In my day (I'm a 70s baby) we wore mostly brown and orange. Lego was only produced in primary colours, and bikes, in general, were red, blue or white. Pink was just another colour.
Fast-forward a few decades and pink has become the epitome of femininity and used to market everything; from toys and clothes to razors and even pens 'for women'. (True story). And, if you venture into the baby aisle in Asda you will be literally pinked round the face whilst the boys’ aisle is filled with baby blue. Pink outsells white and other colours by a huge percentage which is partly why retailers keep on pumping out the pink, but the sheer volume of the colour in favour over all others is somewhat disheartening and oh so limiting, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
Girls and boys have increasingly been polarised into stereotyped boxes and told what they should like. Boys like dinosaurs, robots and monsters. Girls like princesses, butterflies and glitter. But what if they don’t?
There is nothing wrong with pink princesses, but there is so much more to girls than that. Equally, there is nothing wrong with snarling Marvel characters, but there is so much more to boys than that.
In an ideal utopia, a purists’ paradise, there would be no gender stereotypes whatsoever; no labelling as ‘girly’ or ‘boyish’ and, crucially, no signs, aisles or gender-based departments. There would simply be unisex options with all children free to choose what to wear and what to play with, without being limited by retail or societal definitions of what is ‘for a boy’ and what is ‘for a girl’. Everything would just be ‘for children’.
I love this idealistic notion, although I do believe there are other ways to tackle gender stereotypes en route to this vision. Ever since my daughter was three and expressing her likes and dislikes, I have been miffed by her being unable to find what she liked in the girls’ aisle; whilst in contrast, the boys’ aisles have dulled-down their colour schemes and focused on roaring fighty ‘here comes trouble’ slogans and motifs. Of course, I do what many people do, I bought (and still buy) the majority of my daughter’s clothes from the boys’ aisle, occasionally stumbling upon a purple or green t-shirt buried amongst the pink in the aisle deemed as suitable for her own gender.
That said, I know many of her female friends, the majority in fact, who LOVE the overtly ‘girly’ toys and clothes on offer in the girls section who do, like it or not, fit the stereotype. Some of them like dinosaurs, climbing trees and Star Wars too, but some of them really don’t and opt for pink butterflies and princesses by default.
Crucially, NONE of these girls are wrong. What is wrong is when retailers/society tell them that they are wrong for liking/playing with/wearing something that is 'girly' or 'for boys'. And in our dreams for a unisex society which is not limited or restricted by gender stereotypes, we should remember that retailers ought to cater to all tastes, across the entire spectrum of what it means to be a child. (We don’t want girls who DO fit the stereotype to feel ostracised for being themselves; just as we don’t want girls who don’t fit the stereotype to feel that way, as Amanda Deibert points out wonderfully on XOJane in her blog about why she doesn’t want her daughter to hate pink).
Thankfully, the increasingly limited definitions of what it means to be a girl or boy has generated a growing movement of mums who have been roused to take action and do something about it in various ways.
Indeed having struggled for years to find clothes in the girls’ aisle that my 7 year old dinosaur-loving football-fanatic daughter loved, she and I decided to launch our own range of brightly coloured bold t-shirts featuring the dinosaurs, monsters and pirates that were once exclusive to boys' clothing, but which would sit comfortably in the girls’ aisle and appeal to all girls.
In doing so, http://www.ClimbingTreesKids.com (which launched in June 2015) aims to give children a choice not previously offered to them whilst enabling them to escape the limited definitions that they are boxed into. And, in so doing, empowering those girls who are told ‘that’s for boys’ with the chance to say, ‘actually, it’s for girls too! Look!’
In order to do that we decided to design a range that would appeal to ALL girls, whose preferences range from one end of the spectrum to the other. So our range features cute dinosaurs carrying flowers and splashing in puddles; female robots with bows on their antennae and hearts on their monitors; a feisty girl pirate, a snazzy She-Rex and a rainbow rocket, all designed by independent up-and-coming British designers and screen printed here in the UK.
We purposefully chose to feature girls wearing our tops and to go on a mission to empower girls to be all they can be for two reasons. Firstly, because I have a daughter and the lack of dinosaur tops for girls was our absolute WHY and reason for starting up in the first place. Secondly, we wanted to ensure that we didn’t dilute our primary message of giving girls a choice not previously offered to them.
Vitally though, although we chose to feature female models and add subtle ‘feminine’ touches to a couple of our designs in order to make a point, we are not saying our range is FOR GIRLS ONLY. We are saying our range is FOR GIRLS TOO. That’s an important definition. We know that some boys love our range and much prefer our brightly coloured tees to the dark and dingy colourways on offer in the boys’ aisle. As such we are purposefully ClimbingTreesKids.com.
Indeed, my daughter’s friend Elliot features on the site wearing his favourite colour pink monster top from our range - because boys like pink too (yes we have one out of 7 tops in hot fuscia pink because we have nothing against pink, just a lot against pink as the primary and sometimes only option). We also link to a number of websites who are part of the movement; doing their bit by providing boys with more choice (e.g. via HandsomeInPink, MyPrincessBoy and SelfishMother.com).
Of course, consequently, we knew that by adding a subtle ‘girly’ twist to a couple of tops in our range of six t-shirts some ‘unisex-only' campaigners might feel that we are in fact perpetuating gender stereotypes. Yet we feel so passionately about providing a choice to girls that is not currently offered, we decided that was a risk worth taking. Ultimately, we are on the same team. We have found one way to provide girls with a choice not currently offered to them and are pro-actively taking a step forward to flag up the issue of gender-based limitations and reclaim stereotypical motifs ‘for all’.
Others might wonder why we don’t just continue to get my daughter’s clothes from the boys’ aisle rather than go to all this trouble to create an alternative solution. And of course, we shall. Frankly, we have no other choice, and therein lies the point and our raison d'etre – lack of choice.
Currently, generally (with ClimbingTreesKids.com and a handful of others the exception) in order to get clothes featuring dinosaurs, rockets and pirates, my daughter can only find those in the boys aisle; she can’t buy those clothes from the girls aisle. That’s why we decided to take that first step on the journey towards gender-neutrality; towards that utopian unisex ideal where there are no gender-labels. That first step to provide a choice where none existed before – to create a range of tops featuring those motifs that had, until now, been reserved exclusively ‘for boys only’ that could fit perfectly well in the like-it-or-not-still-feminine-girls-aisle.
And so that’s what we did.
It’s a first step and, as such, it’s a step forward, onward and upward. In doing this, we can provide dinosaur tops to the whole broad spectrum of girl – at one end of the spectrum, those Star-Wars-Ninjago-loving girls (like my daughter) who prefer to shop in the boys’ aisle and curl their noses up at Barbies and baby pink and, at the other end of the spectrum, those girls who embrace their in-built femininity (yes – it exists for many and shouldn't be dismissed) who fit into the pink-princess stereotype that retailers box the entirety of girlhood into; plus all other girls in-between (i.e. those who like dressing up as princesses/playing My Little Pony one day and playing Knights and football and climbing trees the next) – something that ALL GIRLS can choose from their OWN aisle, without having to venture into the boys aisle to find the clothes they love. And that is why we chose to add a few subtle elements to our designs which might appeal to those girls who do like those things.
As an active girl who loves sport (especially football, with which she is significantly obsessed) this whole pro-active ‘taking action’ thing has been empowering for my daughter and I.
And, to receive messages and photos from customers saying how happy their little girl (who loves her dinosaurs and dolls equally) is to wear a dinosaur top that is ‘made for her’ rather than having to borrow her brother’s all the time. That makes the journey worthwhile.
In business it’s hard to be all things to all people. You need a niche and you need to solve a problem. The problem we are striving to solve is that there weren’t any dinosaur/pirate/rocket or robot tops in the girls’ aisle; so we created some. And if giving girls a choice that they didn’t have before is wrong; if showing little girls that those motifs are NOT just for boys only but for girls too is wrong, frankly… we don’t want to be right. :-)
One day (hopefully) there will be no aisles – just a children’s section where uber-feminine/uber-masculine and unisex clothing mingles together without labelling (because we cannot get rid of pink princesses or snarly characters, as they are just as valid for some children as anything else).
Just as girls and boys preferences range from one end of the spectrum to the other, so should the full spectrum of colours of the rainbow be accessible for all children. No more pink or pastels or brights and princesses for girls only and no more blue or dark and dinosaurs for boys only.
Step one – make the former available for boys too; and the latter available for girls too.
Step two – do away with labelling altogether.
Children should BE PROUD TO BE WHO THEY ARE AND LIKE WHAT THEY LIKE without limitations. That’s what we all want for our children and we salute everyone who is part of this movement, taking action to make that happen; however they choose to do it. Because there are many ways to tackle this gender-limitation issue. And we are proud to be doing something about it.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us thus far.