Liberal parents did some celebratory fist pumping when Target announced last week that it would bend to customer criticism and stop separating toys into boys' and girls' sections.
It's heartening that Target is bringing its floor plans into the 21st century, where — I hope — it's a given that some little girls play with cars and some boys like dressing up Elsa dolls. But if the retailer really wanted to advance equality of the sexes for kids, they'd tear down the gender divide in their children's clothing section.
The enforced segregation of girls' and boys' fashion doesn't just pigeonhole our kids; it deprives Target and other stores of the cash parents like me would happily splash on gender-fluid — or neutral — garb. While I'm still in charge of my 2-year-old's sartorial choices, I'd like the option to clothe her in a way that doesn't scream "girl."
Granted, my daughter has already developed a penchant for princesses, but she also loves dinosaurs, fire trucks, and trains. Can I find the latter on girls' clothing in any major chain store? Nope. Instead, I'm presented with racks of pastels and glitter. If there's an image on a shirt, it's probably a female Disney character with a dainty chin, invisible waist, and giant eyes. Should I want any kind of vehicle, or an animal that isn't a cutesy bird or cat, it's over to the boys' aisle, where everything is so overpoweringly masculine I can feel hairs sprouting on my cheeks.
Where are the pale pink t-shirts with monster trucks? What I wouldn't give for an embroidered diplodocus on a skirt. And it's not just that there needs to be a more even-handed approach to traditionally gender-loaded prints. It's also hard to find plain clothing that would work for a boy or a girl.
Some stores do in fact sell pattern and print-free apparel and plain, bright colors for babies — the logic being, presumably, that a lot of parents decide not to find out the sex of their child so they don't want to load drawers with pink polka dots or miniature football jerseys. It's a solid commercial decision. But it's short-sighted of stores like Target not to offer similarly minimalist styles for older kids.
Do they assume that once the infant phase is over, we're all gagging to put our squishy, sexless toddler girls in insipid florals? The older your children get, the harder it is to edge away from heavily gendered clothing. It's a subtle propagandizing that goes on from birth, and stores are partly to blame.
If retailers would only lead the way in reassuring us that it's acceptable to dress our kids how we actually want to. Of course, many parents would stick rigidly to the outmoded and heavily gendered "rules," but others would branch out and, in doing so, part with a bunch of money. Perhaps they'd also teach their kids that clothing doesn't have to describe their sex.
I'll concede that entirely abolishing separate boy/girl clothing would be a disastrous business decision — albeit one that some parents would support. But offering more choice within those sections — and perhaps not labeling them boys' or girls' to begin with — would introduce some fluidity. If every store also offered an aisle stocked exclusively with "neutral" apparel, like single color, frill-free t-shirts for all children, this could only serve to boost sales, customer choice and satisfaction.
I'm not interested in telling parents how to dress their children. And I wouldn't dream of stomping on my own child's own dream to own a fairy princess outfit the color of a popular indigestion remedy. But if she asks to twin it with shoes emblazoned with both trucks and hearts then I'd like to know where to shop for that.