On Saturday my daughter readied herself for a Superheroes party. She wore a pretty red party dress with net and a bow, old-fashioned white sandals and a red velour cape. She also asked for red lipstick, which I applied.
Not for a moment did it occur to me to moderate her fashion choices, given the Superheroes theme. Because she could just as easily have gone to a Princesses party dressed as a cowboy. (She’s done this before.)
And now, of course, I’m thinking about children’s clothing along gender lines.
Whining about Woolies
There’s been a lot of recent online chatter about gender stereotyping, further to a local mom’s public chastising of Woolworths. She says they stock impractical clothing like cropped tops, short shorts and wedge heels; prominently feature characters like Barbie and Hello Kitty; and allow pink to dominate the girls’ section.
But to me this feels like a mountain where a molehill should be. So I asked around.
My Facebook question was: “Is it up to retailers to offer us more gender-neutral, less-brand-focused clothing for our kids, or it is up to us to shop more consciously?”
Thus sayeth my mates
Most of my Facebook friends say it is up to retailers to change their buying policies.
They also say:
* That they’d like more blue for girls;
* That they turn to global brands for black, grey and neutral options; and
* That there are too few practical yet stylish (unbranded) choices for boys.
One mom went the other way: “I love dressing up my girly. The pinker, the better. Frills, butterflies, hearts, sparkles!” And another: “Have you considered the number of parents who find the layout and merchandising of stores useful in finding what they’re looking for? I’m sick of this political over-correctness. There has to be a limit!”
I’m dithering like crazy
To be honest, I’m not sure where I stand on this … is it a thing, or is it not a thing?
Our little one wore loads of (local) white, grey and camo outfits as a baby, because that’s our vibe. And I’ve yet to go into Woolworths and not find something sensible or trendy for her to wear, depending on my needs. While I agree that sexualised clothing — like padded bras for pre-pubescent girls — is grotesque, I also think my four-year-old, in a teeny bikini, is the cutest thing ever. It’s up to me, right?
For me, the only thing I’m clear about is that the issue is, partly, about power. And in putting the onus on retailers to stock more ‘responsible’ clothing — however we may define that for ourselves — we may be giving up some of ours. Which scares me.
People, and money, matter
Bottom line, retailers wouldn’t stock this stuff if it didn’t sell. My kid wants Queen Elsa and My Little Pony. What we buy depends, in many cases, on what our kids like.
One mom told me that most retailers show little awareness of gender issues and that this should come from them because “that’s what helps change society”. I disagree. I think people — and where they put their money — change society. If you don’t like your kids in short shorts, don’t buy them. The retailers will catch on soon enough.
This post originally appeared on zaparents.co.za in September 2015.
Image – Screengrab from woolworths.co.za