From the moment I began building my baby registry, I knew that I would encounter widespread sexism in the baby and children’s toy and clothing industry. For a supposedly advanced and equal society, sexism promoted by manufacturers and marketers is everywhere and overwhelming. Parents, even well-meaning parents, buy into the sexist stereotypes without thinking about it. Girl aisles are blindingly pink and princessy and the phrase “boys will be boys” is thrown about like it means something. And those are very minor examples.
As a woman who works in a male-dominated industry who fights sexism in my own career and sees sexism harm other women in their careers, I’m angered by it all. Babies aren’t born knowing sexism. Adults teach it to them at a very young age. You wouldn’t know it from the horrible trend of “gender” reveal parties (actually sex reveal), but babies aren’t pink or blue in the womb. Pink and blue aren’t even traditional colors for girls and boys, they’re a modern invention by advertisers. Yet we accept, without question, that my daughter needs to be covered in pink and pastel bows while little boys are dynamic and rough.
I was gifted with so many baby clothes by generous friends and family that I hadn’t needed to buy much for my daughter. But I decided to take advantage of sales this weekend. I browsed my nearest OshKosh B’Gosh and Carter’s store, excited by the 50% off store-wide sale. I was immediately hit with gendered everything. One side of the store was “boys” and the other side “girls” and there was little overlap, as if baby and toddler clothing manufacturers decided that one-year-old boys and girls must be dressed very differently.
My stomach, already turned, dropped further when I saw the graphic t-shirts in the boys section. One proclaimed “Chick Magnet” as if sexualizing toddler boys was appropriate. A graphic “girls” t-shirt proclaimed she was too cute to sleep, whatever that means. Surely I can’t be the only person disturbed by giving toddlers post-pubescent characteristics. It’s meant to be funny, but it’s not.
As far as I could tell, there was no difference between “boys” jeans and “girls” jeans because – mind blown – toddler girls don’t have womanly curves yet. But that didn’t stop OshKosh marketers from developing “super skinny” girl jeans that the boys section didn’t have. Why in the world would I want to put super skinny jeans on a squirmy toddler who already dislikes pants?
Shopping in a gendered store was very difficult. It took me twice as long to find what I was looking for. In the end, I bought both “boy” and “girl” clothes for my almost-one-year-old daughter. And I’m strongly considering never shopping in a gendered store like that again.
It’s bad enough when marketers box in our children. It’s worse when other parents do it! Parents are the most valuable teachers, and sadly many children learn sexism from their parents. They learn what is and isn’t acceptable in their family according to their genitalia, regardless of their actual interests and abilities. They are held down or kept in a box not because society tells them what they can or can’t do, but because of their own upbringing.
I came across one such example yesterday. I follow many momblogs, and occasionally read suggestions shared by friends. One such momblog article appeared on my Twitter feed yesterday, shared by someone I follow. This momblog was promoting the concept that there are “boys” toys, that “boys play hard,” and that we should look at her suggested “boy” gifts for other boys. Immediately I was struck by the unnecessary gender separation. I responded that I was not comfortable by it.
This mother, instead of being open minded, insisted that her boys love these gifts, as do her daughters, and that there was nothing wrong with her gendering in her article. She was oblivious and outright hostile to the idea that other boys who are not her sons might be offended by the notion that they must like these gift items because they are male, and that girls might be offended by the notion that these gift items are not for them because they are female. Not only was she hostile, but trolls got involved (almost inevitable on Twitter) and responded rudely to my polite challenge to her point of view.
What is more harmful: the sexist momblog article that very few will read, or the sexist mindset that mother and her defenders exhibited? Are their sons comfortable being open with their interests, rejecting stereotypical “boy” activities if it’s not true to who they are? Are their daughters comfortable being open with expressing interest in stereotypical “boy” activities if it is true to who they are? I honestly cannot say. Neither can those parents. Only the kids can truly answer.
Are we as modern, feminist parents open to challenging sexist viewpoints even when attacked for doing so? I should hope so! I will not be silenced. I speak for the children who maybe aren’t comfortable with the boxes society and family puts them in.