It still amazes me how smart children are from such a young age.
My youngest just turned 2 but is already clued up to what she wants to watch, wear and play with. She expresses emotion, from frustrated “no mama!” to a simple “nup” when she doesn’t want something. This typical chatty 2 year old loves Trains, George Pig, her Pandora Lottie Doll, Cars, Tangled “I hav a dreeeaamm” – you name it. Like all children she’s soaking up everything, mimics our conversations and explores her surroundings (usually by running into or off something.) She is a child, and should not be boxed in by social ideas about gender, based on having been born a girl. So why does Mothercare insist on telling us which specific items of clothing are for her?
When we buy clothing for our children we look at all the ranges and make our choices based on what I suspect all other parents do: 1. quality 2. practical 3. comfort 4.fun. A thinner child may benefit from slimmer or fitted styles, but you’d need to check the girls section to get it, yet aren’t all childrenchildren sized until puberty? Mothercare use the same sizing information for both girls and boys up to 7-8 years, but styles vary greatly, the standard being loose and long for boys, short and tight for girls.
What else is affected? Colour’s, characters and themes.
I pull a face at the “Boys” sign over the George Pig PJ’s, but like a lot of parents I buy them anyway because those are the ones she wants – she loves Thomas the Tank Engine too so we pull a pair of socks off the “Boys” rack again, and illicit a grimace to “ah, your little boy will love these!” from shop staff.
I’m an adult, I’ve educated myself on gender marketing – but my daughter is still only 2 and thinks pouring juice over the sofa is hilarious. Fast forward to age 7 (and our oldest daughter) and she does know about gender marketing, and yet cannot escape it. Here’s a snippet:
“You’re weird, girls can’t play football. That’s why they don’t sell pink football kits”
“You want the monster sticker? Not the princess one? Ooookkkaaayyy”
“Why have you got a dinosaur lunch box? Scarlett is a boy!! Scarlett is a boy!! ”
“Ah, you need the F-R-I-E-N-D-S Lego, not Star Wars, come with me…”
Its a constant battle, and one as parents we’re already losing. “Mum, I don’t want to look like I’m wearing boys things at school…”
In a few years my 2 year old will not only be able to read the signs and labels that tell her this is for boys, but really feel – this isn’t meant for me. It’s a really strong message – quite literally spelled out – that interacts with every element of your life, the choices that you make, how others interact with you and the aspirations that you hold.
Take the fact that many of the clothing themes offered to boys (including those from Marks & Spencer below) are Science based, but at what age do we start promoting the Sciences to girls too? Why is it important to market “Genius” to boys only and on the other side of the store decorative flowers, butterflies and kittens. Girl characters to girls and boy characters to boys. What, are they alien species?
I actually don’t like the phrase gender neutral, because it not only suggests something beige or devoid of life, but also lends power to what is deemed gendered. Ie, Pink is gendered, white is gender neutral, according to a recent yougov pole. Unisex on the other hand means shared or open to both (all) sexes – and what a great way of looking at the world! The freedom to choose for yourself, rather than following what complete strangers have deemed your gender identity based on the sex you were born. Its really quite amazing how much power these companies have, with a spending power of billions per year to enter your home, mind and life. That is the power of marketing, and that marketing is creating a product for a specific market – the boy market or the girl market, simply to sell more, more, more.
According to Next unisex means predominantly white, but they don’t mean unisex – they mean gender-neutral based on their “Boy Blues” and “Perfect Pinks.” The opposite is actually true, because by unisex we mean open to all – minus the gender stereotypes.
Tell me, have you ever seen a boring selection of clothing from a true purveyor of unisex clothing? Check out Love it Love it Love it, Yellow Lolly, Tootsa Macginty, Ava & Luc and Donna Wilson (before John Lewis decided to pull her collection apart) Marvel at their colourful equality! I challenge you to find anything dull and lifeless. Remove the limitations of gender stereotypes and what do you have? Choice, the true partner of unisex.
A round of applause then for the Jools Oliver Little Bird range at Mothercare, included their stunningly forward thinking (and I genuinely applaud them) “unisex” category on their website. In this respect Mothercare are light years ahead of all the other big retailers, and we love it. Yet, you’ll still find the mix of gender neutral whites (regrettably signifying their broader belief in gender stereotypes) and their stand out actual unisex range, quite confusing. Well, more of the latter please. Get yourself some more Jools Oliver’s quick.
Choice doesn’t necessarily have to start with targeting design, but with how clothes are divided on the shop floor and online. Apart from a single standalone rail unit we could find no evidence that unisex is being offered in-store at Mothercare. In actual fact we found really large “Girls Clothing… and pink of course” wall signs, rail top gender signs, pink/blue gender labels with Girl and Boy text (to make absolutely certain you know what you’re buying) AND to top it off “boys” or “girls” on our receipts.
Mothercare, please – remove the gender signs and labels, and lets put an end to this artificial wall between girls and boys.
Retailers! Be creative with your displays and websites, help customers by presenting clothing by type, size, colour or theme. Create an “all items” link on your websites so parents don’t have to run two lots of searches. Train your staff to actually offer parents what they want, not based on studying their child for gender clues and heading over to find the pink or blue options.
It may take generations for the unisex effect to take place, for social constructs on children’s clothing and gender stereotypes to reset, but lets make a start! We ask #letchildrenbechildren and #ditchthegenderlabels.
If you’d like to get involved with our #ditchthegenderlabels campaign, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to contact Mothercare direct by using the information below.