Let clothes be clothes: gender stereotyping

Written by Kate Shannon on 11 September 2017 in Comment

It’s time to move away from old-fashioned, restrictive ideas and bin the pink/blue divide

Few things make people, myself included, more aerated than a discussion about the gender stereotyping of children. Whether it’s toys or clothes, people have very strong opinions about the subject, on both sides.

Shoe shop Clarks, a mainstay for parents looking for sensible footwear for their kids, recently came under fire for the wild discrepancies between their ranges for boys and girls. 


One mum took to social media to complain that while the boys’ stock was sturdy and weatherproof, ideal for climbing and running, the girls’ shoes had flimsy soles and straps, neither of which would make scaling a climbing frame or tree very easy. “What messages are you giving my daughter?” she wrote.

And yet it’s not just Clarks – many other retailers are guilty of promoting potentially damaging gender stereotypes. Who hasn’t been shopping and walked past the sea of pink clothes for baby girls, complete with ‘pretty princess’ slogans and then crossed to the sea of blue and been horrified by the contrast in the ‘little genius’ t-shirts? 

This means, in their cradles, we’re telling our daughters that being attractive is the most important feature for girls, while our sons are told to value being smart. It makes my blood boil. How are we ever to shake ourselves free of gender stereotyping if this continues?

I know some people will say this is political correctness gone mad and that I’m adding my voice to a sea of “whinging lefties” (as someone called me on Twitter the last time I was talking about gender issues) but it’s a subject that needs to be discussed, which is why I’m glad it keeps coming up.

Another recent example was when retail giant John Lewis announced that all its kids’ clothes are going to be harmonised under the label, ‘girls and boys’ (or ‘boys and girls’ as half the stock is tagged). 

John Lewis, which actually introduced the policy last year, without anyone really noticing, worked with the Let Clothes Be Clothes campaign.

Cheryl Rickman, a founder of the group, told the BBC: "It's not politically correct to want the best for your child, all they're doing is removing the label.

"My child will buy things from the boys' aisle but some children have stopped buying clothes from the boys’ aisle. Removing the 'this is for boys this is for girls' from the labels, it's saying you choose let kids be kids."

While this sounds entirely sensible, there was still a fair amount of shocked outrage from several ‘commentators’, demanding to know if we should be forcing our sons to wear dresses, just to satisfy some people’s political correctness. Should we start calling it ‘Joan Lewis’, one asked.

However, the way I see it, it’s not about making anyone do anything, it’s about choice. 

Some girls like dinosaurs and some boys like butterflies, so why can’t they wear clothes that reflect this? Why can’t boys wear pink? Why can’t girls wear a t-shirt with a big spider on the front, if that’s what they like?

It’s time to move away from these old-fashioned, restrictive ideas and bin the pink/blue divide. Ultimately, it’s about giving parents and children more choice not less, and hopefully, in the long run, our kids will be the better for it




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