Gender Stereotypes: Kids, Clothes, Toys and the Box we put them in

Isn’t it so cliché to talk about how kids give us more than we ever give them? And some days, I think what they give me is a lost mind and fried nerves. Not only is it cliché but it also romanticizes the gritty reality of parenting.

But the thing is, it’s also true.

Now does she scream sugar and spice and everything nice? Unicorn dreams?

My barely 4-year-old has pushed me out of the box in thinking and opened my eyes to the pervasive gender stereotyping our culture pushes on extremely young children. And she started doing this before she was one, when she was busy climbing fences trying to get into the neighbor’s yard or kicking a soccer ball around the back yard. She was busy and fast and physical from the beginning. Moms of boys would say to me “Oh, you’re so lucky you have girls, they’re so much easier than boys, I am exhausted at the end of the day.”

And I’d think about that time my toddler had a neighbor boy crying in fear because she showed up at his house in a Batman costume. And I’d wonder why as women, they’d want to continue this absurd gender stereotyping. The truth is, we’re all guilty of it, and I wasn’t aware of just how guilty I was of it until my youngest came along.

She’s taught me and reminded me the following:

  • Girls are physical
  • Girls love to play in dirt and mud and dig for worms
  • Girls don’t all love pink
  • Girls don’t necessarily want to play with dolls
  • Girls love superheroes
  • Girls love pirates
  • Girls love dragons and knights and castles (castles that have cannons not princesses)
  • Girls love dinosaurs

Ever take a toddler who doesn’t fit the mold to Target or the Gap or Toys’r’Us?

I have. And you know what happens – they wander into the boy section even though they are girls and they want what they see in the boy section. But then they want to know why they are” boy things” and in their own little innocent way, they want to know if it’s okay that they want the boy clothes and the boy toys even though they are girls?

Ever try to buy a birthday card for a super hero loving little girl? Try finding one that doesn’t say “Happy Birthday Boy”  — it isn’t so easy.

These gender stereotypes we shove our kids into is something I’ve written about on many occasions. I’ve trashed the Gap for selling two piece bikinis to 3-year-old girls and superhero swimsuits to 3-year-old boys. I’ve done a creepy whisper video-blog from inside Target trashing their gender stereotypes in Halloween clothes. I’ve wondered why everyone thinks it’s so cool that my little girl is a hardcore tomboy but almost no one is comfortable letting their four-year-old boy out wearing a princess dress or pink nail polish. What about that one? Why is it cool to assign masculine tendencies to a girl but an embarrassment for a little boy to show an interest in things we think of as “girlish”? One is weak, the other is strong?

Really? Because I think my oldest, a very feminine girly-girl, is also strong and physical and amazing.

Way to go, Old Navy. I’ll come back again, and much sooner than before, because you’ve given me a great reason too.

So yesterday, I walked into Old Navy, not thinking about any of these things because I was ALONE and could actually, well, THINK.

And what did I find?
I found an entire section of super hero t-shirts for girls. And not shirts with slutty looking female heroines in bright pink. I found cool, edgy batman shirts and a Wonder Woman shirt. I found t-shirts with skeletons on them. I found a shirt that said “I love soccer.”

I hit the fashion jackpot for girls that had nothing to do with sparkles and unicorns and princess dreams.

Job WELL DONE Old Navy, whose sister company the Gap still sells that Junkfood t-shirt line that is marketed strictly to boys.

We’re a culture where a site like A Mighty Girl seems to grow daily in popularity and within minutes of them sharing the superhero underwear for little girls, it gets sold out. Yet mainstream retailers are asleep at the wheel.

Except, it seems, Old Navy.

Toy manufacturers and retailers, take note. And think outside the box a little, will you?

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4 Responses to Gender Stereotypes: Kids, Clothes, Toys and the Box we put them in
  1. Tricialo
    February 23, 2013 | 9:40 am

    Your daughter sounds like she has a lot in common with mine. Stereotypes piss me off so much too, thanks, am in UK but off top check out OLd NAvy…

  2. Jennifer
    August 9, 2013 | 6:26 pm

    I was just in Carters, and they had a “Boy Genius” tshirt in the window, which I thought would be adorable for my niece. Unfortunately they did not have “Girl Genius” or anything remotely close. Very disappointing.

  3. Chris
    September 9, 2013 | 1:46 pm

    Dear Wired Momma,

    We come from an international school in Brazil, and in our English class we are using this blog post as an example for gender stereotypes. We wanted to know if you have any evidence of the effectiveness of this post (if a lot of viewers read or personally emailed you).

    Thank you,
    Chris, Guilherme, and Barbara

  4. Monica Sakala
    September 9, 2013 | 1:52 pm

    Hello friends from Brazil:

    I’m thrilled to hear from you. I can tell you that I’ve written about this topic several times – both on my blog and for the Huffington Post and it always generates a good bit of feedback, always in favor of my argument, and often people engage with me the most on my blog Facebook page. Halloween is a time of year this subject tends to come up even more because of the spooky shirts for boys and sexist shirts like “too cute to spook” shirts for girls. I actually did a video blog on that topic last year in October. When I write about the gender stereotypes in toys, typically around the holidays, I tend to get a little more push back on that – some people are reluctant to recognize that stores like Toys R Us here in the States grossly stereotype kids by gender in the toys aisle (or they just don’t view it negatively like I do), yet people are often in favor of the anti-gender stereotyping of clothes argument. I also have gotten people riled up about the gender stereotyping in birthday cards – there’s another ridiculous one. Your class topic sounds awesome – I hope it spurs a lively discussion!!! Good luck!

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