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Angry Parent Tackles Gender Stereotyping

I recently read a strange guest column in the Charleston City Paper complaining about gender stereotyping.

As an example, the columnist writes about selections of toys available for sale for boys versus girls, complaining that the girls’ toy section is dominated by Barbie toys while the boys’ section is dominated by Star Wars action figures.

Of all the problems we face on a daily basis, this is a big one?

Sure, store aisles are arranged so that toys designed for little girls are grouped together just as toys designed for little boys are. That doesn’t mean that parents must buy solely based on the gender for which the toy was designed. There’s no law preventing a parent from buying an action figure for a little girl or a doll for a little boy.

The arrangement of toys, I suspect, is done more than any other reason to make it easier for typical parents to find what they want to buy. I’ve never seen a child have a great deal of difficulty locating the kind of toy he or she is interested in. They’re like ants at a picnic: they just know where to go.

How else, after all, are toy aisles supposed to be arranged? You could put everything in alphabetical order, I suppose, but then Barbie dolls and Star Wars figures are still going to be on opposite sides of the store.

The writer mentions having a daughter, Maybelle, who is at the potty-training age. This leads me to believe that the child probably hasn’t given any serious thought to gender and her own preferences over Barbie dolls and Star Wars action figures. On potty training (and the shopping for associated undergarments), there’s this:

“When we went to the store, we were disappointed to find that the underwear marketed to girls was covered with Disney princesses, fairies, and a completely feminized Dora the Explorer, wearing a skirt and batting her long eyelashes (unlike her very cool androgynous backpack-wearing identity on her TV show). Meanwhile, the underwear marketed to boys had Spider-Man, Batman, and Iron Man on it. And who is Maybelle’s favorite cartoon character? Spider-Man.”

Was a two-year-old truly that disappointed over cartoon characters on underwear? I have no obvious need to have ever shopped on such an aisle of a store, but is there any specific reason that a trademarked design is critically necessary for underwear? Don’t they make varieties of underwear that aren’t printed with cartoon characters? I’d have a hard time believing that they didn’t.

I would otherwise suggest that there shouldn’t be a problem just buying the Spider-Man variety, other than the fact that in some varieties — and perhaps in all of them — absorbent padding is not created equal: it might be configured within the garment for the specific gender’s plumbing arrangements.

The child’s babysitter came up with a perfect solution: painting superhero characters on girls’ underwear. She either found girls underwear without a design or painted over it. We don’t know which.

Why aren’t there as many superhero designs for little girls’ undergarments as there are for boys’? No one really needs to ask that, right?

The only possible answer, the only answer that has an ounce of common sense associated with it, is the obvious one: there’s not that big of a market for it. And the manufacturers — who are far more interested in turning a profit than attempting to contaminate the minds of children with gender confusion — seem to feel that the apparent lack of interest in it doesn’t warrant them making that kind of product and risking a loss.

A commenter to the original article latched onto another curious point that I would have missed: if you were this fed up with gender stereotyping, why would you name your daughter a clearly feminine name like Maybelle? Wouldn’t you rather have gone with something gender-neutral like, for example, Kelly? I like the name Maybelle, but it’s an interesting point.

The writer then points to another writer’s remark from another writer who complains that this gender stereotyping affects little boys, too:

“If my penis-having child wants to wear a tiara WHY IN THE EVER LOVING HELL WOULD I STOP HIM?”

A “penis-having child”?

Talk about gender confusion! I wonder how people who can’t bring themselves to refer to a “penis-having child” as little boy could possibly accuse others of contaminating the minds of children about gender roles. I’ll assume this person probably doesn’t refer to the child to his face as “penis-having” because it seems to me this could result in the child being ashamed or coming to resent being a boy before he even has a true indication of what being one even means.

Is there any reason (in the ever loving Hell) why she should stop her little boy from wearing a tiara if he (not “it”) wants to?

No, but in the society in which we live, I wouldn’t recommend anyone allow their child to do so in public; it’s probably not going to go well for the boy, based on what I’ve seen about the way kids pick on each other, and I suspect it’d do a lot more damage to self esteem than making him wear a ball cap (or no headgear at all) might do.

Adults generally have the mental brainpower to make a well-reasoned decision about how we make the statements we decide we want to make. Children don’t always have that foresight. They don’t always have as easy a time seeing potential consequences. And they’re not in the best position to judge how other people’s reaction to what we do might negatively affect their own self-esteem, if they even know what self-esteem is. That’s why parents need to help make those decisions for the child, and, at times, set their own agendas aside.

Am I saying that there’s something inherently wrong with with a little girl wearing underwear that looks like little boys’ underwear, or little boys wearing tiaras?

No. Not at all.

I’m suggesting, however, that parents need to temper their own frustration about the unfairness of gender stereotypes and make sure they’re not using their own children to fight their battles. If a little girl wants to wear little boys’ clothes in public, or vice versa, I would at least hope his or her parents would have a serious talk to warn of the potential drawbacks of doing so: if one, after all, is going to allow the child to make such a decision, it seems to me that the potential implications — the good and bad — should be presented so that the child can at least see a clearer picture of what each option actually means.

It would be an ideal world if everyone could wear and be whatever they want 24/7.

I think most of us know, unfortunately, that we live in a world of ignorance. We have to choose our battles, and in the absence of experience, wisdom and adulthood, depend on parents to help us choose those battles wisely.

One can’t allow oneself to be this passionate about the problems of gender stereotyping and simultaneously ignore the abuse and bullying likely to come from going against them.

22 Comments

  1. “One can’t allow oneself to be this passionate about the problems of gender stereotyping and simultaneously ignore the abuse and bullying likely to come from going against them.”
     
    So we just have to fight the battle on both fronts. That is what I do every chance I get… educate.
    On Thursday I’m a guest lecturer on the Politics of Gender at the University of Connecticut and next month I’m a guest lecturer for a class on multicultural education there.

  2. .@DMarieHollis @patricksplace and if parents don’t like the characters on toddler undies, just buy plain white ones, for God’s sake.

    1. @JaeOnasi @DMarieHollis @patricksplace Not huge deal but can relate my 5yr old girl loves Star Wars & have to look very hard to find stuff

      1. @ZanReigns @JaeOnasi @patricksplace That’s where @HerUniverse comes in! Gotta love Ashley. Maybe she can start making lil girl gear.

        1. @DMarieHollis thanks, I saw the Daddy’s Little Girl @ Disney last year but failed to pick it up. My daughter will love this for Christmas

      2. @ZanReigns @DMarieHollis @patricksplace My daughter found a Dr. Who t-shirt at an amusement park. It gets easier when they can wear t-shirts

        1. @JaeOnasi @ZanReigns @DMarieHollis By then, I’d think they be more likely to decide for themselves what they like.

      3. @ZanReigns I think my biggest problem with the article is that just because one loves something doesn’t mean it MUST be on their underwear.

      4. @ZanReigns But I can imagine how frustrating it can be when there’s almost NOTHING to find. Sometimes, toys aren’t enough! 🙂

        1. @patricksplace mainly difficult because she looks for ‘girl’ star wars stuff. The female jedis, pink shirts, etc. plenty of black t’s w/Luke

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.