Newsflash American Companies: Little Girls Like Superheroes Too

I receive emails from the Gap. Truth be told, normally I delete them. For some reason, Saturday morning, I opened my email from the Gap and noticed they were proudly promoting their new line of toddler clothes featuring Superheroes.

Then I hopped on my computer to actually check it out because the previous evening, my toddler girl spent the entire duration of her older sister’s T-ball game dressed like this, clearly fighting crime, with no regard for how profusely she was sweating under her mask:

Good versus Evil at Friday Night T-Ball...who will prevail?

There you have it. I have a three-year-old who loves pirates, Spiderman, Batman, any kind of superhero or dinosaur. She loves these things. She loves them so much that if she isn’t decked out in costume, she is wearing a t-shirt displaying one of these characters. Typically she also wants to carry a few more around with her just in case.

Back to the Gap, I logged on to eagerly view their new line, naively thinking that finally I could purchase something for my daughter that aligns with what she wants to wear but maybe isn’t in primary colors that boy clothes tend to be sold in. Why was I surprised to find an entire line of superhero clothes, bathing suits, flip-flops, sunglasses and sneakers for boys and when I clicked on Toddler Girl – which reaches up to age 5 – I could instead purchase her this outrageous zebra BIKINI…or better yet for a three-year-old – a one shoulder tank top.

Really, Gap? Really? Teach the toddler girls of America that being sexy begins at two  – I can see the endless value in that lesson.

Look, by this point I was seeing red. Now it was too late for me to go back to my happier place of not opening the emails from the Gap…all that was left to do was unsubscribe, obviously.

What is wrong with American clothing manufacturers that they believe little girls only should be wearing pastels with rainbows, horses or the peace symbol? Or zebra print bikinis and one-shoulder tank tops? Why can’t little girls shop in the girl section and find superheroes, dinosaurs and pirates? My little girl comes ALIVE when she’s in the boy section of a store and that doesn’t need to be the case. What about the little girl who maybe isn’t intuitively drawn to these types of toys but could see these things as options for her in the girl section and might begin to want those things? Why are we assigning such strict gender roles to kids as young as 2, 3, 4 and 5? The message being broadcast: Girls are sugar and spice, they care about world peace, brushing horses and glittery rainbows. Boys are messy and dirty, they like big scary dinosaurs, thieving pirates and strong superheroes who save people from large lizards.

It isn’t right.

Same goes with McDonald’s. Why do you have to choose “boy” happy meal or “girl” happy meal – why can’t you just choose the themed toy your kid wants without assigning a gender to it? All this does is open up unnecessary conversations between my kids – one wants a boy thing (hurled at the younger one as a criticism), no I insist, it isn’t a boy thing, it’s a Wired Momma’ette thing (names not relevant). It’s a thing she likes, or it’s a thing the other one likes, it’s not boy things or girl things, boy or girl shouldn’t matter, we don’t need to assign meaning and gender when we are three. It is CRIMINAL that she has to process this in her own way and try to make sense out of it because she goes on to say “But I am a GIRL” – and she is so confused.

YES – I insist.

Dear Gap: how about you take this into consideration next time.

You’re a super cool girl who loves pirates, dinosaurs and super heroes and the only people who seem to take issue with that are the close minded, totally sexist one-dimensional people working at American companies. These are the very people who are unnecessarily confusing my kid and dictating to her what girls should wear, what they should play with, what they like to watch. Except she doesn’t – and she won’t.

Oh, and she also doesn’t want to wear a superhero shirt with a slutty looking Bat Girl or Wonder Woman. She wants strong girl superheroes except she can’t articulate it that well, all she knows how to do is reject those things – and rightly so.

All of this leaves me in a conundrum – do I support the Gap’s toddler boy superhero line – by purchasing a few of the things for my daughter – or do I ban them from our house all together in a feminist protest because it is so condescending to look through the contrasting clothing options offered to girl and boy toddlers at that store. Gap isn’t the only company guilty of this – they just are the target du jour because of the email they distributed a few days ago.

What do you think? Do you find this at home? Is it me – or have we had enough of this and it’s time to view kids as more nuanced, complicated, open-minded humans who enjoy a variety of things and don’t need the gender assignments the adults want to push on them?

As for the WM Working Mom Hero Award series…..that will continue either later this week or early next week….depending on how the week pans out….but “Like” WM on Facebook so you don’t miss out….rage against patriarchal American companies is certainly never the only topic du jour. C’est vrai.

16 Responses to Newsflash American Companies: Little Girls Like Superheroes Too
  1. Kristen
    May 22, 2012 | 1:57 pm

    Ok – first of all, I LOVE the picture of your little batman!

    And I completely agree with your comments. It drives me crazy that my girls have to ask for “girl” and “boy” toys are McDonalds. Many times my girls chose the “boy” toys because they are “more fun” (thinking the most recent spy gear collection).

    I have NO idea why a toddler needs a zebra bikini (I had to go look just to see how ridiculous). But the fact that they don’t make the superheroes for girls too is absurd. Where is Wonderwoman when I need her!?! She would correct this problem!

  2. Another mom of 2 girls
    May 22, 2012 | 2:28 pm

    When my 13 year-old was 2, we were shopping for wallpaper for her room at a paint store as an in-house design consultant looked on. My daughter wanted dinosaurs and the employee said, very sweetly, “Dinosaurs are for boys”. My daughter’s mouth dropped, her brow furrowed and her eyes widened. She slowly turned her head towards me as if to say, “Did she just say what I think she said?” We pretty much agreed that we were in the presence of insanity. I wish I could say she had a dinosaur theme in her room, but I caught a 70% off sale at the Laura Ashley outlet. (At least she still has it! I don’t think Dinos would have lasted this long.)

    One thing, Monica, what’s wrong with primary colors?

  3. Amanda
    May 22, 2012 | 2:44 pm


    I have three daughters. I consistently shop the boys’ sections because there is, quite simply, cooler stuff in there. The issue is really when even in the classroom things are identified by some sort of gender classification.

    I don’t know that we can change the Gap, but we can at least break down the rules for our daughters (and sons) so that they can select things based on their preference, not the rules or guidelines.

    Here’s my “Batman.”

  4. Christina
    May 22, 2012 | 2:53 pm

    Agreed – I was looking at Zulily the other day and saw they had a superhero sale, but the clothing was all for boys.

    I’ve written before about the McDonald’s girl toy/boy toy issue, too. What’s especially infuriating is when you say you want the “boy” toy (I specifically respond with the toy’s name when they ask) and then when you get to the window, they see you have girls in the car and switch out the toys as they’re putting the food together. Then I have to argue with them that my girls didn’t want the jewelry, but they wanted the spy toys.

    We’re a family of superhero/comic/sci-fi geeks, and my husband is thrilled that our daughters embrace his passions. I only wish more companies would step outside of gender specific thinking and realize that girls can like superheroes, too – and not just PINK ones.

  5. Monica Sakala
    May 22, 2012 | 3:08 pm

    Thanks for all these great comments – you guys are inspiring me to write a few more posts on this topic. Room decor for girls is a great topic. Love love your batman amanda. Also – I don’t mind primary colors but all she wears is royal blue and red so I’d love more options!

  6. Emily
    May 22, 2012 | 3:47 pm

    Three cheers for our future female superheroes!! Fabulous article. I did a quick search and found this link with FEMALE superhero tshirts for toddlers and up!

    Joss Whedon (amazing sci-fi director/creator of Buffy, Serenity, DollHouse, and now the Avengers) recently was quoted when asked, “why do you write all these strong female characters?” His response, “Because you’re still asking me that question.”

    Way to go, ladies! Keep on raising those strong, independent girls – regardless of it they love superheroes, I love that they all decide for themselves.

  7. Micaela
    May 22, 2012 | 5:36 pm

    I loved this piece. I have 2 boys, but I frequently buy clothes for my 8 year old niece. Every year I feel like the selection is getting sluttier and sluttier.

    On the other hand, my friend’s 4 year old son is obsessed with Disney princesses. All he wanted for his birthday was a 6 pack of princess dolls, and he takes them everywhere. My friend frequently has to answer to people in public who share their rude opinions or tell her that she is “making her son gay.” (As if that were possible.)

    I don’t think we should raise “genderless” children, but I think we should be strong enough to let our kids explore their interests regardless of stereotypes. And ALWAYS say NO to zebra bikinis at ANY age.

  8. Monica Sakala
    May 22, 2012 | 5:40 pm

    Micaela – You’re cracking me up with your final closing words of always say no to zebra print bikinis. #whatwouldanastasiasteeledo

    You raise such an important point about boys who are interested in girl things – I decided not to broach that angle in this post mainly because I don’t have boys – but have addressed it before in a HuffPost piece. Remember the outrage a few years ago with the JCrew creative director’s son was photographed with her in the magazine painting his toes – and people went nuts?
    I mean – just let little kids be little kids. And I agree, we don’t need gender neutral clothes for them all – why are adults so uncomfortable letting kids express themselves in a natural non-conformist way? I just don’t get it. Thanks for all these great comments. Hope they keep coming!

  9. Amanda
    May 24, 2012 | 1:50 am

    Had to come back. My friend shared this on FB, which I had missed the first time around.

    My daughters were looking through a catalog tonight that indicated SAngry Birds and Tom and Jerry were boy things. I went a little wild and said there are no rules about who can like what. I decided because I could, that I needed to make it about more than not listening to the “guidelines” of the stores, we need to begin to influence guidelines and stores. We have a bricks and mortar store in upstate NY. Tonight I initiated a talk with my older daughters (Ave aka Batman who is recently and Briar 7) about designing shirts they’d like. So far we are talking peace signs and exclamations of rock star in black, green and purple.

    Thanks for reigniting how I feel about this.

  10. Thien-Kim
    May 24, 2012 | 6:58 pm

    You have expressed the same sentiments I’ve felt for years! I hate the boys vs girl toys at McDonalds. Even there’s only set of toys!

    I remember buying jeans for my daughter in the boys department because all the girls jeans were skinny jeans. How is a 3 year old supposed to climb and jump around at the playground in tight skinny jeans?

  11. Monica Sakala
    May 24, 2012 | 7:02 pm

    Thank you so much for the comments – I’m so glad to know I’m not alone feeling so frustrated about this. And I love the link you posted Amanada & this idea of letting the kids design their own tshirts. That makes so much sense. I’m def keeping this conversation going with my girl that there are no rules for “boy” and “girl” things at this age – maybe some day the companies will tune in to these important conversations. And Kim – good call on the skinny jeans for active toddlers. Seriously.

  12. Jennifer
    May 25, 2012 | 3:46 pm

    A 100x yes. This is not “cute”, it’s just awful. Thanks for the coherent rant. Will be sharing–sometimes I think I make my point better when someone else says it.

  13. Monica Sakala
    May 25, 2012 | 3:49 pm

    Thanks Jennifer – please do share. Hopefully the more we talk about it, the more these companies hear from us, the more likely they are to emerge from the dark ages.

  14. Chrysula
    May 25, 2012 | 6:55 pm

    Makes me crazy constantly! The staff at McD’s drive-thru’s insist on the boy-girl binary. I answer with the name of the toy, not the gender. My girls are indignant, my boys oblivious (for now). Sigh.

  15. sarah
    July 16, 2012 | 12:28 am

    This starts so early too. I have a 10 month old girl and am frustrated at how baby onesies for girls rarely depict intelligence or self worth. Words like Diva, Princess, and High Maintenance are not what I want my daughter to identify with. Other options include pictures of sugary food items (cupcakes, ice cream, lollipops, and notes of how much she loves daddy, which I suppose are sweet. Is like to see clothes that say Future Boss, or Strong Girl, or Daycare Honor Student.

  16. Trish
    March 20, 2013 | 3:25 pm

    I am a mother of three grown girls and a grandmother of 2 little girls 5 and 3. I have experienced this clothing/toy difficulty when my children were young and now again with my 5 year old grand daughter. She does not like the color pink, she loves superheros, and she plays with “boy” toys. Finding a bathing suit for her is next to impossible. Proper superhero clothing for her is almost nonexistent. My own daughter years ago never wore a skirt or dress until she was in the 2nd grade and then rarely. Her “uniform” was a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt. Her toys were mostly sports oriented and she almost never played with dolls. Her interest in sports as she grew made shopping a little easier, though I still had to often buy boys sports themed t-shirts.

    How do we get the word out to the people who need to hear it? There is definitely a need for a more diversified line of clothing for girls. Not all girls like the color pink or Hello Kitty.

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