I’m a girl. And I have a girl. That’s why this issue is so hard for me to ignore.
My daughter is almost six months old, and every time I think the well of gifted baby clothes has finally run dry, another outfit or two crops up in the mail. I know that no one is buying my daughter baby clothes in an attempt to ruin my day. Only every time I receive yet another pink, flowery, princess-y contraption, it does.
I can already hear the choruses of disapproval (“Every girl is entitled to express her inner princess!”), loud-as-shout smirks (“Just wait until she gets older and won’t wear anything but frilly dresses!”), and/or defeat (“I tried to avoid pink with my first, but then I got sick of having to tell everyone she was girl, so I broke down.”)
Let me state for the record, it’s not just pink. For those of you unfamiliar with the more detailed ins and outs of the baby clothes section, let me put it this way. Did you hear about Dora the Explorer’s Makeover? Strawberry Shortcake’s? Seen what they did to Brave’s Merida for marketing purposes? Because those are the kind of changes that are being applied to every detail of girls clothing, starting at the newborn stage.
If you don’t believe me, check out Carter’s, the baby brand to end all baby brands- at least for the moment. Just one example: they make a polar bear sleeper for boys and girls. The girls’ isn’t just pink- the polar bears have also acquired long, flirty eyelashes. Apparently, female polar bears are rather fond of massacre- or they should be (That’s the message I picked up here, anyways. My apologies for the fuzzy pictures… I own both of these, and the difference us much more apparent in person)
Now, if this were just one option that was available, I wouldn’t mind. Self expression, and all that. But it’s not. It’s THE option.
Owls, giraffes, zebras- in the girls section they all have some detail that announces GIRL. Because, really, it would be terribly embarrassing if it turned out that puppy on your daughter’s shoulder didn’t match her genitalia.
It begins with baby clothes. There are a tiny handful of onesies out there that don’t give the jungle animals makeovers, but you have to work to find them. I suspect they have only stuck around for those few parents who nobly refuse to find out the gender of their baby-to-be until the very last minute. Because, certainly, once the children get older, retailers are giving girls even less of a chance to branch out.
I can’t say it better than this poor, beleaguered father who just wanted to buy his daughter a green hoodie. (Please note in this piece, as in all pieces of this nature, the parent has to mention the fact that his daughter does have some pink, bedazzled pieces. If she didn’t, we would have to worry about the girl’s taste and her parents’ fitness to raise a daughter. I understand- I have learned to always lead with these qualifying statements too)
But hey, let’s back it up- it’s so hard to find plain, not-too-short shorts for girls that someone had to start a Kickstarter campaign for them? Come to think of it- as a grown woman, I have also spent weeks trying to find jean shorts that end somewhere between my way-way-way-upper thigh or below my knees.
Oh, and then there’s the Yellowberry campaign as well, hoping to provide a healthier alternative for young girls that the teenage lingerie industry isn’t making available. The teenage lingerie industry? That’s something we want to exist in the first place? Huh?
Roll your eyes at me all you want- but the obsessive need to categorize people based on gender starting so young is part of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The conventional wisdom is that all girls want to dress a certain way. The retailers argue that once girls have the power to be consumers, they vote with their dollars, and these styles are what they have chosen. Only how accurate is that when it’s already been demonstrated to them, since the time they were born, that there is one way that girls should dress, and this is it.
Think of all the trouble not knowing what a baby’s gender is immediately could cause… you could choose how delicate you were with the child based on his/her physical condition rather than his/her outfit. You could use an adjective that describes his/her disposition based on your interaction rather than a list of masculine or feminine traits- oh, the issues that might come of that!
If you have made it this far with me, you’ve no doubt heard some of the recent conversations about Legos and gender roles. The depressing backslide since their 1981 ad. Why they needed to create Legos specifically for girls? Lego’s fairly tepid response to a young girl’s extremely succinct summary of the issue with the girly Legos. Here, it’s easier to see how the link between childhood playtime ties into future careers. More people start acknowledging the problem.
But clothes do matter. How many times have you heard the advice: dress for the job you want, not the job you have. I personally like clothes- I like looking through my drawers and deciding if, today, I will be bright or drab, ironic or conservative, professional or relaxed. By narrowing these choices for young girls, we are limiting their ability to choose the me-they-want-to-be each morning. We’re essentially encouraging all girls to dress for the same part.
What can we do, besides funding Kickstarter campaigns? Try to remember, next time someone you know has a baby, there are colors other than pink and blue. Keep in mind that maybe that child (and his/her parents) would appreciate a little variety in their layette. And, for God’s sake, even if you personally like the girly look, stop making parents who are fighting for their daughters to grow up with more options feel bad.