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Fighting the pink tsunami


Wednesday 11 February 2015
Children's fashion - Monica Lowry has been looking into how some retailers are giving girls more than just pink

"Since her birth my girl has been almost swallowed up by a tsunami of pink, princesses, dolls and body glitter. Worse, she doesn't seem to have any choice in the matter, and neither do I." These are the words of Cath Janes, a mother writing for Parent Dish about the sexism and "pinkification" inflicted upon young girls by society, and more specifically the garment industries. Ms. Janes wrote her article in 2013 and made some very strong points connecting gender stereotypes in kids' clothing and sexist principles later in life. Unfortunately, she wasn't just highlighting her own opinion or experience—she was bringing to light an extremely prevalent issue in kids' clothing all over the world.

In the past few years, we've seen a number of major retailers and children's clothing brands come under fire for promoting shirts and other items that tend to belittle girls and prop up boys. One of the most popular examples is in superhero-themed children's onesies, where a boy's garment might read "Future Superhero" (or something similar), and a girl's would instead read "I only date superheroes." Another comparison that has been brought up in this debate is "Smart Like Daddy" vs. "Pretty Like Mommy" shirts for boys and girls, respectively. Phrasing like his represents the extreme end of the issue, but it's nevertheless clear that mothers like Cath Janes have a strong argument. Where Janes may hopefully be mistaken, however, is in lamenting that she has no choice in the clothing her daughter wears.

It remains true that certain retail stores offer sexist clothing. Also, even if there aren't offensive contrasts in phrasing, there's the obnoxious problem of girls' clothing being primarily pink or full of rhinestones or floral patterns, whereas boys' clothing tends to have more variety and more interesting themes. However, there are alternative retailers emerging specifically to combat the problem. Leading the way in the U.K. is Tootsa MacGinty, the personal project of Kate Pietrasik, a mother (like Janes) who'd seen enough sexist children's clothing. Upon having her own daughter, Pietrasik was similarly surprised at the limited options in girls' clothes and the sexist messages being presented by the garment industry. Armed with a background in clothing design, she approached the problem head-on and created Tootsa MacGinty, which is essentially a children's retail option selling unisex clothing that's fun and interchangeable for boys and girls.

Additionally, it seems as if some of the larger stores and brands are beginning to catch on while taking steps to address the problem. An article in the Guardian this past August discussed a mother's scathing letter of complaint to Land's End in response to their scientifically themed designs for boys while there were only rhinestones and princesses for her daughter. As a response to her letter, Land's End now offers similar space-themed shirts for girls. It's a small shift in the context of the clothing industry as a whole, but it's still a vital step by a major company to create change.Children's fashion

Despite these steps forward, the problem persists. Pinkification and sexism in children's clothing are firmly established in society and getting rid of stereotypes such as girls wearing pink will take a very long time. But in recent years, we've seen the rise of alternative retailers along with major companies becoming aware of and addressing the problem. As stories like these go public and more mums make statements about the issue, there's genuine hope that this progress can continue.

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"Girls are becoming increasingly disillusioned about the media's portrayal of women. Over half of those aged 11 to 21 disagree with the statement that 'girls and young women are portrayed fairly in the media'."

The Girls’ Attitudes Survey, Girlguiding UK, 2011