Moms unite against sexist clothes and toys

posted in: Childrenswear | 12

Not long ago I wrote a post about non-gender specific clothes for girls and boys. I like to buy things that could work for either sex. In particularly I would like to buy boys clothes in a wider range of colours than blue and navy, maroon, forest and grey – such as pink and other lighter brighter colours. For young girls I would prefer motifs on them that are not obviously “girly” and in more subtle colours such as sand, deep green, or rust. I think it is time that shops started to stock useful, wearable children’s clothes that are genuinely unisex. Tops and trousers that are not obviously for girls OR boys.  This is partly so that they can be passed on through the family (I admit my boys wore pink pyjamas for years as they had an older sister). But also because I think colour coding the under fives is pathetic and unnecessary. Sure they have to learn about gender roles at some point but if you can’t relax the rules for little ones I don’t know what.

Some people believe that dressing girls in pink and telling them they are pretty can be limiting. I believe that girls and boys should have the opportunity to consider different careers, sexualities and ways of dressing, talking, acting. The limited range of options in high street shops is particularly disappointing and I wish that designers and buyers would offer more choice. 18iwbwk26gc5gjpg

I was pleased to see Princess Awesome launched as an idea. They want to create specific textiles with science and engineering content. And then make little dresses out of them. In my view the styles are a little dreary, and the textiles somewhat dated. They are apparently looking for funds to set up a company to make the garments and have been very sucessful with their “crowd sourcing”. Perhaps a high street chain with its access to the best designers, market information and fabric suppliers might have a go at dresses with trains on them, or pink boys clothes, or shorts for all in bright shades without obvious (and very repetitive) boy motifs – tractors, trains, dinosaurs. Yawn. Coincidentally my friend Stephanie has covered this topic today. Please give her a shout, especially if you are from Canada.

This week another cottage industry caught my eye. This time a Tasmanian mother “rescues” Bratz dolls from charity shops and gives them a “make-under”, dresses them in non-sexy clothes and flat shoes, and sells them online. A charming video of Sonia Singh removing the made up eyes and lips, and hand knitting little cardis has been doing the rounds on Facebook. And good luck to her. Nice work, but seriously time consuming. I can’t imagine how many hours it takes this talented artist to make her “wholesome” “modest” dolls. I once defaced some of my children’s books turning the doctor and dentists into females.

Bratz doll make under
From yuk to nice

The dolls look nice to me, but you have to wonder why such sweet innocent looking dolls don’t catch on commercially?

Tree change dolls
Tree change dolls

Years ago I got involved in anti-war toy campaigns, and went to work shops about non-competitive games, organised by Quakers in Norfolk. I enjoyed playing with a colourful parachute and as someone who was rarely a first choice for any team game I also liked the co-operation involved. But even though I never bought guns for my boys I found they were adept at making them from toast, Lego and cardboard. To some extent children will always make or choose their own toys. My daughter tried to introduce a purple My Little Pony into Ted’s repetoire, in part to show him how to comb and plait, but it soon found itself involved in many accidents with the wide variety of trucks he is far more concerned with (age 3).

I feel these campaigns are worthy, and I have to admit I prefer the Tree Change dolls to Bratz and regret the pinkisation of female childhood. I am not sure in themselves they will actually change anything. All of us have aggressive, competitive aspects of our personalities, We need to find safe ways to express these “bad” characteristics. Equally we all have dependent and caring qualities in our make up. And if you want to see these as male or female, you can. But everyone is made up of a variety of character traits, and we need, as we grow up, to get to know the full range of our capabilities and limitations. What do you think?

12 Responses

  1. Lynn

    The whole “Princess” phenomenon for little girls makes me cringe. How limiting to think that being pretty and swanning about in a gown is the epitome of female behavior. I am with you 100%!

  2. Jenny

    Quite agree. My niece wanted to dress her newborn baby girl in blue to match her eyes and couldn’t find anything in that size so I had to make it. Funnily enough, after years of avoiding pink I now find a certain shade suits me and it has started to creep into my wardrobe. My mother used to dress me in navy, grey or brown because I was always covered in dirt and there were no domestic washing machines so washing was kept to the minimum. Just read Stephanie’s article and then lo and behold found you were writing in the same subject. How bizarre.

  3. Patricia

    I love to dress my son (who is 6 now) in bright colours. Because of this, when he was a baby, he always got mistaken for a girl! Now I sew him brightly coloured party shirts, and he gets so many compliments on them. His favourite colour is pink because I never said it is a “girl colour”, although his school friends have perpetuated the myth. It annoys me that even lego has girl and boy sets – thanks for reminding me, I’ve been meaning to get some pink and purple lego to add to our collection. I just don’t understand why colour is used to segregate in such a way.

  4. Beth

    Those brats dolls are so ugly!! (I mean the original ones!) I am guilty of falling down the pink girly trap, but with my second daughter I am now buying a lot more unisex/”boyish” stuff, for example I chose the blue toy till over the pink one, and her new bedding is a safari one which is marketed for boys (terrible!) whereas her big sister has pink everything… Why is everything either pink or blue??!

  5. helen

    I remember having to constantly tell my daughter (who is now 7) that women can also be doctors and the other day had to say the same thing to my 3 year old son. To them – Doctor Man, Nurse Woman – in this day and age they shouldn’t have that fixed idea.

    • Beth

      That’s a shame, luckily at my surgery we have quite a few female doctors. In the hospital it could be different but we don’t go there often enough (thankfully) for my daughter to notice!
      In fact my daughter and I were just having a similar conversation yesterday but about dentists – we don’t see female dentists, only assistants!

  6. amaryllislog

    First off I love Tree Change dolls. How refreshing! Honestly I can not understand why anyone would buy a Bratz Doll. They truly are horrible.

    I think I was fortunate to be brought up by a mother who dressed me as an individual and let me be me. I don’t remember ever having a desire for pink and I felt the same with my daughter but the external influences are so different these days. Marketers really get into the heads of children and parents. Being popular and liked seems to drive people to make poor decisions.

    But one more note, I love that someone took something that was thrown out and brought life back to it in a purposeful way. We are such a society of churn and burn without thinking about the implications of our actions, disposable society is such a bad thing.

  7. Chris @ makeandwear

    Ah this is a topic that I love… Gender stereotyping clothes and toys is something that gets me riled up all the time! Being from a large family meant clothes were passed between siblings and cousins. But it’s much more difficult now to buy clothes that will work for boys and girls. I was so fed up of pink options with my first daughter, that I made her some clothes in bright colours. I believe it’s a deliberate marketing decision to make pink and blue toys/clothes etc so that people buy more rather than using the same item for boys and girls. Although I always buy bikes/ football boots/wetsuits etc in colours like purple,black, green or blue etc so that they can be easily passed down to the younger ones!

  8. Stephanie

    Just read this now!! Well done, K! Much better than my post. I saw the Bratz doll video last week and really liked it – mostly for the patience and manner of the mother. It seemed like such a smart thing to do, especially given that it was a recycling project. Rebecca of needleandspindle mentioned that the mother is an out-of-work scientist, and referred to the cutting of science funding in Australia. I don’t know much about that story though.

    Agree with Chris: My understanding from the pieces I read on the subject of pink is that much of the recent gender-specific clothing trend has been about money really. If you make things that necessitate the purchase of a whole set of other clothing for another child, all the better.

    I also doubt that our various characteristics are going to be dampened by wearing pink or playing with non-violent games or dolls or trucks, etc. I was just chatting with my boss today about how I wonder why I didn’t become an engineer, as my fascination as a kid was with building things – ramps, bridges, man-made lakes, etc., for my brothers’ play cars to be able to drive on! But then in a kind of a way I am an engineer – just of statistical models. I do agree though that it is essential to be given the opportunity to put on whatever hats appeal to us. I was gender-segregated in sports (I wasn’t permitted to play in the hockey league with my brothers, but rather pushed into the “girl” game of ringette, which was considered to be safer for girls). It took me a long time to have the confidence to think of myself an athlete and to pursue sport more seriously as an older person, I think largely because I had limited opportunities to participate as a kid.

  9. Caroline

    So good to read this post, Kate. Thank you. My sister in law tells a good gender role story. She taught a reception class and on the first day of the new school year she asked each child what his or her favourite colour was. One little boy gave a very broad smile and answered decisively ‘PINK’. My sister in law was delighted. Not so the other children… by the end of the week the little boy came back to her and said ‘I’ve changed my mind. Pink is a soppy colour. I like blue now.’

  10. theperfectnose

    Thanks so much for sharing this. Agreed on everything. Gender-based disparity is so all pervasive in our culture that most people don’t notice it. My partner went for a (friend’s kid’s )christening recently and was pretty shocked with the way the children were introduced: “This is John, he’s 5 and he’s great at sport. This is Matt, he’s 8 and he wants to be a fireman when he grows up. This is Claire, isn’t she pretty in her frilly dress? Go on dahl’ give us a twirl”.
    And it was mainly women doing this. Truly hideous.

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