Climbing trees by Manuel SanvictoresThe rise of the latest wave of the feminist movement coupled with calls for greater gender equality have started to have a ripple effect across the culture. Gender roles in the workplace and at the home are shifting dramatically and providing a larger wealth of options and freedom than ever before. This also holds true for children. Fewer parents are so quick to paint their child into a box early on with the traditional and outdated “blue for boys, pink for girls” idea that has dominated the landscape over the past few decades.

You might recall this viral video of a young girl in the toy section of a local store who becomes fed up by her lack of options when it comes to playthings—and she brings up some good points. Why is it that girls are forced to buy pink products and boys are encouraged to buy blue? The video sparked an outcry over the hyper-gendered options that society offered for boys and girls in regards to both retail and education. It also led to a new effort for unisex items that can simply be enjoyed by anyone. American telecommunications giant Verizon even did an ad campaign specifically dealing with reinforcing stereotypical gender roles on impressionable children and how it can hinder growth and limit options later in life by implying that they themselves are limited in their treatment or choices simply because of gender.

Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell of The Atlantic reported on how many of these movements are reminiscent of a similar trend in the 1970s and ’80s toward gender-neutrality. It was a bit more extreme and in-your-face than the softer side of unisex seen today. “It was only in the 1980s that the self-actualizing lessons of the seminal children’s book (and celebrity-narrated LP) “Free to Be … You and Me” succumbed to the industrial Princess Complex, a trend that is just now beginning to correct itself,” Chrisman-Campbell wrote. And the newly dubbed “agender” trend continues to pick up speed.

One company that is spearheading this trend in the clothing sphere is Tootsa. According to The Independent, the label was inspired by the unisex fashion of the 1970s. “They’re just children’s clothes for children,” company founder and designer Kate Pietrasik said, reflecting the attitudes of many parents of the new generation. The aim is simply provide a utilitarian solution for outfitting children that does not put certain colors or themes off-limits simply because of gender. It’s worth mentioning that MacGinty’s novel approach to childrenswear seems to be paying off. It just took home an award in the category from the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKFT) and continues to inspire other companies to move in a similar direction with their marketing.

And this trend thankfully shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. More companies are beginning to embrace agender fashion and both parents and children are thrilled by the wealth of options that are opened for their kids (and their wardrobes). The movement is less about feminism per se and instead more about choice. We can use that choice not to restrict children to one palette or set of interests. There are simply too many colours in the world, and amazing things to do, that it feels criminal to limit the options of what our children can like or wear. That’s especially true when it comes to something as superfluous as reds, blues, yellows, pinks, and purples defining something as personal and diverse as gender identity.

Is it fair that a child as young as 9 should even consider a larger social implication for wearing a pink shirt? Society and parents are the ones that reinforce these ideas with our children, and we have the power to fix them. Embracing agender fashion is one way for caring parents to take a step in the right direction when it comes to raising their children today.

Sara Upton is a freelance writer with a strong personal interest in gender equality. Like her role model, Hillary Clinton, she believes there should be “no ceilings” for girls who want to pursue their passions. When she’s not writing she’s usually spending time with her dogs or training for her next triathlon.

Photo of girl and boy climbing a tree by Manuel Sanvictores. Image used under Creative Commons licence.

Comments From You

Molly // Posted 19 June 2015 at 10:24 am

tHis argument seems self defeating. The author acknowledges that the colour of a child’s clothes is ‘superfluous’, but then argues that we should strive to ensure that our children aren’t restricted to one palette, depending on their gender. But If we agree that the colour of a child’s clothes is unimportant, as she suggests, shouldn’t we focus our energy on other, more important battles.

Toys it strikes me are different. We don’t want for girls to feel they are only allowed to play with dolls and ponies, nor boys that they are restricted to mega-trucks and Lego. But no one is restricting them, right? A girl can buy a truck toy just as a boy can buy a doll. So What’s all the fuss about?

Megan Stodel // Posted 20 June 2015 at 12:04 pm

Molly, I think the main issue is that the world doesn’t agree that colour is meaningless and unimportant. If everybody did think that the colours meant nothing, then it wouldn’t be a problem at all – the issue is that those associations and assumptions are very, very ingrained so choices do have meanings and are often guided by conscious or sub-conscious associations, as well as availability and directing from retailers and designers.

And I also think it’s not true that “a girl can buy a truck” etc…because children tend not to be buying anything. It’s the adults in their lives who are doing so – and not just their parents, who might be making a conscious effort to be gender-neutral, but others who give them gifts, or in fact they may be playing with toys that they don’t own but that are at a nursery, school, in a doctor’s waiting room, etc etc. Again, a lot of these things are very directed – hence the campaigns trying to highlight unnecessary “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys” sections and packaging.

Molly // Posted 20 June 2015 at 8:54 pm

Megan, my point is *not* that colour is superflous. It’s that there’s an inconsistency in the argument. *if* we agree with the author’s own claim that colour is superfluous, *then* we should not agree with her second claim, that we should strive to ensure that colours aren’t assigned a gender ( or vice versa). To claim both that colour is irrelevant AND that we ought to be motivated to change colour-gendering, is inconsistent.
My own view happens to be that colour isn’t wildly important. You say that some people think it is, but can you explain why? Surely saying something is important because other people think it is doesn’t get us to the heart of the matter – which is necessary if these issues are to be presented in their best light, to those who may be inclined to dismiss them.

Molly // Posted 20 June 2015 at 9:21 pm

In relation to the toys issue, are we hoping for a world where advertisers present all their toys in a totally gender-neutral way? If so, presumably this is because we don’t want girls to be conditioned into certain play choices and boys into others. But are we sure we have got things the right way around? Do girls tend towards dolls because the advertising etc conditions them to, or does the advertising merely acknowledge a basic fact about our genetics, evolution and hard-wiring: that most (not all) girls tend to be more nurturing, and most (not all) boys tend to be more physical. Not because society makes them that way, but because this is how we have evolved. That is not to say that we shouldn’t encourage parents to give kids a choice between dolls and trucks. Just that maybe it’s not the advertisers and society that are to blame for my daughters tendency to cradle baby dolls and my sons tendency to destroy pretty much everything he can get his hands on. The advertisers are just picking up on some trends that have been in place since we were monkeys, as a matter of Brian structure and genetics, to maximise profits: male chimps tend to be more aggressive and female chimps more nurturing.

So for isntance, suppose we were to Get rid of all colour gendering, mix up all the trucks and dolls in the toy stores and paint them all some gender neutral colour like green. Are we so sure that girls raised in this environment wouldn’t tend to veer towards the dolls boys towards the trucks nevertheless? If you look at our ancestors, the apes, and the stereotypical differences between them, it seems likely that the nurturing trait would still come to the fore in female play. It seems likely that my daughter would still want to cradle cute boggle eyes babies and my son to trash the place -just like the male apes do. In which case, eventually advertisers are going to begin to pitch dolls to girls and trucks to boys again, it would be economic madness not to. Whatever we are fighting for, surelythe goal should be realistic?

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