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.
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.