I have lost count of the number of times my daughter has been mistaken for a boy simply because she was not wearing a dress, or her outfit wasn’t pink. A bloke was talking to us in a café the other day. Once he learned that the baby was a girl, he said, ‘Oh, what a shame to put a pretty girl like that in jeans!’
My first reaction was to brush it off as drivel from an inconsequential stranger. But I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. As Kristen Wiig says in Bridesmaids, ‘this is the 90s’. Surely we shouldn’t have to accept comments on gender like that anymore? It reduces my daughter’s value to the extent of her ‘prettiness’, and it places importance on what she looks like rather than who she is.
What kind of a message does it send to a young, impressionable little girl as she navigates her way through the world, if comments like that persist every time she decides to wear something other than a pink dress?
With six times as many men as women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) roles in the UK, I genuinely think there is cause for concern that from the earliest age, we are still steering girls in one direction in life, and boys in another. These off-the-cuff comments and assumptions that a baby in jeans must be a boy, however harmless-sounding, are endemic of a wider societal issue. Companies still feel the need to create ‘girl Lego’ and emblazon girls’ clothes with phrases like ‘cutie pie’ and boys’ clothes with things like ‘tough guy’. This doesn’t only potentially limit opportunity and aspiration in girls, it places unfair pressure on boys to be tough and strong, and for sensitivity to be viewed as a weakness. Who can possibly live up to that?
I’m aware people might think I’m being overly sensitive here, and that some people will always say the wrong thing and have a different view on this. However, I have experienced gender assumptions on such a regular basis that I can’t help but think this problem is lingering about unnecessarily, and now this Mama is cheesed-off and primed for action! As the most powerful country in the world ushers in its new leader in the form of a bile-spewing, hate-filled misogynist, I’m feeling that there’s no better time to fight back.
So, here’s my plan. I’d like to introduce you to #DressDownFriday, a campaign I have set up to encourage parents to dress their babies and children in gender neutral clothes, one day each week, on a Friday.
Let me caveat this by explaining that I am not anti-dresses, nor am I anti-pink-girly-stuff either. Just like everyone else, my heart does little somersaults when I see my daughter in a tutu and a ribbon headband. But balance is important, and I am bored to tears with so many people we come across thinking that just because she’s a girl, she has to fit into a narrow stereotype of what a ‘girl’ is. I want more for her than that.
Simply by ‘dropping the dress’ on a Friday, I’m hoping that I – and you guys if you want to get involved – can push to normalise the idea of a young girl wearing something other than a dress all the time. The more people that do this, the more of an impact it can have. Alongside similar initiatives to ‘let toys be toys’ and ‘let books be books’, I’m hoping this will help broaden minds and introduce an acceptance of boys and girls being allowed to be whatever the hell they want to be.
All you have to do is share a picture on any – or every – Friday, of your babies and children in gender-neutral clothes, and use the hashtag #DressDownFriday when you post it online. And that’s it! Let’s see if we can build some momentum one day each week with this and help to make daft gender-confining comments a thing of the past. Who knows? Maybe a few more kids will then grow up thinking that they can wear anything, do anything and be anyone. Win-win, right?
I’m keen to hear from you guys on this campaign. Do you think it’s a good idea? Will you be joining in? Have you ever experienced unnecessary gender stereotyping with your kids? What else could be done to tackle this issue?
Here’s my first #DressDownFriday snap this week. I can’t wait to see your pics too!