This week I was in the Gap, which is usually my favourite kids store to shop because generally the quality is good (meaning makes it to hand-me-downs) and you can get some good deals. I was struck this week because there were some even more awesome that usual graphic tees, and on sale to boot. The thing is, all the good T-shirts, and by good I mean the messaging on the shirts were in the Boys sections.
They had awesome shirts themed around Science, things like the Water Cycle, Volcanoes and Planets. There were also Sharks, Skateboarding and Sports… all of which existed only in the Boys section.
I headed over to the Girls section and the themes were considerably different. There were centered around Kindness, and taking care of the Earth and Others.
I have two Boys and one Girl, so I have the benefit of having to look around different sections to see all the variations of shirts. If you only had Girls you might only, probably would, only think to go to the one section. I mean after all we have made progress right? So there should be good options there. And look at least now we are telling Girls to be kind to each other.
It was such a stark contrast that I honestly can’t believe I never noticed before, but I know makes an impact. One example is in a meeting at work recently, we found ourselves talking about how do we elevate, and keep women in the male dominated industry in which I work. I had to say that maybe it’s time we stop being nice about it. Meaning stop holding ourselves back and call people out when they are sexist, racist, or prejudice in any way – call them out bluntly, not nicely. If we as women only ask nicely and seek to be kind, we won’t see change.
So this messaging of Kindness being only targeted at Girls, you might see how it more than irked me. Why aren’t companies working to target boys too? Why aren’t there plenty of Boys shirts promoting equality and kindness? Taking care of others or the Earth. Is this not the job of Boys and Men too?
One can argue that it’s not a company’s responsibility to teach kindness, or get kids interested in sports or science. They would be right, that’s our job, as parents, but when all kids’ see are messages sending them one way, it can be hard for us parents to course correct.
It might seem like this is harmless but I truly see the connection between how we raise girls and women to be caregivers and nurturers, while we encourage boys to just be boys. When I first heard about an all Boys school being a bonus by a friend, one of the selling points they listed was potential beds or cots for boys to nap on in the hallway if they needed a break. That Boys could be more free to horse around, talk out of turn and expend their energy. The all Girls school by contrast list the following points – focuses an understanding of the lived experience of women in local, national and global cultures, an interest in curriculum that highlights how women contribute meaningfully to our society and lead change. (see links below to example outlines from the CBE).
Where I struggle is that if we are only teaching girls to respect their bodies, to gain self confidence away from boys, to deconstruct the social norms (which are upheld by our Patriarchal society) – than what good are we doing? Why is this mandate not in an All Boys school? In my experience people with power do not easily give it up. If we are teaching one sex that their need for movement breaks, curiosity and they hold value just for as they are – without also teaching cooperation, the value of the opposite sex, the social construct of gender, we are going to get nowhere.
To add salt to my already inflamed feminist wounds ,this week – a friend posted an image of an ad her teenage daughter received from the clothing company, Garage, a subsidiary of the Dynamite Groupe. From their aesthetic of which is walking into a literal garage, to the clothing (not work wear) and the price point, it is most often shopped and targeted to the Teen and even the Tween demographic. So imagine my horror when I see the below –
Now call me an old lady, or prude if you would like, which those that know me would probably disagree, but I take issue with the focal point of an ad saying SEND NUDES. One that is specifically meant for women and girls, as they do not sell Men’s clothing. I get the idea is meant to be cheeky, as in Nudes, meaning nude clothing options, which they offer a variety of of tones (great), but the suggestive photos and the normalizing of the request to SEND NUDES is completely out of line.
My partner said that, of course the company didn’t literally mean send nudes, so he saw little issue with it but it’s the unconscious message that sending and requesting nudes is ok. That girls and women are encouraged to this, that their value is in their bodies and showing them off.
I am going to bring it together – In marketing we first are telling girls to be nice, be kind, care for others and then when they are older we telling them their body and their looks are their value. SEND NUDES.
All the while we are teaching boys to be curious, go after what they want, physical education, that they deserve the best, just the way they are.
The way this translates into adulthood is what I have seen, heard and felt at work. A self proclaimed feminist asking me; why I didn’t wear make up more often, and didn’t I wear it for me? Let’s be real, no girl starts wearing make up just for them. They start because of the pressure to look your best, which apparently when it comes to make up only applies to women and girls. If I wore make up for me or did my hair for me. I would perpetually have fun colours, crazy bed head and heavy eyeliner. Girls are told too early on, that their worth lies in their looks. The habit of doing your make up starts young, and from then on it’s hard to picture yourself without it; so much so that filter free/make up free selfies are a thing. These are of course for women and girls, not men and boys.
My sister once asked me to ponder the following question – If your child had to be one of these three things which would you pick? Ugly/Unattractive, Boring or Unintelligent. When you think of your answer, would it be different for a boy vs. a girl, and I implore you to be honest. I always chose Boring, because to me, if you are what would be considered traditionally attractive (meaning the norm/average person would find you attractive) and smart, than you could be successful. We put a high value on looks in our society, however it was argued that often for boys looks come last. If a man is Smart and Interesting or Charismatic they can be extremely successful, however the same can not be said for women, looks play a larger part in success both professionally and personally.
I don’t want to discount looking good and feeling good because of it. I have a tradition of getting fully dolled up on my birthday. Whole nine yards, make up, false eyelashes, usually get my hair done, new outfit (almost always a dress), likely one of the only times I wear high heels – and on that day, it is for me.
For me I think there is more value teaching our girls to value their intelligence, their independence, their curiosity, their strength over their beauty and teaching the same to boys. A girl’s and women’s value is not in whether or not their are kind to others, whether or not they are agreeable, whether they are in service to others but in their innate being.
This can and should be said for all beings, however the reality is that this is not yet the world we live in.
I know I was raised feeling the pressure to value looks, and to see my own personal value in them, this led to destructive behaviour in my late teens and early adult years; when after years of being the unattractive friend I finally received male attention. I allowed myself to get lost in the need for this kind of attention to find self worth. Instead of concentrating on what I could achieve if I put my value on my strength, my hard work and my goodness, I allowed myself to be distracted and feel unworthy. I made decisions that now as someone that loves themselves stills cries about. I have learned from my experience and hope that my candidness, and honesty of my mistakes, will help my own daughter, and other generations of girls and women learn from them, without having to repeat them themselves.
All this to hopefully raise the question in your own homes, to open your eyes to your own biases and those around you. To demand better from companies like the Gap and Garage. Yes, there are small companies such as, Whistle and Flute, that offer all unisex clothing and do an excellent job of promoting to all genders. The point is that we can still do better and need to consciously choose to support the organizations doing better. Teach both our girls and boys to be better. After all what do you value in yourself? What do you value in a person? Does it vary based on gender?
Picture a world where everyone is loved as they are. The potential is amazing and wouldn’t that better than where we are now?