by Irene Feeney
‘Be Kind’, ‘Cute’, ‘Simply Adorable’, ‘Be Perfect’, ‘Take It Easy’, ‘Lovely, ‘Smile’ – look familiar? These are common slogans seen on ‘girls’ clothing (more often than none – t-shirts) in MANY retailers globally, online and in stores today. Lately this has begun to infuriate me more and more. Whilst everything for girls is deemed ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’, boys clothing (t-shirts) on the other hand is deemed ‘Adventurous’, ‘Strong’, ‘Roarsome’, ‘Unstoppable’ and ‘Wild and Free’. Why do retailers imply that words printed onto their garments should determine how girls and boys should feel? The messages these days are so divided, passive and biased…they have almost become damaging and dare I say it ‘creepy’.
Despite the wish of certain retailers to promote gender-neutral clothing for children, differences between boys and girls clothing options…still persists today. Putting aside the age-old stereotype since the 1940’s (which is obviously still pertinent today) ‘pink is for girls, blue is for boys’ – I’m of the opinion that the biased slogans we see everyday, have more deep concerning roots. As clothes are so closely related to the expression of somebody’s identity, the stereotypes they carry can have long-term affects especially on children. Telling girls in particular ‘how to feel’ and ‘how to act’ via clothing, is not okay. After all, girls can be ‘adventurous’ and boys can be ‘loving’ right?
Writer and Editor with ‘The Irish Times’ – Deirdre Falvey cites in a recent article about gendered inequality in children’s clothing, “the more that clothes and toys emphasise gender difference, the more our shared humanity is undermined” – and I couldn’t agree more. It’s baffling why girls in particular are encouraged to adopt a positive attitude by wearing a slogan ‘Choose Love’ t-shirt whilst boys are championed to emblazon an independent future and take on the persona of warriors. Empowering – no, sexist – yes.
Whilst we are on the subject of stereotyping in children’s clothing, another similar matter I’d like to address and one close to my heart (this may require a whole different article!) is the fact that it is almost impossible to find t-shirts for my children to mark and celebrate St. Patricks Day that don’t feature the words ‘Lucky’ and ‘Kiss Me, I’m Irish’. Can someone explain to me, why as a nation, we are we all supposed to be ‘Lucky’? Plus in the era of Covid, no one is coming near me OR my children and kissing us…because we are Irish. Make it stop! Again – this is a whole other topic I would like to address another time, as I have a lot to say.
In relation to the gender stereotyping in children’s clothing, it’s not just the slogans that are deeply concerning and backwards – it is the symbolism and motifs. Cars, planes, rockets and footballs are of course reserved for the boys whilst lipsticks, flowers, cute teacups and handbags are displayed on the girl’s choices. Same thing can be said for animals. Guess who has the cute kittens, bunnies and miniature dogs on their clothing?
In conclusion, it is obvious and sad that we are still navigating through this stereotypical era in 2022? Do we just have to accept it, avoid the slogan items and just choose plain non-binary options? I feel more needs to be done from the top to address the issue and retailers need to be held accountable for this unfair bias. Personally, when I walk into a store and see stereotypical slogans staring at me, my first reaction is to walk out (in despair!) and pray we will eventually live in a world where this no longer exist, children can be themselves (adventurous and sweet) no matter what gender and boys and girls are raised the same way.
“Gender equality is a human fight, not a female fight”
- Frieda Pinto.