T-shirts for boys – gender stereotypes and the flipside of ‘pinkification’

// 24 January 2011

T-shirts for boys value toughness and aggression, feature frightening imagery and emphasise rowdiness, according to a survey by The Achilles Effect.

The parenting blog has posted a two part series looking at the artwork on t-shirts marketed for boys as young as six months old – part one looks at designs valuing toughness and aggression, while part two focuses on t-shirts which reinforce negative stereotypes of boys as “brats”.

We often look at the negative messaging in clothes marketed for girls, with campaigns such as Pink Stinks! chipping away at the issue. In fact, when we talk about gender stereotyping of this nature in products and toys ‘for girls’, we reach for a comparison with the better products marketed for boys.

We also talk about the social pressure boys and parents can experience if they reach for clothes or toys that have been coded as feminine.

But it’s interesting to read Crystal Smith’s posts analysing the negative messaging aimed specifically at boys; the flipside of all the pink and princesses aimed at girls. She says:

As adults, we need to evaluate the messaging in the clothing we buy, just as we do for the books we give our sons and the television programs we allow them to watch. Before purchasing a shirt with harsh, stereotyped imagery, think carefully about the message it sends. Does a 5-year-old boy need a shirt that tells him he is a brat? Does he need one with a frightening image that tells the world how tough he is?

For example, here’s a comparison of one skull-themed t-shirt on the left, aimed at boys, with one on the left, aimed at girls:


Meanwhile, a mother and father have launched a Twitter account documenting the differences in how people treat their three-year-old girl and three-month-old boy. Some recent @GenderDiary tweets:


Tweeting parents document how gender stereotyping affects childhood

Comments From You

Horry // Posted 24 January 2011 at 11:29 pm

I recently had to quietly dispose of a “Mummy’s New Man” T-shirt bestowed on my three-year-old. For all sorts of equally disturbing reasons, can’t imagine a daughter ever getting a “Daddy’s New Woman” top…

sianushka // Posted 25 January 2011 at 12:15 pm

i agree. one of the most heartbreaking parts i thought in natasha walter’s book was the mother who’s son was ‘feminine’ i.e. loved dancing and crafts and sequins, and the problem her husband had with it. when we tell girls they must be pretty in pink, we tell boys they must be tough and aggressive. we are stifling both genders with stereotypes in a way for boys which is increasingly homophobic.

it’s so sad!

Cycleboy // Posted 25 January 2011 at 1:46 pm

Marianne Grabrucker’s book “There’s a Good Girl” is a diary of exactly this sort of thing. Though anecdotal, it is a thought-provoking book. At least, to those open to thinking.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 25 January 2011 at 4:32 pm

The reason why boys are constantly pressurised/coerced and told that being a male means to be dominant, to be aggressive to have power and control over the majority of the human race who just happen not to be male but female -is wait for it. Because male supremacy has to be enforced and that is why boy children are subjected to a different socialisation to girl children.

It is not that ‘gender’ is the problem is the fact we live in a male supremacist system and it is essential male domination over women must be enforced and continue unabated. Therein lies the problem but still we continue to ignore ‘the elephant in the room’ because addressing men’s power is seen as too threatening to the male supremacist system.

Then too boys benefit from being male because they are accorded greater value and worth than the majority of the human race. So we also need to understand it is not a question of x and y being oppressed but fact only y (women) are being oppressed since male supremacy cannot oppress its own group. To do so would be an end to male domination over women and that won’t happen in the next decade or so. Despite claims to the contrary.

Crystal Smith // Posted 25 January 2011 at 7:24 pm

Thanks for highlighting my post. I think it is vitally important that we raise awareness of the way gender stereotypes affect boys as well as girls. My focus is on children’s pop culture, where manhood is equated with dominance, physical strength, and a decided absence of vulnerability. A boy’s opinion of females is also affected. Children’s pop culture positions males as the dominant sex, placing females in a position of relative inferiority and teaching boys to devalue girls, women, and femininity in general. Bad news all around. But the only way to change this situation is to talk about it, so thanks for raising this issue here!

Kate Treacy // Posted 25 January 2011 at 9:08 pm

I think that these stereotypes set a pattern of behaviours that have a negative impact on boys right into adolescence. It is well documented that boys frequently fall behind girls at secondary school and as a teacher I see this played out in the classrooms. Many boys play up to those ‘brat’ messages and if they don’t, they often feel the need to defend their more focused and sensible approach. This sort of article is really important for highlighting that gender issues aren’t just about girls and women. It’s important we don’t lose sight of that.

Crystal Smith // Posted 28 January 2011 at 3:44 pm

In response to Jennifer…

Gender does have an impact on boys.

The attitude of male supremacy that you describe has to come from somewhere. Boys are not born with an innate desire to dominate—it is a learned behaviour and it is perpetuated through the ways we socialize of little boys. (I don’t agree, however, that they grow up believing that dominating women is their raison d’etre. They are taught to be strong at all times, but that does not mean oppressing women.)

The only way to change this situation is to change society’s ideas of what it means to be male, and the best way to initiate that change is to teach boys from a young age to, first, reject traditional masculinity (false bravado, macho posturing, aggression, denial of emotions) as the only way to be a “real man”, and, second, to value girls, women, and femininity.

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