Gender Schmender

The hot topic in the last couple of weeks has been UK department store John Lewis removing “gender” labelling from their children’s clothes. You can read about the announcement here. To my surprise, reactions online have been very much a mixed bag. something that I really did not believe was an issue has become the source of many an online fight. 

Apart from anything, I’m 99% sure that John Lewis’ labels have always said “boys & girls”, certainly in their Oxford Street flagship store, which is the one we visit most often. The clothes have always been loosely arranged by “gender”, but I don’t remember ever seeing “boy” and “girl” labels in John Lewis.

What has surprised me most about this whole situation is how much people seem to think it will affect their lives. People ranting about “PC gone too far” and “the left brigade” and that old “trans-agenda” chestnut. People asking why it is necessary? Why it makes a difference? Why we need to bother?

Here’s some of the comments I’ve seen in the last few days…

“Utter rubbish and PR exercise.. Girls and boys are a different shape for a start, so how are they addressing that? If parents are that concerned they could easily cut the labels out themselves.”

“In my opinion this is just getting ridiculous. Cant wait to see the day when there are bra’s in the men section.”

I think it’s a little over the top to be honest all this gender neutral rubbish. Half the time kids get something shoved on them and that’s that. I think it’s cute that girls can wear dinosaur dresses too but don’t see the kids shouting about it just the adults?!?!?”

“This is ridiculous! Social conditioning in the highest!!! And appealing to adults, just a marketing ploy, nothing to do with children, as which newborn/child can even read the labels?! Not saying girls can’t wear blue, boys red etc but this is going too far in my opinion!! Confusing for older children who can read, should my little girl feel double minded about being girlie because that lovely dress has a label on it for her brother too & vice versa?! This is catering to such a tiny minority, what about the HUGE majority?! “

Missing the point? The fact is, we DO need to bother. They’re quite right that labels make no difference to them, so I don’t understand why the hell fire of ridiculousness is ongoing. Some folk seem to be under the impression that this means no more pink and blue. I don’t know, maybe they think children’s clothing will now all be a dishwater shade of beige and we all must now dress our children in burlap sacks? This is just not the case!

The clothing is the same. It’s the same stuff. The same dinosaurs, tractors, fairies, superheroes and princesses. It’s the same rainbows, the same pink and the same blue. It just doesn’t have a label on it specifying who can wear it. Eden has stuff from all sections. It doesn’t mean we are raising her “gender neutral” – as far as I am concerned she is a girl until she decides otherwise – but it does mean that she is free to choose whether today is a princess day, a superhero day or a bit of both. No one is saying you can’t dress your child in head to toe pink or blue – you still can! No one is saying you have to buy “boy” clothes for your girl. It’s entirely the opposite.

Here are some pictures of Eden wearing clothes that are from both the “boy” and the “girl” section. With half of them, you’d never know which section they are from.


Labels do annoy me when clothes shopping. That and the fact that you will often find clothes in the “boy” section that say things like “future scientist” or “cool like Mama”(see above) and the “girl” section equivalent will say “future ballerina” and “daddy’s little princess”. It annoys me with character clothing as well – “girl” Paw Patrol stuff only ever has Skye, Everest and sometimes Marshall. If you want the whole gang you need to go to the “boy” section and then it’s all blue and dark colours, rather than the bright colours offered in the “girl” section. It’s silly really, because they’re just “Paw Patrol” clothes.

Part of me applauds the people who say “labels don’t matter to me” until they follow-up with “so why do we need to change anything?” Fact is, labels don’t matter to you and that’s fab – well done. However when your child is older and they, for example, pick a pair of shoes that they like and then wear them to school, only to be picked on by the class bully because those shoes aren’t “for” their preferred gender. That’s where there is a problem. That’s where we need to change. YOU might not reinforce gender stereotypes, but others do and we need to quit encouraging them with unnecessary labelling. It’s not confusing to children at all. Children don’t need labels.

Basically, it’s not about you. You, who thinks your little boy is suddenly going to turn into a girl. You who thinks wearing “boy clothes” will turn your pretty little princess into a raging butch lesbian. You who makes jokes about buying a bikini with a tractor on for your three-year old. It’s about the children – all of our children. It’s about letting them be able to walk into a shop and pick whatever they like. It’s about them not being swayed by a “boy” label or a “girl”  label. I never want my daughter to say no to something she likes because she feels it’s “for boys”. At the moment, no, it doesn’t make much difference, but once she can read those labels I don’t want them to affect her choices.

So, really, what are you all losing your minds about? It’s progress, and it will happen regardless of your resistance because the world needs it.



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9 Responses to Gender Schmender

  1. Mamalife says:

    Fair enough. you make a very valid point.

    But honestly, does it really need a label to figure out what is boy’s dress shirt vs a girl’s dress shirt?
    Anyone who can even see partially can make out the vivid color difference.. At least in North America, I struggled to buy even gender neutral new born outfits!

    Kids will always wear/ select what their peers are wearing, so a girl will pick up girlie stuff to “fit in” at least until the rebel years or when sexual maturity hits them.

    Just the hype the store wanted with its marketing.. As they say in marketing, “I don’t care what crap you write or talk about me, get my name right.. “. The inventor of this campaign, hit bulls eye.

  2. Speck says:

    Honestly, I think it’s bizarre that we force babies and toddlers and children’s clothes into two separate sections. After puberty it does make sense, because bodies diverge into very different shapes (hullo hips), but before that I just don’t see the point. Let there be glitter and robots and fuchsia and orange and dinosaurs and fairies. None of that should be gendered in the first place.

  3. I completely agree! Great post. I couldn’t have said it better. – Em

  4. Rachael says:

    Man, we had this conversation just the other day. Our 5yo daughter really loves Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Minecraft, so when I went to buy her underwear, I had to get it from the boy’s section. While I know those underwear are designed for the boy’s anatomy, its the only kind that had the designs she wanted. She wasn’t interested in the Shopkins and princesses. She wanted to wear turtles under her skirts by golly! Now she says the boy underwear are more comfortable than her girl section panties, and why don’t they have pink and glitter ones in that style? Well, damnit, that’s a good question and it’s annoying as hell.

  5. Viki says:

    Honestly, I feel the same way. There should be such things as “gender neutral” clothing. I came into a relationship with my now wife and stepson who is 7 years. At times he acts sassy and flares his arms out, as one would maybe say “like a girl”, dresses up in pink aprons when cooking, but then says things like… “boys cant have long hair or their ears pierced cause then theyre a girl” Personally I don’t like that, because what makes a boy not have piercing and long hair, and girls must? As a woman myself, I have shorter hair… doesn’t mean I am a boy or even want to be a boy. Growing up with the idea that this is how boys are and this is how girls are, to me is wrong.. I believe everyone adults and young children should see everyone as people. And I think that does start at a young age with clothes. Why separate the two? Ive read some of these comments and some say as they age into puberty they should separate the two… maybe so? But if I see a boys shirt I like, Im going to get it. No one should feel weird picking out opposite sex clothing. Idk.. these are just my rambling thoughts I suppose.

  6. The bottom line is I think people just don’t like change. Personally, I don’t care whether they have the boy or girl specifically labeled on their clothes because I’m going to know whether or not just by looking at it, if it’s something I want my daughter to wear or not. I guess I’m impartial either way they go. My sister had given me several hand me downs from her two boys that no one knew were specifically boys clothes, like the pictures you posted, because at her age, she doesn’t really have any defining lady qualities except the fact that she is pretty slim compared to her boy cousins. One thing I would like to see maybe come from this will be clothes that my daughter can wear that have different kinds of vehicles on them without it looking specifically like boys clothes. My girl loves cars, trains, and planes too. Thanks for sharing.

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