MY friendship circle has been in the midst of its own baby boom of late. Pregnancy announcements, baby showers, and squishy new arrivals. As such, I’ve been single-handedly boosting the sales of a number of retailers.
I’ve got my own ‘spirited’ and ‘headstrong’ (read – incorrigible and feral) toddler at home, so I’m immune from the sight of tiny clothes provoking any sort of broodiness. There’s nothing like the terrifying persistence of negotiating with a three-year-old to kill off any rose-tinted nostalgia of the cuteness of newborns.
When I’m in that section of the shop, I actually sometimes feel a bit angry. Most people have a ‘thing’. Jeremy Corbyn likes to photograph manhole covers, for example. My ‘thing’ is that I often stand in a children’s clothes section and scream internally “WHAT IS THIS S**T?” at retailers. And sometimes I tweet it at them as well, for good measure.
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Boys’ and girls’. Pink and blue. The unnecessary segregation of the garments we dress our tiny humans in, is stark. The signage is actually redundant. If you have a girl human, just follow the trail of glitter and wishy-washy floral patterns. For boys, the logo t-shirts are normally a good indicator as to whether you are in the right place. “Mummy’s Little Heartbreaker” and “Daddy’s Little Soldier” – bingo, you have reached the boys’ aisle. The most obvious difference is, of course, in the use of colour. There is an eye-watering amount of pink in the girls section, and primary colours – bold, bright blues, yellows and greens – tend to be mainly in the boys’.
Adults in the form of clothes manufacturers, retailers and parents have at some point decided to place arbitrary boundaries on how we present children. These differences are based on nothing more than tired, debunked, gender-stereotypes. Namely, that girls are pretty, passive and gentle, while boys are rowdy, boisterous and tough. The characteristics and social expectations we have for the sexes are painfully clear, when you look at the slogan t-shirts.
The ones for boys are action-based and often reference ambition. So it’s common to see slogans like “Scientist In Training”, “World Champion”, “Awesome”, “Future Legend”, “Hero”.
Girls’ slogan t-shirts are heavily centred on the theme of prettiness and niceness. There is a passivity to them that, to be honest, we should have really moved past by now. For example: “Pretty Me”, “Daddy’s Little Flower”, “Yummy Like Mummy”, “Think Happy Be Happy”, “Beautiful Like My Mummy”, “I Eat Glitter For Breakfast” – you get the idea.
Adults’ obsession with gender stereotypes is damaging and regressive for both boys and girls. It tells little boys that they need to be strong, tough, and heroic. We forcefully and unambiguously still, in 2017, tell little girls that their worth is in their looks. To be nice, smiley and meekly feminine.
Far from just being about clothes, these messages are bombarded upon children from a variety of directions. The toys that we divide by sex, and colour-code accordingly. The advertising campaigns for those toys, just in case their intended market wasn’t clear enough. Images of little girls playing mum, changing nappies and feeding little plastic babies – but never of little boys who might equally enjoy playing dad.
When you consider the sheer weight of the gender expectations, it is surprising that any children break free of them. Though, of course, they absolutely do. Most children don’t stick to the rigid boundaries of stereotypes. Little boys find dressing up just as fun as some girls do. They like pushing a dolly around in a pram, or arranging figurines in a princess castle. Equally, girls enjoy cars, trucks, and waving swords around dressed as a pirate.
There is nothing radical about that. We all know that is totally normal, and not even a by-product of so-called gender-neutral parenting. Which is why retailers’ persistence in pushing our children into such strictly defined categories based on their sex is so baffling.
Maybe, as with so many things, it comes down to money. Perhaps two markets is more lucrative than one. Either way, I’ll keep buying the majority of my little girl’s clothes from the boys’ section. Because, she is definitely “Awesome”, a “Boss” and has, so far anyway, yet to request glitter for breakfast.