In addition to slogan t-shirts, shoes can limit young children to the gender binary and affect their behavior as they grow into adults.
If you have ever had to shop for children's clothes or have recently taken a stroll down the stuff for toddlers at the department store, you have probably seen a pattern. All the boys' clothes were likely blue, red, and other "neutral" colors, while the girls' clothes were bright pink or pastel shades. Of course, this is not new. However, if you have ever looked at clothes for children more closely, you will notice there is a different (but often invisible) message we share with our kids depending on whether they are girls or boys. In an op-ed for SBS, an Australian media outlet, mother Louise Wedgwood showed how even shoes for young kids can be sexist. She would know, she recently had to purchase some shoes for her one-year-old daughter.
"When shopping for my eldest, a boy, it’s a breeze to find shoes that are comfortable to play in and practical for parks and puddles," she explains. "When I stood in front of the girls’ sections in three different major retailers, I was perplexed each time. Why is almost EVERYTHING pink, frilly or sparkly? How are pale fabrics and glittery finishes to withstand the rigors of play?" If you had not thought about that before, now is probably the time to do so. For some of us, it may not be important. However, the clothes children wear can influence how they behave even as adults. The mother states, "From birth, girls’ 'cutest' outfits are usually dresses. But they can be unwieldy to move in, and girls in dresses are discouraged from climbing, hanging upside down, or doing anything else fun that might show their undies."
Unfortunately, this is not limited to clothes that parents buy for their kids. It applies to uniforms, too. Wedgwood points to a study that notes the real consequences girls’ uniforms can have on their physical health. "Australian research shows that girls’ uniforms limit how much they move," she explains. "During lunch breaks, girls took about 200 fewer steps when they wore their formal uniform compared to their sports uniform." When measuring the same outcomes for boys, there was no significant difference. According to Simone Cariss, the co-founder of the Australian group Girls’ Uniform Agenda, this can set girls up "in many cases for a lifetime of inactivity."
From the sexist stereotyping you see through slogans on kids' t-shirts to the lack of pockets on girls' clothing, we teach young children that they must think and behave in a certain way. Wedgwood shares, "My son is rarely without a decent pocket to retain his little treasures: a feather, a shell, a random button from the gutter. But girls often miss out. " Clearly, we push children into an unimaginative gender binary where they cannot explore beyond the limitations of pink and blue boxes. Thankfully, some companies are changing the status quo through the #ClothesWithoutLimits campaign. This campaign raises awareness of the importance of the messages sent by kids’ clothing and depicts the variation clothing can have for kids of any gender. Ultimately, clothes simply do not have a gender.