Sorting through the latest outgrown baby clothes, my ongoing gripe about gender stereotyping children through colour and clothing resurfaces. It is something of a bugbear.
Like most parents, we feel a responsibility to nurture our little girl to become a confident and empowered woman. We want to enable her to make her own choices, do things on her own terms and in her own way. We don’t want her to grow up thinking she has to fit a certain stereotype of what a girl or woman should do, be, or want.
But even buying baby clothing, it sometimes feels like we are stumbling at the first hurdle. We don’t want to make our child ‘weird’, or the odd one out. But really, does every little girl have to dress in a palette of pinks to fit the mould?
Women’s clothing is available in every colour of the rainbow. Why is the same kaleidoscope not available for babies? Pink and blue have become almost universally accepted gender identification tools. It can occasionally be quite helpful. A baby dressed in blue top to toe, clutching a toy dinosaur is usually an easy guess!
Many people would argue that the colour of children’s clothing is really not the biggest deal. I agree. There are certainly far more important things for parents to bend their minds around. But I still think it is significant. Clothing and colour plays a very powerful part in shaping behaviour and attitudes, much of it almost subconsciously.
A teacher friend told me they recently tried consoling a hysterical four year old boy, utterly distraught because a pink straw was in his drinking cup. Upon removing the straw, the teacher was surprised that the child was still inconsolable. After much wailing and tears, apparently there was just no getting away from the fact that ‘the pink touched my drink!’. What are we doing, creating such strong reactions in our children to something as unimportant as a colour?! As they grow into adulthood, is it any wonder that even many grown men seem uncomfortable with the ‘real men wear pink’ concept?
On a more practical level, I feel that little girls should have more than pink cutesy dresses and matching outfits. As adorable as little girls look in them, they do seem to restrict freedom of movement, in a way which tee-shirts and shorts do not. And the pastel girly clothes colours are much less forgiving of stains and dirt, in general, than the more muted colours for boys. Having done some supply work in early years classrooms, I’m unsurprised that girls are often found sitting together in their pretty dresses trying to keep clean and tidy, whilst the boys tear about, seeming to have a lot more uninhibited fun.
We have persevered to get our baby girl a selection of clothes in a wide spectrum of colours, with designs including flowers and butterflies, but also sharks and dragons. But we are not trying to make her into a little boy. She is a girl, and we are delighted. So it is not as simple as just buying up the whole ‘boys’ selection at the nearest baby shop! We are not trying to change her, but rather, reduce the external pressures to conform to a certain expectation of what it means to be a girl. We want her to be able to experience and do everything that a little girl should. But we also want her to grow up feeling happy to run about, get her clothes dirty and make a mess too!
I think it must be even harder for parents of little boys, fighting against the same issues. Having browsed in many high street and online stores out of curiosity, the vast majority of boys clothes are in the usual blues, greens, and browns. It is acceptable, if unusual for baby girls to be dressed in blue. But baby boys in pink? I think there are probably very few parents who would brave the raised eyebrows it would cause.
I’m not naïve enough to think this is something we will ‘win’. Gender stereotyping is far too pervasive for that. I know there will probably come a time when our little girl wants to be like all her friends, dressed up in pink princess dresses and sparkles at every opportunity. And that will be fine. But for now we are happy to dress her in shorts and tee-shirts of all sorts of colours, as well as her lovely dresses.