In recent years, the issue of gender stereotypes has come to the forefront when we consider how we outfit and entertain young children. To sum up the issue, there’s a widespread belief that steering girls toward pink and dolls and boys toward blue and action figures ultimately leads to girls focusing on beauty and service, while boys are taught to strive for accomplishments. This doesn’t mean that putting a pink onesie on your little girl dooms her to a life of inequality by any means, and it’s up to each individual parent to decide how much these issues really impact their children. Nevertheless it’s an interesting issue to consider, and there are a few popular stereotyping mistakes you can easily avoid.
Worry About Message, Not Colour
When it comes to clothing, this issue isn’t about pink vs. blue, or purple vs. green. In fact, according to The Telegraph, there is actually some scientific research that indicates young girls and boys really do have inherent preferences for the colours we commonly associate them with. Really, it’s difficult for anyone to say; perhaps the tradition of swaddling baby girls and boys in pink and blue, respectively, comes from our own observations that those are the colours they lean toward when they get a little bit older anyway.
The real issue isn’t with colour so much as message. With babies, most anything on a shirt can be considered “cute,” but toddler clothing over the years has put forth some messages that are objectively concerning. For instance, Bustle pointed out a few examples found at a Target store pushing the messages that boys should aspire to be superheroes and girls should aspire to date them. This is a surprisingly common theme in kids’ clothes that goes beyond superhero themes—that boys can have aspirations, and girls can have boys. Clearly, messages like these are more problematic than colour differences, so it’s important for parents to be mindful of this sort of thing.
Find Neutral Clothing
Whether you’re worried about colour, message, both, or neither, it’s hard to argue against the idea of finding gender-neutral clothing for young kids. Often this is easier said than done, but there are some boutique brands that are looking specifically to close the gap between boys and girls. A mother in the UK concerned over this very issue started the Tootsa clothing brand specifically to offer unisex pieces for young kids who might otherwise be filtered into stereotypical outfits.
Now, that doesn’t mean a bunch of onesies for both genders, or masculine or feminine clothing for opposite genders. Rather, it just means that the designs on kids’ clothes are meant to be enjoyed equally by boys and girls. There are numerous colours, fun designs, and themes like zoo animals, food, and cartoon characters that aren’t typically ascribed to one gender or the other. Using these design themes as a model, no matter where you do your shopping, is a nice way to ensure you’re keeping things as neutral as possible.
Be Mindful Of The Toys You Pick Out
Some would argue that the issue of gender stereotyping in young children is more severe where toys are concerned than with clothing. The Daily Beast touched on the issue, establishing the basic theory that, as with clothes, toys teach boys to work and achieve, and girls are taught to support and make themselves pretty. Boys get building sets while girls get pretend play houses or Barbie studios; boys even get microphones while girls get radios (as in men talk, women listen). Again, it’s up to each individual parent how seriously this all needs to be taken, but it’s clear why there’s some discussion about the messages being taught.
Fortunately, the solutions in this regard are fairly easy to come across. Care.com observed not just individual toys that can be characterised as “gender neutral,” but rather entire types of toys (such as wheeled toys, toy phones, blocks, puppets, stuffed animals, etc.). Of course, if your child independently wants a Barbie play set or a pirate LEGO collection aimed at boys, there may be no harm in it. But for the toys you give them to try when they’re very young, a gender-neutral approach can’t hurt.
Fortunately, an attentive parent has more influence over a child and that child’s views on gender than any toy or piece of clothing. A little girl who grows up in nothing but pink and plays with a Barbie kitchen set can still develop a perfectly strong sense of ambition and self-worth. But these are issues that are being discussed pretty commonly these days, and being mindful of the issues and the alternatives mentioned here is a nice way to avoid even the possibility of accidental stereotyping.
About the author: Sara Upton is a freelance writer and journalist. She really enjoys writing about society, tech, health and lifestyle trends. Follow on Twitter: @SaraUpton33