The winner of this week's stupid gendered kids clothes contest is...
Gymboree's baby onesies that read:
Smart Like Daddy.
Pretty Like Mommy.
Or is that Smart Like Daddy, Sweet Like Mommy. Oh, no, that's another one.
By the time this post runs these onesies will probably no longer be available from Gymboree. The race was tight, though, give the entry of CROTCHLESS THONG UNDERWEAR small enough to fit a seven year old. Like other stereotype promulgating (and in the latter case, really disturbing) kids clothes that have raised the ire of activist parents like those at MomsRising lobbying to have the oneses removed from sale these will quietly go off the market. Probably to be replaced soon by something similar at a major brand name store near you.
If only it were just silly and not actually bad for kids. The thing is, the companies that make this stuff don't care about our kids. It's not their job to decide the "appropriateness" of messages. We know that reflecting gender stereotypes in products marketed for kids is not generally a good way to help them, kids of both genders, to pay attention to education, understand stereotypes, or to create positive role models. They do to, but that's irrelevant. What these companies care about is, obviously, money.
They know that lots of people are going to buy sexist-drivel-on-a-T. (And by sexist I mean gendered and bad for boys and girls.) And, they're right. The Smart Like Daddy and Pretty Like Mommy items were sold out at several sites that I checked.
This boy/girl pair of 100% cotton, comfortable onesis is the latest in a nonstop stream of gendered t-shirts and kids apparel. Gymboree's new products may not be not quite as obvious to some as the Nothing Tastes As Good As Skinny Feels line of clothing, but is still pretty bad.
Do these people have any idea what they're doing? Of course they do. Just a casual internet search reveals the following marketing debacles in the past six months. The recent hit parade includes:
Forever 21: Allergic to Algebra t-shirt for girls.
Topshop Man: Nice Girlfriend. What Breed Is She?
JC Penny: Too Pretty to Do Homework (My Brother Does it For Me) or their
"Who has time for homework when there's a new Justin Bieber album out?" T-shirt. God bless them, they seem to keep trying. Gotta give them points for effort.
And, my favorite today, from Zazzle (run and get it, still for sale): Girls are Stupid. Zazzle is an equal opportunity kinda place though. (Although, Girls are Stupid doesn't have it's own Wikipedia page, like the Boys are Stupid Throw Rocks at them T-shirt does.)
More subtle and ubiquitously available than these egregiously obvious examples are pithy, one or two word tees that convey a world of ideas about what "male" and "female" mean. For girls, pink and sparkly clothes that shout Delicious, Princess, Hot Chick, Good Girl gone Bad, Too Hot to Handle.
For boys, a nonstop stream of blue, black, green and brown emblazoned with skulls, super heroes, weapons and big bad vehicles because we all know that real boys are tough, aggressive warriors who revel in destruction.
Hyper-gendered clothes are par for the course. They're nothing but the merchandising side of the equally gendered toys and media that make up mainstream options in kid's culture.
I can't say it any better than Momsrising does in their protest letter Gymboree:
Almost every hour, if not minute, of the day our children are surrounded by "smart like mommy" role models: The teachers, dentists, coaches, business owners, doctors, journalists, stay-at-home-moms, technicians, and administrators they come into contact with are often women. And with women now comprising a full half of the paid labor force for the first time in history, it's not time to move backwards. Moreover, mainstream media bombards children and adults with overwhelming messages that women should be beautiful, while men should be smart and powerful. These messages limit children's ideas of what is possible in the world and can have damaging effects on their self-esteem. And while infants can't read, other children certainly can.
It may be that you agree with the t-shirt companies and think this is all just light-hearted fun. If so, here's a corky good read for you: American Psychological Association's report on the sexualization of girls and the effects of stereotyping. They document extensively the fact that:
"young women and adult women are frequently, consistently, and increasingly presented in sexualized ways in advertising, creating an environment in which being female becomes nearly synonymous with being a sexual object. Although advertisers are typically careful not to sexualize young girls directly, several advertising techniques do so indirectly."
Boys get the same messages about girls when they are subjected to the relentlessness of color coding and "cuteness." The messages that kids get about boys is equally destructive.
After parents get angry companies typically withdraw the offensive products with a polite these "T-shirts were meant to funny and carried no serious intent" press release. But, that's disingenuous. Stereotyping is how marketers sell things. Stereotypes are easy to understand and cost effective to market to. Not only are they simple and cheap for the purposes of marketing, but they don't challenge a lot of people's comfy idea of how things "should" be and they enable a multi-billion dollar marketing to kids industry to be profitable. I don't think the marketers think it's light-hearted, casual fun at all. But, in the end, we get what we pay for. And mainstream America will continue to pay for this in more ways than one.