Clothes Shopping (Or, Feminist Hell) 18 Comments


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Ugh. Where to even start?

Today, on a whim, I decided SB’s wardrobe could do with a little updating. She’s still comfortably in 12-18 month clothes, and will be for a while, but it never hurts to be prepared. So, off to the shops I went, for some 18-24 month and 2-3 years clothes. I only had two major criteria.

Nothing pink, and nothing setting back the feminist cause by fifty years.

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Thankfully, in a venn diagram, most of the clothes that say “It’s Important To Be Pretty” and “Be Cute” are also bright pink, so I could just waltz right by them. I don’t have anything against pink, but it’s not my favourite colour to see on SB – I love her to have a real mix of colours in her clothes, rather than just row after row of pastels.

This is challenging enough when you’re shopping for a girl, and it’s pink as far as the eye can see. I’d say SB’s clothes are a good 50/50 mix from the Girls and Boys sections.

Still, it was depressing to walk through the girls aisles and see the slogans. Before anyone says “They’re just silly slogans”, I remember when I was eight or nine, girls my age were walking around with “SEXY” emblazoned across their bums. We look back on that with horror now – not in judgement of the young girls who wore the clothes, but the designers who think that’s a good message to be sending. It’s the same case here – I don’t judge anyone who buys these clothes for their daughters, but I sure as hell wish the designers would catch on to the fact that we’re in the 21st century, and few – if any – young girls now hold “being pretty” as their only goal in life.

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Photo: Twitter/digitwonk

A simple slogan of “CUTE”, I can just about deal with, although I still didn’t buy it. “You’re beautiful when you smile” ignited my judgypants – surely we should be teaching our kids that they’re beautiful all of the time? – but the worst culprit for sending my blood pressure soaring was “Be cute. Be beautiful. Be lovely”. How about be strong? Be intelligent? Be kind? Why are we still using clothing to send the not-so-subtle message to young girls that their attractiveness is the most important feature – and why are we telling one-year-olds to be beautiful? A) They already are beautiful, and B) Who are you suggesting they “be beautiful” for? How exactly do you suggest they “be beautiful” – a full face of make-up?

No doubt many will think this a petty gripe, but it’s a symptom of a wider problem in the message we’re sending to young girls. Still not convinced that sexism is prevalent in childrens’ clothing? I present to you exhibit B – character merchandise.

There’s been a lot made of the exclusion of Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise, and although I was disappointed by the exclusion, I wasn’t surprised. Two awesome, kick-ass female characters – Rey and Captain Phasma – totally ignored because of their sex. Captain Phasma wears armour, you can’t even tell if it’s a man or a woman under there without hearing the voice (it is, of course, the amazing Gwendoline Christie!) and yet she was still left out from so much merchandising because the companies felt their target demographic – young boys – wouldn’t want to play with a toy of a girl (forgetting that they now have a huge demographic of girls wanting merch too!).

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#WheresRey? Or Captain Phasma, for that matter? Instead we got a random Stormtrooper and a random First Order pilot.

According to this article, an insider in the toy/merch industry commented that toymakers were instructed not to produce merchandise featuring the female characters. “No boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it”, they were told. Apparently, they were asked to do the same for Power Rangers and Paw Patrol.

Paw Patrol is SB’s particular ‘thing’ at the moment. She’s watched it all on Netflix and will quite happily sit and watch for hours if we let her. The show in itself isn’t the most diverse cast of characters – only one female team member in Season One – but hey, they’re also talking, lifesaving emergency service animated dogs, so we’re not expecting gritty realism here.

I saw some Paw Patrol character clothing while I was out shopping, and thought “Brilliant! I’ll get some for SB, she’ll love it”. There were onesies, t-shirts, pyjamas, slippers, a jacket. There was only one thing missing.

Skye, the female member of the Paw Patrol.

Everyone else was on there. It was a big group shot, a great design for a pair of pyjamas, but with one member of the Paw Patrol missing, I decided not to buy it – and I certainly don’t think leaving Skye off every single piece of the merchandise in the shop was an accident or coincidence.

Paw Patrol is aimed at the pre-school age range, and the clothing goes from 12 months up to seven years. If your toddler is saying that they don’t want to wear a piece of clothing because there is a female character on it, or that they don’t want a toy because there’s a girl figurine as part of the set, then you need to evaluate what they’re picking up from the people around them. Kids don’t naturally say “I can’t play with this firefighter kit, it’s for boys”, or “I can’t read this book, there’s a girl in it”.

These designers and retailers play into the messages we send to our children – that boys become firefighters, doctors and superheroes, and girls become mothers, princesses and the girls that marry superheroes.

Defeated, I went to the Boys section, and picked up a load of great tops and t-shirts. Only a few of the t-shirts I saw said things like “Boy” or “Chap” on the design. I didn’t see a single one that said “Be Handsome”. Even Frozen merchandise got a look in, with Olaf and Sven designs (no Kristoff, unfortunately). Most of them had fun, cool, gender-neutral slogans on them. None of them made me particularly angry, with the exception of the Marvel t-shirts that ignored Black Widow.

In the end, I left with a selection of t-shirts from both sections for SB, with slogans ranging from “Messy Hair Don’t Care” to simply “EPIC”, so the shopping trip was a moderate success – but I know I can’t be the only one who gets frustrated by the experience of shopping for a girl, when you realise that these slogans are more than just words on clothes. Kids pay attention to them; they soak these things up.

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“I have fond memories of my father asserting his ownership over me at a young age”, said no-one ever. This is on a onesie. For a 3 month old. Seriously.

Why are we still allowing designers and retailers to tell our sons they can do whatever they want, but our daughters that their attractiveness is their most important trait? Surely in this age where body-shaming, dysmorphia and eating disorders are so prevalent, selling clothing that values appearance above all else is the last thing we need?

I think it’s about time designers and retailers were forced to take responsibility and accountability for the messages they send out, and realise that if they’re profiting from selling clothes that say “I’m too pretty to do maths” to girls and young women, you’re letting them down in a big way.


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18 thoughts on “Clothes Shopping (Or, Feminist Hell)

  • Hannah

    I desperately try to avoid any slogans on Alex’s clothes. I like little bird in Mothercare, lots of cool rainbows and unisex patterns. He does a top that has a rainbow and makes him look like a poster boy for lgbt, but that’s pretty cool 🙂

  • diaryofuem

    I love this post! When I shop for Oliver I’m often a bit eugh, lots of ‘like my daddy’ stuff – when really it shouldn’t have anything to do with gender. I also hate that when your son wants something with Peppa Pig on it he can only get something with George Pig on it… Like his pants, George pig doing ‘boy’ things, when in the tv show all he does is cry. But I won’t get started on the TV show, otherwise we could be here for a while! 😉
    I dread the day I ever have a girl. I’m not ‘girly’ in at all anyway so I can imagine the pure rage that would come inside of me at the sea of pink!

  • Not Yet Supermom

    Having 4 boys, I haven’t been to the girl’s section in a while. I find it disappointing that designers find it necessary to exclude female characters from boy’s clothes, and provide nothing from a product line for girls. Don’t they see that they are limiting their consumer base? My 22 month old loves female characters – currently he can’t get enough of Masha and the Bear.
    I call for us all to follow your lead, not buy from those designers that promote this crap. But it’s also worth contacting the merchandising department of your favorite store. It’s amazing the impact we can have when talk directly to the people responsible for placing these items for purchase in our stores. And if they don’t want to listen, I wouldn’t shop at their store anymore.

  • Claire

    I get cross about this too, it’s so naff and almost like colour coding children. What has annoyed me more is the massive gap in the market for girls shoes with scuff guards for school (or in life in general) like they have for boys. Sad, and I agree with pp I like the little bird range for boys too, reminiscent of the 70’s and 80’s whe girls wore burgundy courdroy and green tops with stripes not pink and frilly 😷

  • Squirmy Popple

    Ugh! A relative bought my daughter a bunch of bibs that said things like ‘Brat’ and ‘Princess’ on them and I refuse to use them. I know my baby can’t read and they’re just going to get covered in food, but I hate subjecting her to those stereotypes anyway.

  • ameliaappletree

    Totally agree with this post! I have a girl and quite a bit of her clothing comes from the boys section. She does like princesses and fairies but she also likes dinosaurs and the Avengers and those themes are just not well represented in the girl’s section.
    Recently I’ve been really upset to hear my girl saying things like ‘I can’t play that game, it’s for boys’, which she’s never considered before. I can only think she’s picking up messages at school so all I can do is keep encouraging her to challenge them.

  • climbingtreeskids

    Totally feel your pain. In fact, so much so that my now 7 year old dinosaur-and-pirate-and-football-loving-daughter and I decided to do something about it and create our own range of tops to reclaim those motifs that have been reserved as ‘for boys only’ as ‘for girls too’. We launched http://www.ClimbingTreesKids.com last year. We’ve also been invited in to meet with Tesco F&F head buyers on behalf of the Let Clothes Be Clothes campaign and managed to persuade them to make their girls shorts longer, get rid of gender labels on dress-up costumes and replace some of their limiting and offending slogans with some more empowering ones. Thankfully, they are listening and are taking small steps to make changes. When my daughter was 4 she asked me ‘how come boys get all the cool stuff’ and, although I’ve always bought her clothes from the boys’ aisle, I shouldn’t have to, which is how our project came about. Thanks for writing about this issue. It drives me mad that girls are taught from such a young age that their value is based on appearance. This drove me to write a blog of my own about how we can help them realise that appearance isn’t as appearance as it appears: http://www.climbingtreeskids.com/blogs/news/86218305-how-to-show-our-daughters-that-appearance-is-not-as-important-as-it-may-appear. It’s an issue close to my heart. We need to speak up and tell the large retailers how we feel so that we can influence change and stop them from continuing to limit our children through the gender stereotypes that they continue to perpetuate.

  • heide

    I’m still the proud owner of a Princess Leia figure who was originally bought in the early 1980s for my (male) cousin. Are we going forwards or backwards, you dozy toy manufacturers?

    So I’m really irritated about the exclusion of the wonderful Rey from toy merchandise. She’s the best thing about the new Star Wars film – a female lead who can fly spaceships, fix engines, and never needs rescuing by a man! About time!

  • climbingtreeskids

    My daughter LOVES Rey. Thankfully Asda had costumes but we were astounded to see that, even the new Millennium Falcon set didn’t feature her, despite her being the ONE WHO ACTUALLY PILOTED IT!!! Seems even Jay Abrams, the Star Wars Director was miffed by her being left off the shelves. The idea that boys won’t play with female characters is ridiculous. Glad we have http://www.LetClothesBeClothes.uk and http://www.lettoysbetoys.org.uk campaigning our corner. http://www.ClimbingTreesKids.com are allies of both and we are in direct dialogue with some major retailers on behalf of LCBC to try to influence changes, because enough is enough. As well as our dino/pirate/football/rocket/robot tops, there are some other mums standing up to offer more choice, such as Sewing Circus (http://http://www.sewingcircus.co.uk/) and other MySisterMabel (http://www.mysistermabel.bigcartel.com/)

  • purplefacedmonkey

    This is the dumbest feminist blog post I’ve seen in a while. Fucking garbage. Do you realize it’s exactly the same for boys? “Future Man of Steel”? Do you really think that’s about mental strength and personality? It’s about physical features and abilities. Society tells both genders to be strong these days if it didn’t we would have women still at home looking after their children because they thought it was their only choice, how fucking blinded and stupid are you feminists? It is not the 1800s anymore, please. It’s the truth, physically attractive people have it better in life and one needs to look after their looks as well as their mental abilities to make good impressions, that’s just how it is, no matter what society, tribe, clan, species that you’re in. Deal with it. Don’t fucking whine and blame society for your failures.

    And it’s feminine to want to be pretty and cute, the word was made to describe traits that women usually have. You think people sat down one day and and went “yep, feminine means being obedient, a little vain, cares more about looks, weaker physically, emotional etc”? No, it didn’t happen like that, women’s behaviour was observed and that came to be what the word ‘feminist’ was meant to describe. Studies show that men fall for women who are usually cute and pretty and so women have evolved from as far back as our cavemen days to want to be pretty and strive for that since their survival relied on men since men had more physical strength to go out and hunt. Please, just think for a minute can you stop with all this feminist bullshit and just think… This is why people can’t take feminists seriously.

    It is innate within us to want to be feminine since that is what men like, it is not society or your goddamn t-shirts. It is part of our reproductive desires to want to be attractive, for both males and females….and it is that way because people are usually happier and are more likely to survive with partners, now and back in our cave days. Disgusting, dumb feminists, third wave feminists are a disgrace to women and their achievements, the make us out to be weak. Are t-shirts all it takes to defeat us? Please.

    • The Speed Bump Post author

      “Do you realise it’s the same for boys?”. Yes. But I have a daughter. I blog about having a daughter. I was shopping for my daughter. So right now, we’re focusing on women, and if that’s too difficult for you to understand, this isn’t the blog for you.

      “Society tells both genders to be strong these days if it didn’t we would have women still at home looking after their children because they thought it was their only choice, how fucking blinded and stupid are you feminists?”.
      Have you missed the huge number of people who think it should still be like that? That women stay at home and raise the children, and men go out to work? Or is that what you’re advocating?

      ” It’s the truth, physically attractive people have it better in life and one needs to look after their looks as well as their mental abilities to make good impressions, that’s just how it is, no matter what society, tribe, clan, species that you’re in”.
      And therein lies the difference between you and I. You just lie down and accept it. I don’t.

      “And it’s feminine to want to be pretty and cute, the word was made to describe traits that women usually have. You think people sat down one day and and went “yep, feminine means being obedient, a little vain, cares more about looks, weaker physically, emotional etc”?”

      Well, yes, actually. When you look back at the constant expectations and rules placed on women throughout history, you’ll see that women are EXPECTED to be all of those things, but you’ll also see plenty of reports of “wilful” women who refuse to live by those rules. It isn’t innate in anyone with a vagina to be “weak” or “vain” or “obedient” – it’s been hammered into women through time.

      “Women have evolved from as far back as our cavemen days to want to be pretty and strive for that since their survival relied on men since men had more physical strength to go out and hunt”.
      Have you read much about modern hunter-gatherer tribes? Take a look at the Aeta tribe of the Phillipines. 85% of women hunt, and they hunt the same quarry as the men. In fact, the women’s success rate is higher than the men’s. Nearly all hunter-gatherer tribes are equal, with women as powerful and influential as men. In fact, even our earliest ancestors – these cavemen you’re referring to – lived as equals with women (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/may/14/early-men-women-equal-scientists). So unfortunately, your whole “Men are strong and women are weak” argument doesn’t wash with me.

      “It is innate within us to want to be feminine since that is what men like, it is not society or your goddamn t-shirts”.
      Well, I’m clearly wired wrong. I have no desire to be “feminine”, and certainly not because it’s “what men like” (how exactly do you explain lesbians, then?).

      “It is part of our reproductive desires to want to be attractive, for both males and females”.
      I’ve seen plenty of people who take care of their appearance who don’t want to reproduce. Again, your argument has so many holes in it it’s like a piece of cheese.

      “Disgusting, dumb feminists, third wave feminists are a disgrace to women and their achievements, the make us out to be weak. Are t-shirts all it takes to defeat us? Please.”
      T-shirts aren’t all it takes to defeat us. But the t-shirts, along with patriarchal notions like “women belong at home”, rituals like female genital mutilation, the inequality in parental leave, the constant attempts to limit reproductive freedom, the inequality in parental courts and custody battles, the “throws like a girl” trope, the “boys don’t cry” trope, the awful state of mental health treatment for men, the fact that so many health problems in women are dismissed as “anxiety” or “hysteria” when they are actually physical health problems, the… well, I could go on, but you get the point.

      In combination, these ARE the issues that are hurting everyone (you’ll notice I pointed out issues that affect men there too? Contrary to what I’m sure you’d like to believe, the huge majority of us feminists care about men’s issues and support those trying to find solutions for these issues). I don’t know if you’ve read my blog before but I write a parenting blog. Not a feminist blog, not an anything-ist blog. It’s a blog about my experiences as a young parent, balancing university with pregnancy/having a baby, and now raising a child. Nowhere in this blog post have I said “this is the biggest feminist issue in the world”. It’s one I encountered when I went shopping the day before yesterday, as the mother of a daughter, a small symptom of a much bigger problem, and I was ranting because all I want is to find my daughter a t-shirt with the goddamn flying girl dog from Paw Patrol on it. I’m not going to apologise for any of that.

  • purplefacedmonkey

    And I really think if you actually want a discussion and want to be taken seriously, you need to be up for criticism and debate, if that isn’t possible for you and this comment is deleted then it would just prove what people are beginning to say: feminists don’t care to see if they are truly right or wrong by looking at the other side if the argument, they are also very totalitarian and if you don’t agree with them they will call you sexist and want to exile and silence you wherever your opposing opinions will appear.

    • The Speed Bump Post author

      Nice assumptions and generalisations, but look! Not only have I published your comment – I’ve replied to it too!

      As for not caring to see whether we’re right or wrong – I’ve looked at your argument, and I still think you’re wrong.

  • bipolardad24

    Ouch, I think someone needs ice for the burn. Not only did you publish the nasty rant from someone obviously crying out for attention but you responded in a reasoned and calm manner rather than lowering yourself to the level of ranty pants.
    If someone cant see the problem in clothes instructing parents that their girls should aspire to be pretty and cute and stupid, while boys should be strong and powerful and ‘super human’ then I suppose a tirade on the evils of feminism is about par for the course.
    I think the reason you chose your username PFM is high blood pressure, if you have so much anger, hate and frustration bottled up inside its no wonder your face is purple, take a break and have a calming cup of chai before you pop an aneurysm.

    Peace.

    • purplefacedmonkey

      Errm, no? There are a number of people who think it should still be like that but it’s not in order to oppress and I doubt they are saying that the woman has to stay at home but rather that it is better for the children. Crying out for attention? Did it seriously look like I was expecting a reply?

      I accept it because it’s our eyes and patterns that we rely on to survive. A person who is attractive looks after their hygiene, is more likely to be healthy within (eg. good skin because of diet, no dark circles because of good sleep which also suggests they have no illnesses that would cause them to look drained and tired, ruddiness of skin suggesting good diet, regular excercise etc.) of course you’re not thinking in your mind “Oh he has amazing skin, he looks after yourself” but subconsciously an attractive person will appear likable which is why attractive people have it better, our judgement isn’t entirely wrong.

      There are studies showing than women tend to be more obedient that men and it is noticeable while going through your everyday life as well, I advise you look up Miligram’s experiments on obedience.

      It isn’t innate within women to be weak? What? Women tend to be weaker than men….. I’ll assume you misread what I said.

      What are these expectations you are talking about? That women were told to be cute back in the day? And as for the obedience thing, the reason is to do with our days back in the cave as well, in life and death situations, you can’t have two people bickering about what to do and so women seem to be more ok with obeying. “Modern” hunter-gatherer tribes, modern is the key word. The men still have a bigger frame than the women which tells us that once upon a time the men were the ones that hunted, I can’t give you any explanation for why that’s changed, probably because the ecosystem has changed.and other factors.

      And there’s no such thing as person looking attractive for themselves. Attractive by whose standards? And if you’re going to claim it’s their own standards, where did those standards originate from? When a woman has long hair or red lips, is it her that deemed it attractive or was it the men of her society (and lesbians if its necessary to mention them *rolls eyes*, homosexuals are no where near the majority of the society, in the UK it’s 1.5%.)?

      Genital mutilation isn’t really a western thing. Yes it goes on in western countries but it’s usually by people from cultures who migrated here.

      Lastly, I didn’t say there weren’t any issues I acknowledged for both genders, I meant that I was angered by how feminists focused on non-issues, like this one, soz, mate, that’s what it is to me.

  • Suee

    Paw Patrol – one minor female character, RaRa the lion, one, I think, female boring character, Andy’s dinosaur adventures, one boring studious ‘scientist’ female character , Bing the rabbit, one or two goody two shoes female characters, Peter Rabbit, a woossy goody two shoes female, I’m sure there are others but FGS why can’t the developers of these kids progs not SEEEE.

    There will be whingeing about the Oscars that the female characters were ignored as usual – why are we surprised – it starts in the cradle……………..

    Peppa pig might be the one saving grace but she has several interesting co characters.
    There are tv progs with real actors which do have female characters but I never liked those as a DC only watched thme if there was no fun cartoon to watch.

    I would say removing Skye from the t shirts could be sexism.