“Every child deserves the same opportunities in life, but unless we stop treating girls and boys differently that simply isn’t going to happen.” Dr Javid Abelmoneim, BBC 2 “No More Girls and Boys
Let Clothes Be Clothes is a group of parents who have come together to ask retailers in the UK to rethink how they design and market children’s clothing. We support parents and advocate responsible retailing.
Many retailers such as Next, George at Asda, Debenhams and Marks & Spencer agreed to BRC (British Retail Consortium) guidelines on childrenswear that states a commitment to not “unduly stereotype children” and yet our high street is saturated with messages about gender that are not only limiting, but potentially harmful too.
Sexist attitudes are being sold to children in the guise of “this is for girls” and “this is for boys” on our high street, and its not just clothing designs and slogans, but toys, books, stationary, toiletries and shoes. Last year the advertising spend for UK companies hit a record £21.4 billion with a reach that isn’t confined to the high street, but online and in our homes too.
The 2017 Girl Guiding Attitudes Survey found that 54% of the girls and young women surveyed felt gender stereotyping affected every aspect of their lives, and although many felt confident to take a stand, you have to wonder – why should they have to?
“The overwhelming message that girls and young
women are sending us in this year’s survey is that
they live in a world where sexism and gender
stereotypes are entrenched in all areas of their
lives. From a young age, girls sense they face
different expectations compared to boys and feel
a pressure to adjust their behaviour accordingly.
Girls encounter stereotyping across their lives –
at school, in the media and in advertising, in the
real and the virtual world, from their peers,
teachers and families.”
In the same week as this study was released, the NHS reported on the huge increase in the amount of young women facing mental health problems due to fears about body image and pressures from social media – with hospital admissions up 68% in a decade. Retailers who pitch “Be Beautiful” slogans at young girls (and notable NEVER at boys) are in danger of increasing the reach of The Beauty Myth.
A survey of 15 countries conducted by WHO (World Health Organisation) found that kids believe gender stereotypes by the time they reach 10.
As reported in Time Magazine:
In almost every society, from Baltimore to Beijing, boys are told from a young age to go outside and have adventures, while young girls are encouraged to stay home and do chores. In most cultures, girls are warned off taking the initiative in any relationship and by 10 years old, already have the distinct impression that their key asset is their physical appearance.
These are the findings of a new six-year study of gender expectations around the world, which gathered data on 10- to 14-year-olds from 15 different countries of varying degrees of wealth and development. The research teams interviewed 450 adolescents and their parents. And they found a surprising—and somewhat depressing—uniformity of attitudes about what it takes to be a boy or a girl.
These are examples of complex issues with no single cause, but its not hard to see many of these ideas about boys and girls on our high street. The rough and tumble boy opposite the dainty in pink girl, are extremes of masculine and feminine stereotypes.
Up until puberty, boys and girls are very much the same shape and size, with 10 out of 11 retailers surveyed using identical measurements for girls and boys. Science tells us there is very little difference between girls and boys, and you would need to survey a huge amount of people in order to find that difference. We like to think of this in terms of #morealikethandifferent
When retailers pitch clothing as either for boys or for girls, they use a very specific visual language, colours and themes to do this – and this is where the problems start.
Gender stereotypes are over-generalizations about the characteristics of an entire group based on gender.
Gendered marketing has been developing steadily over the past 20 years to create the retail landscape we know today, but its not something many of us are conscious of. Many of these ideas about gender have been around for a long time, and you may not find yourself asking why all the baby girls clothes are pink, or all the animals on boys t-shirts are aggressive.
Our high street has reached a saturation point, and more and more parents are noticing the restrictions and harmful messages gendered clothing, toys, stationary, cards and toiletries creates.
Taking some of the worst stereotypes about gender, and aiming them at children is only going to perpetuate problems in our society, from low self-esteem amongst girls to boys who are unable to express how they feel.
We want a high street that is responsible in how it designs and markets for our children. That means no more treating girls and boys as though they don’t have the same needs and interests. Provide a choice of styles and themes, and make that choice as wide as possible.
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