Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Why are kids' clothes so sexist?

A while back I was stood in the childrenswear section of a well-known high street store, waiting for a package I'd ordered online. As I waited, I cast my eye over the girls' clothes – y'know, because I have a girl. Hmm. A lot of pastels and flowers, bit bland really. Then something caught my eye. Something fun and colourful. A t-shirt with a jolly print of a bus full of animals. Oh wait – that's in the boys' section. Oh and so is that other fun, bright print. And those funky band t-shirts. Hang on a minute – why are the boys' clothes so much more interesting than the girls'? Because boys are more fun, more vibrant, cooler?

Don't get me wrong, Eleanor does have girly clothes. She wore a fair amount of pink as a baby, mainly because that's what people bought us when she was born, but a little bit to denote that she was a girl. (And yes, it did annoy me when people assumed she was a boy. Because it would happen any time she wasn't in pink. As if every other colour is for boys, and girls are ONLY allowed pink.) She often asks to wear a dress, and her favourite one is pink. I'm not anti-pink, or anti-pretty. But, c'mon, a bit of diversity wouldn't go amiss. Why do the boys get all the fun stuff? How come they can have cool rock band t-shirts but girls have to settle for One Direction?

When I was thinking about this blog post, I had a look at the t-shirt ranges of three well-known stores, popular with parents of toddlers and small children. I looked at the slogans they carried. For girls – 'little cutie', 'I love shoes', 'sparkly princess', 'I'm a heart breaker.' For boys – 'little rascal', 'genius', 'awesome'. In one particular store they have a variety of 'born to ...' t-shirts. Girls are, apparently, born to 'be cute', 'smile', 'dance'. Boys? Well, they're 'born to be the boss'. What century are we in again?

This is damaging for boys as well as girls. I so often see boys in t-shirts calling them rascals, monsters etc. I even saw one boy in a t-shirt saying something along the lines of 'sent to the naughty step'. Self-fulfilling prophecy anyone? These t-shirts tell boys they are naughty. Girls are told they are pretty and pleasing. Can't we just tell all kids they're wonderful?

Then there's the range of colours. As I mentioned before, girls' clothes ranges are typically awash with pale pink and other dainty pastels. But the trouble with an all-pastel wardrobe is that if, like me, you have a little tearaway who likes sitting in mud, jumping in puddles, spattering paint everywhere and smearing herself in food, you end up with a nightmare of a laundry basket. Dark colours hide the stains associated with messy play, exploration and, well, life so much better. So, like it or not, the inclination is to try and stop your pretty pastel-clad daughter from doing anything that might ruin her clothes. Hardly fair is it? Boys, in their blues and greys and reds and well-frankly-any-colour-as-long-as-it's-dark-or-bright, can get away with a bit, or a lot, of muck, but girls can't. They have to sit and look pretty. What exactly are we preparing them for with that message?

I know one response to all this will be, "well, just buy boys' clothes for your daughter, then!" And I do. But why is the onus on me, the parent? What would be the harm in having unisex sections, or even full unisex ranges, in shops? I get it for older kids – body shapes get different as the years go on – but toddlers are toddlers. They're little, with round bellies and slightly chubby limbs. Girls and boys. So why do they have to have completely different ranges? And why do those ranges have to pigeonhole them into gender stereotypes before they're old enough to even understand the phrase 'gender stereotype'?


I would love to see a shop that sells all their young children's clothes under one banner – 'Practical'. Yes, pretty dresses are nice sometimes, but what little girls need is exactly what little boys need – clothes they can run, jump, play, explore, learn and live in. Preferably without any patronising slogans.

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