By Nancy Azzam
Walking into a children’s clothing store, it is always very clear which is the “boys’ section” and which is the “girls’ section.” The colors green, blue, and orange overpower one side as pinks and purples are all your eyes can see on the other side. Why do just these colors tell you which side is supposed to belong to which gender?
Although some boys may indeed like blue and some girls pink, it is not the colors that are the issue here. The sexist messages that are spread are cause for concern.
Boys’ t-shirts are covered in powerful superheroes or sports symbols with text like “Strong like my dad” or “All about sports.” These are positive affirmations for young boys. They can make a little boy feel proud and tough, but where is this type of assurance for young girls?
Girls’ clothing is often found covered in pretty pink princesses, scratchy glitter, and uncomfortable sequins, with texts like “Born to wear diamonds” or “Mini Diva.”
The colors and princesses are not necessarily negative. Princesses can still be positive symbols for kids. They can show power and assist people. Obviously, this is a good thing for little girls to look up to but this is not the focus of the clothing. However, many of these messages show girls to be about superficial things. More girls’ shirts focus on the princesses’ outfits and hair, not their strength. It’s not giving messages of “powerful like a princess,” it’s simply, a pretty princess.
Children are easily influenced, and the messages shown by these simple logos may limit what a child thinks of themselves and even others. Where are the shirts saying “Strong like my mom”? What about shirts for girls who have dreams of traveling to space and walking on the moon? There are plenty of NASA shirts in the boys’ section, but far less in the girls’.
These shirts set girls up from a young age to see themselves as more restricted than boys. If boys are expected to be strong, does that mean girls are expected to be weak? You can be pretty and do math; you can be a girl and do anything you set your mind to.
“Women make up only 28% of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and men vastly outnumber women majoring in most STEM fields in college. The gender gaps are particularly high in some of the fastest-growing and highest-paid jobs of the future, like computer science and engineering,” according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
Such gender representations start young with what we encourage kids to become passionate about. Maybe if these issues with the depiction of female idols were not present, more women would be a part of STEM.
This is not a one-sided problem, however. These norms do not solely impact girls. A boy that may not be particularly big and muscular may think that they don’t have what it takes or what he needs to be great. Or, what if a boy is excited about pretty princess dresses? Everyone is different so why stick to the same cliche ideas that have been instilled in the world for too long.
Why don’t we represent princesses as strong female characters that don’t necessarily need a prince to live happily ever after. Why do we need to have gendered clothing sections at all? Why can’t a princess shirt sit next to a dinosaur shirt or an astronaut shirt? Why have two sections at all?
“Removing the barriers that keep women and girls on the margins of economic, social, cultural, and political life must be a top priority for us all – businesses, governments, the United Nations, and civil society,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said to CNN.
Women can be surgeons and men can be hairdressers. These gender norms set for children are harmful and we as a society need to change how we view boys and girls.