Here’s my 4 year old daughter talking about how kids at preschool teased her for wearing “boy” shoes. A group of them wouldn’t let her enter the “train hole,” a play structure shaped like a train, because she was wearing her Star Wars shoes.
After my daughter told me about the teasing, which happened more than once, I spoke to her teacher who then talked with the kids about how anyone can wear any kind of shoe they like.
The bullying that happened to my daughter occurs in schools every day, and we all need to be doing more to stop it. Instead, we’re exacerbating it by buying into gender marketing sold to us by multi-national media companies and chain stores.
A couple of years ago, there was a story about a first grader who brought her Star Wars lunch box to school, and she was teased. That story got some media attention, but it seems like too many people think that incident was some kind of anomaly, have forgotten about it, or still haven’t realized how damaging and limiting it is for kids when we gender stereotype them.
Whenever I blog or speak about gender segregating kids, I get the argument that it’s just “natural,” and if your kid happens to be the rare exception, she can “choose” another toy or T shirt if she wants. (Here I am recently responding to those arguments on Fox News but they are all over this blog as well.) How many kids have the courage to be the “exception?” And why has straying from pink or princess become an exception? How long until my daughter starts “choosing” the shoes that she’s supposed to wear and like, shoes that she doesn’t get teased for wearing? I’m stating what should be obvious here: When one type of product is aggressively marketed to boys, and another type to girls kids don’t have a choice.
Due to a campaign in Europe by Let Toys Be Toys For Girls and Boys, stores in Europe including Toys R us, stopped segregating products by gender, and instead, are organizing them by type. Here’s what Toys Will Be Toys reported on Toys R Us.
The retailer today confirmed that they would draw up a set of principles for in-store signage meaning that, in the long-term, explicit references to gender will be removed and images will show boys and girls enjoying the same toys. They promised to start by looking at the way toys are represented in their upcoming Christmas catalogue.
This is great news for Europe, but go to any Target or Stride Rite in America, and you’ll see how far this country lags behind. Pinkwashed sections of stores marked for girls offer Barbies, dolls, and anything pink, princessy, or sparkly while areas marked for boys sell products in primary colors that have something to do with cars or superheroes. A U.S. organization called A Mighty Girl has started a similar petition in the U.S. to the Let Toys Be Toys petition in Europe, hoping to stop stores here from selling kids gender segregation.
Mass marketing by gender is changing how we see each other and the world around us. On the Huffington Post, Lori Day writes:
I was talking to a teacher friend recently who said that 10 or 15 years ago, if she asked her Kindergarten class what their favorite colors were, she heard many different answers. Now, she still hears the boys name many different colors, but the girls almost all say pink…
There are so many colors in the rainbow. Kids should get exposed to all of them. Please sign A Mighty Girl’s petition.
My 5 year old son wanted sparkly silver shoes, he loved them so much, so I bought them. He wore them to school once, and now refuses to wear them, saying he doesn’t like them anymore. The pressure on young kids to conform is immense. And we live in a supposedly progressive country, the Netherlands. It makes me so sad and frustrated, especially that no one sees this as a problem.
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So happy to hear that she still wants to wear her Star Wars shoes. My daughter saw Spider-Man shoes in the boys section and wears them to school. The worst thing we can do is to say, “No, you cannot wear those.” We would just be encouraging this whole thing- bullying and gender stereotypes.
My daughter had a similar experience with being teased for wearing “boys” shoes and even though she *gets* why it is happening, it still hurt and made her more wary of her choices. This stuff is so limiting, and I get beyond frustrated when people say it doesn’t matter. It matters a lot.
Yes, I know exactly what you mean. My daughter isn’t even a Star Wars fan. She picked those shoes because her male cousin has them. It’s not like she is so passionately into them, she could go either way, and now everyone is telling her which was to go. It totally matters.
Thought you might find the below interesting. It’s from a show in the UK called QI which is about little known pieces of information and misconceptions.
“Up until the 20th century, baby boys wore pink and baby girls wore blue. Boys at that time were also referred to as girls. In 1900, Dressmaker Magazine said “The preferred colour to dress young boys in is pink. Blue is reserved for girls as it is presumed paler and the more dainty of the two colours, and pink is thought to be stronger”. In 1927, Princess Astrid of Belgium caused controversy when she gave birth to a girl, as “the cradle had been optimistically outfitted in pink, the colour for boys”. It was believed that blue was more serene and paler, hence it was used for girls. Up until the mid-15th century, all children were referred to as girls. Boys were known as “knave girls” and girls were known as “gay girls”. Only in recent times, has calling a boy been referred to a male child, before that it meant a servant.”
People of any age should be allowed to wear what colour or style of clothes they like (you know, unless they have dangerous spikes on or something that might hurt innocent passers by). That last bit is me and not QI…
I’ve been reading Ramona the Pest to my 5yo and it sparked a great conversation about this the other night. Ramona gets very upset that she has to wear brown ” boy” rainboots instead of the red or white boots the girls wear. My son was very puzzled and troubled about why red boots were ” girl ” boots. We talked about how silly and arbitrary these distinctions are. He said he still didn’t wan t to wear pink to school, but he did say he liked pink.
A 10-year old son of my friend war wearing his fuchsia shorts all summer long and loved it. But, in September, he refused to wear it at school arguing the other boys would laugh at him…
I used to bring a Space 1999 (just pre-Star Wars) lunch box to school in the mid-70s and no kids teased me. At that point in time it would seem that nobody was trained or told to care. Let’s get back to that time, shall we?
I do recall wearing “Robin” shoes in the late ’60’s. The TV show “Batman” was popular, then. I don’t recall being teased for wearing them, then. I generally liked more active toys that typically are aimed at boys, like erector sets and Lincoln Logs.
I grew up with 3 older brothers, and dolls just never seemed all that interesting to me.
It saddens me to think that merchandisers have had so much of an effect on kids since that time.