Is it time for gender-neutral shopping?

Girls/Boys signAs conscientious parents we do our best to keep society’s prejudices and preconceptions from affecting our kids. We encourage our girls in math and science and support our boys when they express interest in nursing or fashion. But all of this vigilance goes out the window when you take your child into any department or clothing store and find that the clothes have been segregated into “boys” and “girls” sections.

What are we telling our kids about the world when they can’t even look for clothes without being introduced to gender stereotypes? We try to convince our kids that they can be whomever they want to be and yet the department store overlords arbitrarily tell them that this is a girls’ dress or a boys’ blazer/bow tie combo. It’s sexism and it should stop.

While it’s true that male and female children are bathed in different concoctions of hormones since the first trimester, and that these hormonal differences account for the development of different body parts, different muscle masses and different behaviours; but does that mean we have to treat boys and girls differently? Further, if we acknowledge the fundamental physical and psychological differences between boys and girls won’t we be validating all of the past oppression that has been dumped upon women and differently-interested men?

In our home, my life partner co-parent and I strive to keep our household gender-neutral; pinks and blues are verboten no matter how much my daughter and son respectively love the colors. When my daughter wants me to buy her a princess doll I promptly get her a doll who’s doctor, when my son wants a football I instead get him equipment for a more inclusive and collaborative game, like Pictionary.

It’s time the retail world followed suit. Segregating clothes is just another way that society implies what is expected of our children. By trying to sell my daughter a pink dress they might as well be saying that her lot in life is to become barefoot and pregnant. By selling my son a t-shirt with a dinosaur on it they are unconsciously reinforcing stereotypical male aggressive behaviour.

Some may argue that the stores sell different things to the different sexes because that’s what kids actually like, but it is our job as parents to differentiate between what kids like and what’s best for them.  With each item of gender-specific clothing we buy, we narrow our child’s options for the future, and that’s something we shouldn’t tolerate.

Gender neutrality isn’t easy, but the only way we can ensure limitless and equal opportunity for our children is by completely denying who and what they truly are. It is time the retail world got on board with helping us raise better and less gendered children.

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  1. I fully agree. My son is only 3 but we took him last week to get his first tattoo. It’s an anchor, none of that flowery stuff. And we make sure everything he wears has some sort of sports motif even though neither one of us has any idea about sports. Also, we are teaching him to grunt his responses rather than enunciate.

  2. I understand the human need to break information down into understandable pieces, and categorize those pieces into boxes. The issue, to me, is when you close and seal that box. I don’t mind that one side of the store says “boys,” and one side says “girls,” because they’re just suggestions, not mandates. If my little girl wanted to wear GI Joe pajamas, then I’ll buy them. If my boy wanted to wear a tutu and take ballet, I’d be in the front row at his recital. It’s fine to understand that OTHER people break down information along gender lines, and it’s also fine to teach your children that those lines exist, but that the children are not bound by them. By allowing the stores to display these lines, my children have an opportunity to see how other people view information, before they make their own choices.

  3. Your zeal (however well-intentioned) is probably having the exact opposite effect on your kids. You ban pink and blue, so they think there’s something wrong with pink and blue. By hating on the princess doll your daughter wants to much, you’re telling her there’s something wrong with girly things. She’s a girl, so there must be something wrong with her. Ditto for your son – football is inappropriate, but it’s something that many boys play, therefore something wrong with being a boy.
    Instead, why don’t you try just letting your kids be kids, without putting value judgements on toys and clothes? Let your daughter have a pink dress if she wants it, and let your son wear pink too. Get a dinosaur shirt for both kids, and then go to a natural history museum for a day of dinosaur fun.
    And let me just say – I love pink, and I had a vast Barbie princess collection, and always wanted to be a doctor. I am now in a PhD program, studying genetics, and I love pink, and my daughter is adorable in that pink tutu, and even more adorable when she gets it covered in mud.

  4. And I should have read the last paragraph, where it becomes obvious that you’re being sarcastic. Scary thing is, it wasn’t obvious before that, because I’ve actually met people that think this way…

  5. Sorry for the late comment approvals, everyone; Demeter and I were on a mother-daughter silent yoga retreat for the weekend and they didn’t specify that “silent” meant “Blackberry-free.” You can bet I gave the swami an earful as soon as the bell rang lifting the vow.


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