British department store John Lewis recently announced it’s introduction of gender neutral childrenswear. Instead of dividing the clothes in store by gender the entire children’s range is simply named boys&girls, allowing for garments to be worn by both genders. This news prompted backlash from some shoppers, who threatened to boycott the store due to the concept that political correctness had ‘gone mad’.
Personally I have no issue with the decision to make kids clothing gender neutral, and apparently I’m not the only one, with 20% of childrenswear consumers wanting retailers to offer more gender neutral clothing. If anything, I find it strange that we push the construct of gender on children at such a young age. Surely when we’re that young, gender doesn’t come into our daily lives at all, apart from what society pushes on to us. As we become adults, I accept the difficulty of gender neutral clothing, due to the difference in the female and male body shape, however when we’re kids, our bodies are exactly the same, and therefore don’t require a difference in fit. However we still make feminine and masculine designs specifically for young girls and boys.
When I was young I remember I adored Barbies and my favourite colour was pink. However I also loved to play with my brothers Bionicle figures, or play ‘Ratchet and Clank‘ on his PlayStation 2. My point is that genderless clothing would be more appropriate than the current options for children now, forcing children to comply with the traditional view of gender is unnatural and causes us to judge the girls and boys that prefer the products designed for the opposite gender to themselves. The push of ‘pink for girls and blue for boys’ is so ingrained from society that I distinctly remember telling my brother that he shouldn’t like pink ‘because it was a girl’s colour’, after he expressed his preference for a pink gel-pen in a WHSmith store. I realise now that no one had ever told me that pink was exclusively for girls, nor was it inherently true, but that I had been taught it, simply by seeing every product, from toys, to shampoo, to clothes that were aimed at girls in pink, and blue for boys. Some may ask what’s the problem with that? There isn’t anything psychologically damaging about using colours to specify gender? However, I feel it’s not just the colour that is a problem, but the entire stigma that comes with it. The colour pink is associated with feminine things, including ‘romantic and intimate, feminine, loving‘ traits. Whereas blue is defined as a ‘cool and calming color that shows creativity and intelligence‘. This is ironic however as there is evidence to suggest that views on gendered colour used to be very much the opposite. For example in the June 1918 issue of ‘Earnshaw’s Infant’s Department’ it was published that ‘The generally accepted rule is pink for boys, and blue for girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.’
By enforcing gender into kids’ clothing, are we also enforcing gender stereotypes, where girls are taught to be pretty and boys are taught to be smart? Are we teaching girls to be loving and boys that they cannot show sensitivity? The image below illustrates the extremes of our disturbing views on gender.
Whilst we teach the boy that he is ‘super’, we are teaching the girl to hate her body. Obviously this is a rare and extreme case, however I do feel like it shows how damaging our gender roles can be on children. I therefore applaud John Lewis for taking this step towards gender neutral clothing, as a boy should never be taught that he cannot wear pink or feminine things, and the same with girls liking traditionally masculine garments.
Although the John Lewis website’s children’s clothing section still remains segregated, there are plans to review it so it keeps in with the same theme that is being rolled out in-store. However, I do wonder how they will filter the options online, as undoubtedly consumers will still seek out gendered clothing, and with many customers already saying they find it hard to find what they want online, I’m sure the online change will receive some backlash.
Therefore, this has made me think a lot about if I ever have kids, how I would respond if my children preferred to dress in a way that was not typical of their gender. Quite simply, I would let them wear what they want. If I have a girl that wants to wear everything that’s pink and glittery I will obviously happily provide her with such, however I should be equally comfortable allowing her to wear blue t-shirts with typically masculine designs if that is what she desires. And obviously the same will apply if I should ever have a boy. Children should never feel that who they are or what they want is wrong or unnatural, we should embrace the next generation of kids who can just wear whatever the hell they want.
What do you think of the idea of genderless clothing for kids? Write your opinion in the comments below!
This post was inspired by the MINTEL article on John Lewis’ introduction of gender neutral kidswear.
Other articles I used to inspire this blog post: