In a move that some have called “radical” and others “quite good actually”, John Lewis have toppled the very foundation of our society by deciding to end the gender segregation of children’s clothes. From now on, the labels won’t specify “boy” or “girl”, the in-store sections will be mixed, and the website will follow suit.
“It’s PC culture gone mad!!”
“I’m not putting MY son in a dress.”
“This will cause a rise in mental illnesses.”
These are some of the responses to the news, and here’s why they’re all daft.
First off, sometimes it’s trippy to just stop and think about how weird it is to gender clothes. Take socks, for example. My delicate lady toes are perfectly snug in thick, ribbed MEN socks. That also goes for shoes, jackets, most tops and jeans, hats, gloves, etc. etc. Of course, there are some minor considerations when it comes to genitals, but really people, the clothes we wear are not that different, especially when it comes to young kids. Before puberty hits, kids have largely similar needs when it comes to clothing, because they have largely similar bodies. Let’s be honest here, all babies look the same, regardless of biological sex. Don’t try to kid on that you can tell any baby apart from another, because we all know it’s impossible. This doesn’t change much up until the early teens either.
Separating clothes between boys and girls just limits their choices, and reinforces binary notions of gender identity. The clothes available often also reproduce gender stereotypes, with hats for girls at a National Trust estate saying things like “future footballer’s wife”, or Clarks naming girls’ and boys’ footwear “Dolly Shoes” and “Leader” respectively. How are we supposed to fight institutionalised sexism if we’re literally wearing it on our feet from infanthood?
There’s also the pretty bonkers thought that colours are only appropriate for people of a certain gender. How have we, as a species that has been to the moon and eradicated smallpox, clung to the idea that only half the population can like the colour pink? Buying your son a pink tutu skirt will not make his balls shrivel up and fall off, I promise. Buying him pink shoes and a dress will not make him weaker or less valuable or gay. For a start, that’s just not how sexuality works. If it did, every boy before the 1940s would be raging homosexuals and the species would have died out, because pink was considered masculine. In fact, the whole separation of colours by gender may actually have been a marketing scheme in order to entice parents to buy a whole new wardrobe for their babies if they were a different gender than their siblings. Stop taking marketing slogans as biological facts, Sheeple!
Buying your children clothes that they feel comfortable in may just make them happier though, and all parents should want that. Say your kid is transgender or doesn’t fit in with the binary system. To begin with, these kids are not mentally ill, they’re just kids like everybody else. Secondly, taking away gendered clothing and all the assumptions that come along with that could make things that bit easier for them. Gender stereotypes are just that – stereotypes, meaning that not everyone will fit into the model. Heck, hardly anyone ever fits neatly into a gender role, because they’re invented models with no allowance for individuality or personality. Forcing people to conform to identities that they cannot relate to harms them on a deep level, especially as young children in the formative years when they are in the crucial stages of developing a character.
The other important thing to keep reminding ourselves is that gender neutral does not mean getting rid of all things feminine. Androgynous is very often a masculine-ish look and whilst that’s well and good, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Boys should be able and actually welcome to experience the mild high of swishing your skirt out really fast, or have t-shirts with flowers all over them.
At the end of the day, no one is forcing you to raise your children as gender neutral, or even buy your sons dresses. But imagine the wild possibility that you have a son who likes skirts and nail polish, or a daughter who likes football and dinosaurs. Why would you restrict them to a rigid idea of who they can be solely because of the gender they were assigned at birth?
[Louise Wylie – @womanpendulum]