Gender Fluidity and Water Imagery in Ali Smith's "Girl meets Boy"

Term Paper, 2018
10 Pages, Grade: 1,0






4.1 PURE




The discussion of gender norms and its impact on individuals as well as society is an increasingly popular and reoccurring discussion within communities worldwide. The conception of a binary gender model as the norm is in the process of a general reconstruction. As the World Health Organization defines gender as a reference to “the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men”[1] it sheds light to the widening of the human awareness and social impact within a society.

In this term paper I will discuss the characteristics of gender fluidity throughout Ali Smith’s book Girl meets boy, exemplify the notion of gender fluidity on one character and present the water imagery in correlation to gender fluidity.

Chapter one in this paper will cover a short introduction to the term gender fluidity within its general notion, providing an overview of the topic at hand and creating an uninterrupted connection to Ali Smith’s book Girl meets boy, discussed in Chapter two. In this chapter I will outline the different ways in which gender fluidity is presented in the story and show how Ali Smith finds methods to express this topic.

In the following chapter I will discuss Robin Goodman, who is portrayed as a gender-fluid character. I will show how she voices her own gender fluidity and will address the treatment of her fellow men.

Henceforth, the ensuing chapter three will examine the connection of gender fluidity and the water imagery and display how water evolves to a central theme throughout the text. To give an example of an opposition to the positive connection of water and gender fluidity, I will discuss the Pure company and its doubtful morals.

In a conclusion I will point out the results of my examination and summarize the most important outcomings.


Sometimes female, sometimes male, sometimes neither of them. Gender fluidity is a constant fluctuation of the emotions and expressions that are related to a particular gender and can be expressed by clothes, behaviour, and self-description. Also, the chosen gender might change every day or even every few hours. People who identify themselves as gender-fluid also might select complete gender neutrality.[2] Gender Fluidity might also be expressed by the impersonal pronoun “they”. As individuals identifying as gender neutral do not yet officially possess a specific pronoun, and for the form “it” projecting a negative image way too often, “they” seemed to be the best option for people who identify themselves as gender-fluid.[3]

Living out gender-fluidity means not just changing the appearance from one gender to another. It is also the continuous modulation of the persons personality, including body posture, vocal tone and emotions. Nonetheless personality and gender must not be confused as the personality of a (gender-fluid) person, who dresses as a woman, is not necessarily stereotypically feminine.[4]

Understanding gender fluidity is breaking the stereotypical binary gender model and viewing gender and sex as two different parts of a human being. Gender identification occurs within a socially constructed system of expectations and guidelines. These normative identity categories have driven the LGBTQ-community to “destabilize gender categories rooted in biologically deterministic gender paradigms by arguing that gender is far more fluid and far less rooted in biological imperatives.”[5] This destabilization leads to individualization and gender freedom and thus reveals the political and social construction of a binary division of gender, opening a new debate and potentially making a change.[6] The process of the LGBTQ-community can be demonstrated trough the official introduction of a third gender in Germany this year.

Being published in 2007, the novel Girl meets boy not only discusses the possibilities as well as problems concerning gender fluidity, but acts as a well-timed reminder to rethink social constructions and gender norms and as a creative way to show facets of gender identity.


Girl meets boy is a rewritten story of Iphis and Ianthe, two thousand years ago authored by Ovid. In hindsight, terms such as homosexuality and LGBTQ did not exist.[7] In Ovid’s tale the biological sex of Iphis must change for a happy ending and thus shuts off the possibility of an alternative sexuality.[8] A differentiation can be seen in Ali Smith’s rewritten story of Iphis and Ianthe. In her version, displaying sexuality between two biological females is not condemned but presented as possible and put into relation of positivity. During the metaphorical written sex scene of Anthea and Robin their gender equality or difference is no matter, which is expressed through Anthea’s words “I was a she was a he was a we were a girl and a girl and a boy and a boy”[9]. Both sex and gender are blurred throughout this scene and it does not seem to be of importance for the two involved. “We were all that [...], both genders, a whole new gender, no gender at all”[10] is how Anthea summarises her sexual act with Robin and thus gives to some extent a suitable definition of gender fluidity.

“There shouldn’t be a sense of what’s normal and what is not”[11] says Lee Luxion, who identifies themselves[12] as gender-fluid and was interviewed for an article by Lauren Booker. On the other hand, Imogen, Anthea’s sister, is seeking for normality after her first encounter with the relationship between her sister and Robin. In this scene Imogen is portrayed in a dialogue with herself, which is represented through parts in brackets, and questions if she can define her life as normal or not. She is seeking for a proper explanation of what her sister is and whose ‘fault’ it is.[13]

Gender Fluidity is a consistent theme in Ali Smith’s story and permanently shown as positive and even the very first sentence of the book refers to the topic. “Let me tell you about when I was a girl”[14] is what Anthea and Imogen hear from their grandfather. Furthermore, Imogen states that one of the reasons she fell in love with her boyfriend and colleague from Pure Paul is that he seems “quite female” to her.[15]

The stereotypical differences of male and female become blurred throughout Smith’s text. Anthea describes Robin as “the most beautiful boy”[16] using the pronoun “she”; both sometimes sign their graffiti with “the message girls”[17], or “the message boys”[18], and the very first sentence of the last chapter reads: “Reader, I married him/her.”[19] This shows that not only the chosen topic of the text is gender fluidity, but it is also shown through the words Ali Smith picked.


[1] World Health Organization.

[2] Cf. Lauren Booker. What it means to be gender fluid. 2016

[3] Cf. Ibid.

[4] Cf. Ibid.

[5] Davis, Erin Calhoun. 2009. Situating “Fluidity”: (Trans) Gender Identification and the Regulation of Gender Diversity p. 98.

[6] Cf. Ibid.

[7] Cf. Holly Anne Ranger. 2012. An Intersexual Analysis of Girl meets boy, p. 24.

[8] Cf. Ibid., p. 25.

[9] Ali Smith. 2007. Girl meets boy, p. 103.

[10] Smith., p. 104.

[11] Booker, Lauren. What it means to be gender-fluid. 2016.

[12] The pronoun “themselves“ is used here, because Lee Luxion prefers to be referred to the pronoun “they“.

[13] Cf. Smith, p. 51.

[14] Ibid., p. 3.

[15] Ibid., p. 130.

[16] Ibid., p. 45.

[17] Ibid., p. 133.

[18] Ibid., p. 134.

[19] Ibid., p. 149.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


Gender Fluidity and Water Imagery in Ali Smith's "Girl meets Boy"
University of Bonn  (Anglistik, Amerikanistik und Keltologie)
What the Fuck is Queer?
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Gender, Queer Theory, Girl meets Boy, Ali Smith, Gender Fluidity, Gender Studies
Quote paper
Pauline Antonia Richter (Author), 2018, Gender Fluidity and Water Imagery in Ali Smith's "Girl meets Boy", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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