Are You Dressing Your Child for Success or Failure?

By Guest Contributor, Monica Lowry

As SheHeroes' literature points out, career development starts during childhood, "but children often limit their career goals to out-dated stereotyped professions based on gender."

It's obvious that if we want to start broadening the horizons and futures of girls, it’s vital to start when they're young. However, most children are understandably unable to grasp the concept of gender equality in the professional world. Preaching equality rhetoric and information on social stereotypes will likely go over their head and only serve to confuse them.

Instead of trying to reach your child through verbal lessons, there are more unobtrusive, yet tangible, ways to build your young daughter's confidence that also reinforce the idea that gender shouldn't matter in their future goals.

For starters, you can make sure girls don't fall victim to social pressures or corporate marketing, especially with the products that excite them most. For most children, their toys probably encompass the majority of their interests. The main concerns with toys, though, is that there are certain types created and marketed toward each gender that limit their interests and possibilities. Things like blue cars, trains, and anything sports related are generally made for boys, while pink cutesy animals, dolls, and kitchen sets are made for girls. Both sets of toys reinforce confining gender expectations like, women are naturally domestic and men are more technically minded.

While there's nothing wrong with boys and girls playing with the toys marketed to them, the problem occurs when children get the impression that a toy is made only for one gender or the other.

Girls should never feel as if they can't play with a science-themed toy just because the box only shows boys on the cover. That's especially true when toys with science and technology themes can help spark a love for such topics at an early age, possibly leading to interest in related careers in the future.

pink/blue toys

A Mighty Girl took this idea to heart when they started their site, which is a massive resource hub of information on girl-empowering toys, products, and education. Their comprehensive list of over 2,500 toys includes everything from construction sets to blocks featuring elements of the period table. Just by supporting a branch with such beliefs in mind, you can help pass the right message of gender equality along to your kids—an idea that's not exclusive to dealing toys.

The Brave Girls Alliance is a consortium of “businesses, experts, not-for-profit organizations, authors, parents, educators,” among others that ask media creators and product developers to rethink highly gendered marketing and instead ensure they teach girls to be strong, intelligent, and adventurous.” To date they have managed to make some noise and headway in the market place saturated with gendered messaging.

Gendered clothing is another way that companies amplify the separation of genders and interests, and it's what your daughter starts with

Tootsa offers clothing that levels the playing field.

Tootsa offers clothing for kids that levels the playing field.

every morning. Does she really want to wear a dress? Or does she only wear one because she feels like she's supposed to? Does she really like that princess sweater? Or would she rather wear one with a prince on it? Even things such as color can trigger gender segregation when girls are always shown wearing pink, and boys shown wearing blue.

These obvious separations presented in children's clothing markets caused New Jersey mom Lisa Ryder to take to Land's End's Facebook page to voice her concerns. According to Take Part, Ryder told Land's End that her 9-year-old daughter, who dreams of becoming an astronaut one day, was excited to see they offered a “NASA Crew” T-shirt. That was, however, until she realized the shirt was only offered in boy sizes.

"Instead of science-themed art," Ryder said her daughter was "treated to sparkly tees with rhinestones, non-realistic looking stars, and a design featuring a dog dressed like a princess wearing a tutu…. In 2014, why are you selling ‘mighty’ tees for boys and ‘adorable’ tees for girls?"

Thankfully not all companies are so short-sighted. Founded in 2011 by designer Kate Pietrasik, Tootsa MacGinty prides itself on being one of the first unisex clothing lines available for kids. She moved to the U.K. after spending 10 years in France, where she worked for companies such as Hilfiger. While in the U.K., she was shocked to see how segregated children's clothing lines were presented (difference in the genders' clothing in France wasn't nearly as obvious). To combat the separation of the two, Tootsa launched their line of gender-neutral clothing. With no "boys" or "girls" sections available, the company is adamant about featuring boys and girls wearing the same outfits. Blue isn't just for boys, and pink isn't just for girls. Any child can wear any color, design, or style they want, without social or marketing pressures dictating their “choice”.

These are small changes, but supporting companies with girl-empowering messages can help encourage your daughter in all her future endeavors. Maybe she's too young to understand the social pressures and gender bias she could face if she wants a job in STEM when she grows up. However, showing her, even in little ways, that her gender should never hold her back from what she wants will give her all the confidence she needs for the future.

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