions and provides children with ideals of masculinity and femininity to which they may well not conform, creating a pressure towards reconciliation with gender stereotypes which, frankly, toddling tots do not need. It is part of a socialization process that forgives the transgressions of young males with a dismissive ‘boys will be boys’ while shaping young girls into passive nonentities, sweet and willing. It is, as Caitlin Moran would have it, bullshit.

But it is also a common nursery rhyme, and so deserves my attention.

The rhyme appears in countless varient forms, generally that amend the ingredients of the genders, so that ‘slugs and snails’ becomes ‘frogs and snails’, ‘snips and snails’ and myriad other combinations depending on where in the world you are.

The rhyme is taken from a ten stanza work generally attributed to Robert Southey named What Folks are Made of and appears in its shortened form in Halliwell’s Nursery Rhymes of England in 1842 with two additional verses:

What are young men made of?
Sighs and Leers
And crocodile tears
That’s what young men are made of.

What are young women made of?
Ribbons and Laces
And sweet pretty faces
That’s what young women are made of.

There will be no Origins post next week.

One response »

  1. Pingback: Origins: Polly Put the Kettle On | TreasuryIslands

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