Gender Stereotypes: a thing of the past?

Photo I took of the “boys'” racks in the clothing section at my local Coles.


And another photo of the opposite “girls'” clothing rack.

Every now and then someone argues with me that gender stereotypes don’t exist anymore – that there’s no such thing as girls’ clothes and boys’ clothes, and that everyone can wear what they like, regardless of their gender.

Yeah, right.

These are just two photos I took of the children’s clothing section at my local Coles supermarket (yeah, I have one of those fancy Coles which has its own clothing section now). Notice anything in particular? There’s a rack of  grey clothing with a picture of a boy above it, which you unfortunately can’t see in the photos. The clothing says things like “little monkey” and “king of the jungle.” And then there’s a rack of clothing with a picture of a girl above it, and everything is pink or white. The choice of writing you get there is “future ballerina” and “little princess.”

Granted, these are some of the milder forms of gender stereotyping in children’s clothing. I’ve seen far more horrible, sexist and violent messages on kids’ t-shirts. But this is where is starts – the idea that we know what a child’s gender expression is going to be before they even are able to explore it for themselves. Pink and princesses for girls. Grey for boys, where it’s not blue. That’s not an individual’s choice to wear what colours they want. That’s parents being made to buy into gender stereotypes as old as time.

I’m sure there are parents who allow their kids to choose their own clothes, or don’t buy into that pink is only for girls, and kudos to you! But there’s more going on here. Gender stereotypes are still very real and very active, and it starts at children’s clothing and goes all the way through to higher education and the wage gap and domestic-vs-professional work.

You may think this sort of this is harmless – after all, they’re just kids’ clothes! – but in a way, this is the most dangerous thing at all. Because if we don’t start questioning things like this, then we’re never even going to approach questioning things like the culture of victim-blaming of the over-representation of women in unpaid domestic work or the way that women are represented as somehow less rational or reliable than men (especially at that time of month, y’know?). Stereotypes are the start of sexism. And sexism is a very, very real thing.

9 thoughts on “Gender Stereotypes: a thing of the past?

  1. agree! if anything, gender stereotyping our children is getting worse. there never used to be pink lego, and yet I played with it anyway. Apparently this is now unacceptable.

  2. We allow our daughters to choose their own clothes, and they gravitate to the pinks and purples. They have learned about these stereotypes from other children at preschool, despite our best efforts to teach them different lessons at home.

    1. It’s horrible, isn’t it? Like there’s no escaping. I remember reading about a study where they showed pre-school kids images of fat and thin women and asked which ones they found more attractive. The results were really sad-making, guess what they were? I think this is part of the reason I’m scared of having kids.

      1. Yes, it’s horrible. We even had a discussion once where my daughters (then three) assumed I didn’t work. I asked them where they thought I went all day when they were in daycare/preschool, and they were stumped! They get it now, though, and they have big dreams about what they will be when they grow up. At almost five, they have no idea about glass ceilings and maternal walls, which I hope won’t be a problem for them.

        Try not to let the ubiquity of stereotypes deter you from having kids if you otherwise want them. If more children came from open-minded homes, I suspect there might be less stereotype adherence in our society.

  3. Yeah, I think your pics are really harmless: there’s pink in the boy’s sweater! ;)The children’s clothing I know is always (!) pink and purple for girls and brown and blue for boys.
    In my opinion, too, gender stereotypes for children and adults are getting worse. At least in this year I have read that there will be another Lego “just for girls”, children’s chocolate treats now “just for girls”, helter-skelters not allowed for women (!), pens “for her”, a shoping center for electric tools opened an area only for women (with pink ovens), etc. Sometimes I get myself caught thinking that I’m stuck in a never-ending satirical reality show.

  4. Ha! I once went to the loo at Lismore square, telling my 4yo to wait outside the cubicle. When I came out he’d gone! Frantic search, till I thought of going back to the place we’d been before we went to the toilet – he was up the back at Angus & Robertson’s bookshop in the Children’s books (this is a long time ago), happily squatting on the floor with a book. Someone said, ‘Oh, she’s your little girl! We wondered who she belonged to.’

    He was wearing one of those Indian shirts, in pink, given to him by his aunt. (And he was very pretty, with blonde hair). I always remember my terror at him being gone; always laugh at the assumption he was a girl.

  5. I so agree, apparently, pink is only for girls. Blue/grey is only for boys. Where has the sense of individuality gone?

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