Why dress our children in gender specific clothing?

The second episode of ‘No More Boys and Girls’ tackled two of my favourite issues and gripes: Clothing and toys.

Last week I had my own infuriating experience with children’s clothing. As I went shopping for a rash shirt for my four month old niece, the options I found at Best and Less were completely inappropriate. Baby boys can be ‘lil surfer dude’ or ‘coolest dude’, while baby girls get to wear what can only be deemed a hideous pink frilly thing. It’s bleeding obvious that the child couldn’t care less what they are wearing, so this is all about parents influencing their child’s ideas and beliefs from the very beginning.

This follows my discovery around Christmas time when buying socks for my six year old, that the dinosaur or gekko socks were labelled ‘boys’. Is there something fundamentally different about the shape of a child’s foot at that age that meant those socks needed to be gender labelled?

Why are there even separate clothing sections for boys and girls? Why not simply ‘children’s clothes’ and the child or parent can choose the items that they like? Because heaven forbid a young boy wants to wear pink or girls likes gekkos!

Which brings me to another thought. Blue used to be considered a feminine colour (remember the Virgin Mary?), while red/pink was used for boys to show strength. This was only flipped in the mid-20th Century by marketing / advertising companies, so there’s actually no foundation for colour choice AT ALL.

As someone who studies the way light interacts with our environment, I see the beauty of all colours every day. Light knows no gender. Why limit ourselves in this way?

So now I come to toys. I loved the experiment in this episode where Dr Abdelmoneim removes the gender stereotyped wrapping on four different types of toys and distributes them to the class. Many girls received the more traditionally ‘boy toys’ – the marble run and a robot. The boys received the craft or ‘sew a bear’ set.

Side note – girls don’t need robots to be marketed directly to them. They just need them to be not marketed directly to boys! Same goes with Lego for that matter. Why on earth is there girls’ Lego and boys’ lego??

One of the best things about this experiment was that the children took the toys home and played with them by themselves in their own time. This meant that they were removed from any peer pressure around gender stereotypes about the toys or how to play with them. The response from the children was overwhelmingly positive and wonderful to see the boys and girls engaging with a different type of toy to which they were accustomed. The added bonus is that each toy allowed the child to gain or improve a skill through their play.

This technique reminds me of what we do with She Maps when we introduce drones. We purposely separate the boys and girls. We know through the literature and our own experience – and indeed this mini-series also demonstrates – that girls are less confident with robotics and spatial awareness skills. Like it or not, drones are seen as ‘boys toys’. We know that if we have drones in a co-ed space, the girls will hold back. But if we remove boys from the picture, the girls are free to take their time to explore and experiment to gain confidence in themselves. We know that this works, teachers, and parents all tell us!

“My favourite part was the obstacle course and not having boys take over!”

“It was great fun and good for girls to get involved”

That’s not saying that we exclude boys. We absolutely teach boys and men as well – we just do it separately. We recognise that they need a different learning environment, and this is our intervention.

One day I hope that we will no longer need to do this. I truly believe that if boys and girls are raised as equals from the moment they are conceived, then we won’t need to separately build girls’ confidence and boys’ emotional awareness. Children will have their innate differences that of course will be wide ranging, but there will be no need for hard categorical boundaries that really only exist for convenience anyway. Can we start by removing gender stereotyped baby clothing and headbands?

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