As many people share photos of their children heading out to schools and nurseries in fancy dress to raise money for “Children In Need” today, a piece I wrote a few years back resonates. It was originally published here in answer to the question:
Are we letting our little girls down by dressing them in pink?
It was dress-up day recently at my two-year-old daughter’s nursery and the children were asked to come in a costume of their choosing.
Most mornings I deliver her just in time to enjoy a second serving of breakfast and as the table of toddlers begin to tuck into bowls of cereal many stop, mid-spoonful, to stare up at us whilst I struggle to take off her coat. It’s an amusing sight. But as I pushed open the door to the pre-school room that morning it was an amusing vision made all the more so with the addition of fancy dress. With spoons held aloft sat a fireman, a monster, a couple of policemen, a teddy bear and a Bumble-bee. And then I noticed the girls. Each one in the same shiny frilly polyester dress in varying shades of pastel pink and purple, most with a sparkly tiara-shaped hair band.
I left the Hawaiian surfer to tuck into her cereal and headed to the office, my head buzzing with determination. It wasn’t the fact the girls wore frilly dresses and sparkly headbands which irked me, it was that each one was dressed identically.
It saddened me to think that whilst the boys in my child’s playgroup that day pretended to be a variety of fun characters, the girls got to play just one role – a princess. Situations like those were why I took the decision last year to shift from designing womenswear and accessories to childrenswear and begin my own unisex label.
As a new mother who had moved to Britain after living more than a decade in France, I was shocked at the segregated aisles I found in most of the UK’s toy and clothes shops. Much emphasis seemed to be placed dangerously on a girl’s appearance whilst boy’s stuff encouraged action and valued toughness, the rainbow now divided up according to male or female.
The idea that a colour is synonymous with gender seems odd to me. I’m sure the sole reason is as an attempt by the manufacturers to squeeze more money from us and as a result, toy brands actively no longer encourage boys and girls to play together. Girls now learn from an increasingly early age that the pink stuff is for them, and dividing up the goods in this way means more sales.
The parents now deciding to raise their child as “gender-neutral” are no doubt responding to and challenging these stereotypes.
I don’t believe in hiding a child’s gender and what I do isn’t about rendering children genderless – nor is it about forbidding girls to wear dresses, or outlawing pink. It’s about not wishing our children to be defined or restricted by their gender.
Clothes for children should be built for sturdier purposes than the changing vagaries of style – to be passed from sibling to sibling, or friend to friend regardless of gender.
Many were shocked by the news of parents choosing to conceal their child’s gender. More worrying for me is what led the parents to make such a decision.
Although all parents need to think beyond the messages marketed and give their children a well-rounded childhood I believe ultimately responsibility lies with the manufacturers, designers, government and society as a whole. If we continue to force stereotypes then there will be consequences such as parents who feel the need to hide their child’s gender.
We should be providing our children with a childhood void of limitation, free from restrictions and full of opportunity.
By Kate Pietrasik | Tootsa MacGinty Founder / Designer.