Breaking girls hearts.

I was recently shopping in a large chain store that has a huge array of kids clothes in two very separate sections.  One of very dark sturdy warm looking clothes and one that resembles fairy floss.

I live in the desert.  At the moment it is cold and dusty.  Due to the limited selection and the light coloured fairy floss wear – I am often told by women on the street that my daughter will “break a few girls hearts one day“.  This is because she is wearing the dark sturdy warm looking alternative.  Not because they have a sixth sense for sexual orientation in toddlers.

The comments aren’t the problem … She might ‘break a few girls hearts someday’ (I hope that she doesn‘t break anyone’s heart actually) … The problem is the thin, pink, short, inadequate and sometimes inappropriate clothing range for little girls.  You walk in and it is almost an assault on the eyes that would make Holden Caulfield want to ‘puke’.  And it is depressing.  Especially for someone like me who must analyse it…

Firstly, my major problem is the sexualisation of little girls – the innocent vixen look that is being pushed by our major chain stores.  Walking through this section makes you think you have just stumbled into the dressing room of a sick and twisted pageant where children give the sexy eye to and flirt with judges to allure them into some sort of pre-teen verification.  The thin clinging stockings and short shorts as an alternative to a good ol’ pair of tracky dacks.

Secondly, these clothes are restrictive by comparison.  The tops are often much shorter than the male alternative and putting short shorts and skirts on the very active child does run the risk of underwear being seen.  Also the manufacturers must think that little girls will never play outside because there is no way grass and mud comes easily off pink.  And looking at the quality in stitching I’d say they also think little girls only wear things once.

This whole section of clothing that seems to remain unchanged every season is perpetuating an image of girls as passive observers in life.  Seen and not heard.  Needing their innocence protected instead of allowing them to explore and get their hands dirty.  In short it represents repression.

Don’t think I’m just hung up on the girls though – what about the image we are creating about boys?   The clothes in this section (while they are much sturdier and warmer) make the statement that boys are little animals.  That they are apparently uncontrollable nutcases that need extra knee padding and millions of pockets.   With slogans all over their chests saying things like “lock up your daughters” in a size 2.  The other end of the spectrum of sexualisation – the predatory male (in which case the ‘break a few girls hearts someday‘ comment becomes more offensive).

Why is it that we must subliminally and consciously stereotypically gender our children?  How much is Anne Geddes to blame?  Should I be worried that no one else seems to notice?  Why can’t there just be one big kids section that has no genders or stereotypes attached?

There are three main perpetuated images of children in our society.  They are that of the innocent, that of the monster or animal and that of the embryo adult (just small adults).  All of these images are damaging, restricting and pigeonholing images that are constantly bombarding children and shaping our interactions with them.  The objectification of children is even more sickening than that of grown women and yet it is more socially acceptable.  (That is a big statement coming from a ‘raving feminist‘).  Think about it in terms of race.  If we had sections specifically based on generalisations about race … actually we don’t even have to go that far. Think about it in terms of adults.  Tomorrow you go into the store to get some winter gear for yourself.  All you have to choose from is 500 shades of pink, short shorts and stockings, tops that you can’t lift your arms in without showing midriff.  It sounds like a nightmare for me so why would be okay for my child?

Like any marginalised group in society children are individuals who deserve respect and consideration but the scary difference is that children must rely on adults to advocate for them.  There is so much trust that is being taken for granted in decisions that may be as simple as buying your kid a jumper!


9 responses to this post.

  1. Oooh, you’ve hit a button here. And very timely, have you seen this article in The Australian and the comment here?

    First, boys – what is it with pirates and monsters? Are there honestly no nice things that boys could be into, they have to be dressed in murder, rape and horror? I hate pirates, I’ve had a couple of rants about them on my Family-ing blog here and here. I’ve gone looking for fabric as well, it’s just so hard to find nice boys things. And unisex? No way. I make nappies, and have trouble selling red and yellow ones to pregnant couples because they think they’re too girly. Dark green stars. That’s about the only thing you’ll get away with.

    Girls? My toddler does not need to look like a teenage hooker. She does not need the baby version of this image either. We’re pretty much stuck with ponies. I once complained to a major store chain because they had bra and knicker sets in size 2. These weren’t crop tops or singlets or anything like that, but little triangles of fabric a bit like a bikini. They had absolutely no purpose except to look like a bra. I pointed out the link between these sorts of things and child pornography, and the language of pedophiles (see the New York Times articles here and here), and was told that their market research showed that they were popular and that ‘little girls have said they like them.’ Leaving aside how a 2 year old tells someone they like wearing a bra, what on earth does this say? That sales are more important than safety? And the stunning naiveté of parents. Do they honestly not think that sexualisation of girls is a problem? Do children not have enough to learn and deal with? What exactly to these parents think their children should be playing? Aaaaaargh. I can see some blog posts coming from this.

    On the positive side, I quite like Dora as a role model. I don’t like my 3 year old’s obsession and I don’t like the ubiquity, but at least she gets out and is adventurous and has a fabulous imagination. I was quite pleased to see there is a tween version being released, so much healthier than the current images they have to choose from.

    Midget is screaming and it’s far too late, goodnight!


  2. Pip, this is just so true. And it’s not just the toddlers clothes, I have an 11yo DD and the clothes for them are pretty much sluttish. Really. I buy her oversized clothes so she’s decently covered. Fortunately for me she’s fairly modest anyway, but really. Why do manufacturers have to sexualise kids this young? We buy a lot of her clothes at op shops, because the older clothes tend to be the ones that last. I also make a lot of her clothing so it’s long enough.

    When she was younger there was a much better variety of clothing available, it’s really been in the last five or six years that it’s changed so much. And people keep on buying it because it’s what’s in the shops. If we had a choice of good quality, nicely girl but non-sleazy clothing to buy it’d sell fantastically.


  3. Posted by Capricious on June 6, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Just wanted to say that you are spot on. Years ago I vowed that I would dress my children in clothes that didn’t have to clearly define their gender, but shopping now (I suspect in the same stores) I have found that this is impossible- the clearly defined gender segregation is unmissable!


  4. When I was pregnant I vowed that I would NEVER stick to the old ‘pink is for girls, blue is for boys’ mentality. I lasted about 6 months. I suppose I just got sick of the looks of suprise when I explained that my baby, dressed in blue and red, was actually a girl, not a boy…shock, horror! So in the end, I made way for some pink in the wardrobe. Now I exclusively op-shop for clothes, thereby by-passing the inappropriate puke-causing girls wear. I am thankful that there are plenty of parents out there who are aware of the hidden messages that these kind of clothes send out but there are still plenty more who aren’t aware or are even not concerned.


  5. Posted by plahski on June 8, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    I get around it mostly by making her clothes… but sometimes you don’t have time! So I do have to tell people she is a girl… Sometimes I don’t correct them though – depends how long I am going to be around them..


  6. Posted by MummyTiff on June 8, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    My kids are a bit stereotypical when it comes to colours I guess. Most of my daughter’s clothes are pink. It really wasn’t my choice, I never set out to have a girl in pink and a boy in blue. I must admit I would have purchased less than 1/10th of her clothes – we have been given so many by family and friends each birthday and Xmas and hers are always pink or purple. I buy whatever is practical and often second hand (Op Shops) but she really does suit pink. Just like my son suits green more than red. Never set out to be that way though.

    I really dislike the sexualisation of little girls through their clothing but I don’t necessarily think that gender specific colours fit into the same category. I have seem more than a few tiny blue or green boob tubes on 3 year olds and skin tight black pants. That sort of thing. My daughters clothes, although largely pink or purple in colour are track pants, long sleeved tops in winter or tees in summer and everything is covered. We all like it that way! I have no desire to relive my young and fit years through my daughter and her fashion.

    I refuse to buy my son anything with “boys are trouble” logos or skull and crossbones on it. He’s just as sweet as his sister regardless of the fact that he has a penis! Stupid fashion stereotype for boys in my opinion. Infact my sister and BIL are often horrified to see my son’s long curly mullet falling on to one of his sister’s old pink or purple tops or brown cords with flowers on. I’m not sure why it bothers them so much – do they think it’s going to change his sexuality at a later date? That’s the only thing I can think! Care factor!

    I’ve never really had to “worry” (not that I would!) about people thinking my girl was a boy. I think her thick long hair made it obvious she was a girl from early on – regardless of the colour she was wearing. My son was mistaken for a girl once and that was laughable! He’s a big boofa but was at swimming lessons when someone asked me how old my daughter was – I didn’t even correctly them formally, I just said “he’s 9 months” and they looked quite shocked!


  7. Posted by plahski on June 9, 2009 at 8:33 am

    I agree Tiff – it isn’t necessarily the colours it’s the shape and the materials used and the fit… I actually wouldn’t mind putting my little girl in pink (she does have a few pink items that I have made). I think that it is a good colour! But not for the desert so much and not if she is getting dirty.

    I think that is is the lack of choice on both fronts and the sexualisation on each side too. Choice is the over all thing. I’m actually a very feminine personality. But the sexual femininity that is being portrayed for children is different and it isn’t a positive empowering thing like my choice in femininity is … oh I hope that makes sense!

    Same for boys – masculinity is positive – and should be empowering (especially for boys with really good role models and an awareness of the power of masculinity) but these clothes only focus on the predatory side of masculinity.

    I don’t think that masculinity and femininity are negative – I just think that the gendered roles and stereotypes that are represented in media and society are stunting.


  8. Back again!

    Like you say, Tiff, we have a huge amount of pink in our wardrobes. Widget just happens to like pink and frilly. And it’s appropriate to little girls – it’s the sexualisation that upsets me, and as you say, Pip the lack of choice. Plus I’m the sort of Mum who buys everything way too big so it will last longer, so to be honest I probably wouldn’t notice a short top or shorts – I’d just assume it was too small and get her a larger size.

    I’ve been thinking about it, and it comes down to parental attitude even beyond what we buy. Modern girls’ clothes are extremely flimsy and stain-able, but that’s only important if you care about holes and stains. We don’t go out much and it’s usually warm here, so I’m the Mumma whose kids are either running around naked or in the old, stained, holey clothes. Seeing we’re out digging in the dirt it doesn’t bother me. To go out we wear ‘good’ clothes that need to be kept nice, but the reason they’re the good clothes in the first place is because they’re of better quality than the ‘play’ clothes. But as they get older past the nappy and t-shirt stage and start things like kindy I can see this getting a lot harder to deal with.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: