Everyone loves a beaver!

To: Mass Clothing Manufacturers.

From: Me

Re: Shirts With Douchey Phrases On Them.

Stop being stupid. Please. JC Penney, you stepped in it with your ridiculous “I’m too pretty to do my homework” t-shirt. Forever 21, you managed to offend feminists and mathematicians alike with this poor excuse for fashion. And now, Gymboree is peddling sexist idiocy to babies with onesies that remind us boys are “smart like dad”, while girls are “pretty like mom”.  It seriously sucks. My pretty brain implores you — just stop it.

Adorkably Yours,

Nadine

The article exposing Gymboree’s assholery, goes on to reveal other items that are available exclusively for boys. Outfits with messages like “Daddy’s Little MVP” and t-shirts that feature Smart Like Dad Beaver being smart and doing math – pressumably like dad.

As stated in the title of the piece, these items do reveal something about the way Gymboree thinks about girls. Meanwhile, the fact that most people accept these pieces as being exclusively for boys, says something about the way we think about gender.

Clicking through the slideshow of Gymboree’s offending items, you’ll notice that while some of the outfits refer to  “Dad”, none of the clothes feature any gendered words that refer to the child itself.  The clothes are designed in shades of blue, grey, green and brown, with patterned fabrics like stripes and checks.

Here’s the thing. I kind of like Smart Beaver and his never seen father. They sound like my kind of guys – brainy, mathy and bespectacled.  The Green Bean does have a very clever, mathmatically inclinded father.  That onsie would have been cute and topical on his baby tushie.  But I have to wonder. If I had a daughter – it would have been just as cute, just as topical – but would the presence of green plaid and pants have stopped me from buying it?

Generally speaking, people like gender. And while extreme examples like the ones given here get people rankled, the truth is a lot of people, myself included, feel unsettled when gender isn’t up front, in your face and clearly identifiable.

Most babies are androgynous looking. And the clothing segment of the Baby Industrial Complex responds by designing garments that rely on the most common gender tropes. Everything marketed for girls is pink, purple, patterned with soft, swirling lines and laden with hearts, swirls, flowers.  Conversely, clothing for boys is blue, green, dark and covered with trucks, balls and clever, clever rodents.  And most caregivers – myself included – rarely switch that up.

When The Green Bean was a few months old, I had him out and about, when I stranger stopped to coo at his wee sweetness. “What an adorable little girl,” she said. It was remarkable  because it is the only time, thus far, that someone took my boy for a girl. I thought about correcting her, ultimately decided there was no point in embarassing a stranger who would likely never see The Bean again.  A few days later, I told the story to a family membe. They were affronted.  “How could anyone think he’s a girl? He so clearly looks like a boy!”

“Maybe it’s only clear to us because we know he’s a boy,” I suggested.

“No. He looks like a boy.”

“He was wearing a pretty frilly outfit at the time,” I explained.

“What colour was it?” my family member demanded.

“Blue. But frilly.”

“That’s a BOY colour!” she concluded.

Meanwhile, the seven-month-old Bean in question could not have cared less about any of this.  Babies rarely care about gender.  They care about drooling and acquiring gross motor control.

So why do grown ups care so much? Why can’t a baby girl have the words ‘Genuis’ across her chest in dark plaid or wear a bib that says ‘Milk makes me strong’ in blue? Why do we, as adults, need people to know at first glance that this baby is female but that one is male. Is it because ultimately we’re still going treat an infant dressed in pink and hearts differently from decked out in blue and beavers?

For the issue of clothing and negative stereotyping is cut, dried and filed away under “Suckpants”.  As for the rest of the laundry pile, there’s a lot more to think about.  If you have any thought about children’s clothing and gender stereotypes, I’ll be checking my comment section like an eager beaver!

Comments

  1. Amy says:

    I never shied away from the boys section while dressing my baby girl, and I never corrected anyone when they mistook her for a boy either. Who knows who she’ll turn out to be?

    • nadinethornhill says:

      That’s awesome.

      I remember there was an episode of a TV show where a character tapes a bow to her infant daughter’s bald head so that people know she’s a girl. In reality I think most baby girls would be far less irritated at being mistaken for boys than having a big, ol’ wad of Scotch Tape stuck to their scalp.

  2. sarahmahoney says:

    Having a 3 month old we are constantly running into this problem especially with family wanting to buy clothes for our daughter. We have been quite explicit about trying to ban pink, and have a absolutely no princess rule for now. But it is really hard not to buy any pink, and expensive! All the specialty shops, and high end baby clothes have interesting colours, but if you go to winners or target or walmart the only options are pink and blue. She also really looks like a boy, whatever that means. I politely correct people all the time, and make a joke about how I don’t make it easy to guess by dressing her in blues and greens. Mostly I dress her in blue and green with a pink/purple hat to let people know that she’s a girl. But it is a little annoying. I love it when I find clothes that include both colours like my green onsie with pink trim. Still clearly feminine, but at least not all pink.

    • nadinethornhill says:

      I thought about banning or at least limiting the amount of blue and brown The Green Bean wore as a baby. Ultimately; however, I decided to simply buy what I liked and a lot of it was blue. I like blue.

      I did not buy The Bean any princess clothing and I suspect I would have done the same had we had a girl. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with Princesses. I’ve got a little lady-crush on Kate Middleton. That having been said, opportunities within royal families are very rare these days, so perhaps not the most attainable message to send to children.

      The construction/sports/genius beaver motifs are a little more practical. Even though they’ve become a gender stereotype, I’m a lot more comfortable having a child who aspires to be athletic, smart or capable of building my dream retirement house.

  3. Greg says:

    We don’t go out of our way to dress our little guy like a full-on dude, and we’ve tried breaking gender typing by giving him full access to whatever catches his interest. We made sure to provide baby dolls for him to nurture along with his favourite dinosuars. But he’s still very much a boy in boy’s clothing with a boy haircut doing boy things.

    The really interesting time will come if we’re lucky enough to have a girl. She’s likely to be a girl in boy’s clothing doing boy things.

    • nadinethornhill says:

      We’ve tried to do the same with The Bean, taking our cue from his interest and his tastes. I think dolls and dinosaurs are boys things in the hands of boys, girls’ things in the hands of girls and that fluidity is ultimately proof that gender binary is much a socialconstruct than the natural order of things.

      :-)

  4. Andrea says:

    as a newborn, I kept Aaliyah in gender neutral clothes…I think 50% to try and not gender imprint her and 50% to able to use the clothes again for a sibling! The only frilly dress I bought her was for Easter. I made sure she had a truck or two to play with. Imagine my surprise that at the age of 2 she turned into a Disney princess freak! I don’t even know where that came from!

    • nadinethornhill says:

      It’s amazing how children will assert their own preferences despite our best attempts to lead them in another direction. I know The MoMs brother and sister-in-law really tried to limit their daughters’ exposure to pink, princess culture in the beginning. Like, Aaliyah they can’t get enough.

      But at least now you know that that’s truly what she loves, rather than something that was forced on her because it’s “girly”.

  5. Lisa says:

    When my guy was little, I dressed him in primary colours a lot, especially bright red, because it looked good on him and I just don’t connect with pastels. I was actually scolded by strangers at his daycare who told me red was a “girl’s colour”. I still don’t know what that means. I never could get him to play with his My Buddy doll http://www.dollinfo.com/mybud90s.html with any amount of coaxing, but he very much nurtured his beloved teddy bear

    • nadinethornhill says:

      Argh!

      I’m especially sensitive about adults commenting on the gender-appropriateness of children’s clothes. And by sensitive I mean it SUPER pisses me off. We dress The Bean in pinks, reds and turquoise because that’s what he likes. Every time an adult comments that those are girl colours, I want to be all:

      a. There’s no such thing as “girl” colours!
      b. Even if there were, what’s wrong with girls?
      c. Shut the fuck up!

  6. Great post.

    The clothing line you highlight reminds me of that joke / problem / something or other that confuses people because it hinges on realizing that the doctor in question is female. People’s gender’s stereotypes are so locked in that they often become cognitive obstacles (although, I think / hope the doctor stereotype is less ingrained these days, especially given the demographics of most med schools.)

    So, yes, you are right: those parents who were outraged by those onesies really only revealed their own prejudices. I would love if that was the intention of the manufacturer but I’m willing to bet it wasn’t.

    Furthermore, I’m not sure picking “gender neutral colours” is all that different than choosing “gendered” colours. In all cases, the parent is simply trying to communicate a message to others and speaking the language of gendered colour. If a parent really didn’t care, s/he’d put her child in whatever colour happened to be available.

    By not letting a girl wear pink to avoid gender stereotyping, you only reinforce the idea that pink is gendered female.

    • sarahmahoney says:

      I think that it is important to choose as you say a variety of colours (as opposed to gender neutral colours) which can be quite difficult to do especially for under 6 months. I don’t think not caring is really an option, since if you don’t care the clothing companies will make your choices for you. Since they want to sell more clothes they want to encourage gendered colouring so that you buy both pink and blue clothing. That is why you get ridiculous things like pink and blue train sets and science kits, why either of those toys needs to be gendered is pure sales. Anyway, I hope that caring and talking about this helps to slowly erode the gendering of colours. I make of point of pointing out to my daughters grandparents that girls can like dogs and cars too even if they are on the onsies in the boys section.

      Just to give you an idea of how extreme this is, when I went to Target to buy a layette 6 months ago, if you wanted long sleeve onsies for newborns they only came in blue, pink or white. You could get short sleeved in green too. There were no other colours, no reds, oranges, purples, yellows etc. as the babies get older there were other options but to start with that was it, pink, blue or white. I am learning about where to find other colours now, but it is not easy. And even though I really care about this, our daughter still wears predominantly pink and purple because we have a lot of hand-me-downs that are in those colours.

      • nadinethornhill says:

        But what is interesting, is that neither pink nor blue is an inherently gendered coloured. Dressed are not inherently female. Slacks are not inherently male. We as a society have imbued these things with gender.

        The Bean is biologically male. He indentifies as a boy. He loves trucks, sports, anything and everything to do with construction and dinosaurs. His aethestic tastes – at least for the time being – are very similar to mine. He enjoys vivid colour, hot pink and turquoise specifically, sparkles, shine and curved lines. He’s far more interested in dresses and skirts than pants.

        I love that variety, but I’ve had to make a concerted effort to change the language I use when describing his tastes and interests. He is a boy. So all of it – the love of trucks, roughousing and the pretty pink stuff – is boyish.

        Gymboree more than likely intended to exclude girls from their ‘Smart Beaver’ line, but in the end it’s consumers who will decide whether the clothes are just for boys.

    • nadinethornhill says:

      The following story may dash your hopes about the doctor stereotype.

      Recently, The Man of Mans riddled our 6-year-old niece with the doctor problem you’ve referenced. We’re talking about an extremely bright, very well-educated, experienced child. It never dawned on her that the doctor referenced in the riddle was a woman. This is disheartening not only because one would hope that a child of today might reflect a more progressive view of women in the medical profession, but because her OWN MOTHER IS A DOCTOR!

      Miles to go before we sleep, people. Miles to go.

  7. Pauline says:

    Yeah anything that tells girls that they are merely decorative objects and discourages them from learning math, science or any intellectual pursuits is awful and sexist. How anyone in this day and age can produce clothing with those messages on them clearly has their head up their ass.

    But just as an interesting experiment: I wonder what would happen if they reversed the clothing messages. ie. Discussed the smartness of girls and the “prettiness” of boys, but had them on the stereotypically assigned blue and pink colours . Would people still buy them? Would they complain hypocritically?

    • nadinethornhill says:

      That would be an interesting experiment! And as I’m thinking about potential hypocritical complaints, I’m also considering our tendency to view intelligence as a more virtuous characteristic than physical attractiveness, even though both are entirely arbitrary qualities doled out randomly according to genetics and environment.

  8. Debbie says:

    I, too, was of the “NO PINK” persuasion when my Munchkin was young. She has developed a love of pink regardless. It also looks good on her. But even at a year and a half she still gets “Cute boy!” when she wears a lime-green ski jacket and navy blue mitts. (I have a pink jacket, too, btw.) She also likes shoes. That must be from her daddy’s side, he has more shoes than I do. But she also likes her dolls and the truck that makes the annoying back up noise. LOL! But I’m also still searching for a well-behaved girls rarely make history” T for her. My guess? She’ll probably end up being the counterpoint to Bean, wearing overalls at four while nursing her favourite doll. Just like Mom.

    PS. Love the story about your niece. Did her mom laugh, at least? :)