Science shirts for the girls; racks of camo for the boys?

I have seen many articles covering Land’s End recent addition of science-themed shirts for girls to their fall clothing line. This is great, and clearly long overdue. I don’t even have a daughter, but I’ve noticed the major anti-feminist themes running in clothing for shockingly young girls out there. I get it, and I applaud Land’s End for doing something about it.

But I come to you as a mom of boys, specifically of a mom of one boy who doesn’t like camo print and sports, to tell you that over here, on the boys’ side of the store, the picture isn’t much prettier. The truth of the matter is, when our daughters want to play soccer and be an astronaut we rightfully say “Rock on!”, but when our sons choose a lavender flowered backpack “because it’s just how our garden looks in summer” we cringe and say “…well…flowers are really more of a girl thing.” It’s great that we embrace girls getting to do it all, but let’s not forget that not all boys like science, aggressive sports, violence. Admittedly, men are over-represented in fields like math and science and certainly the military, but male elementary school teachers are few and far between. Stay-at-home dads still face some stigma. Men who are nurturing and quiet are brushed aside by society so often. Why is that? Why do we accept this? Why do we look at a boy in pink Crocs and say, in a hushed voice, “Well, pink is kind of girly, don’t you think?” as if something being “girly” meant it was less-than?

What baffles me still is the seemingly arbitrary assignment of themes and motifs as “boys things” and “girl things”. The boy stuff is decorated with military prints, dogs, dinosaurs, lions, vehicles, and sports equipment. The girl stuff features flowers, cupcakes, fruit, cats, and peace signs. Sports and the military are for boys? Gardening and pacifism are for girls? Ugh.

My awesome grandmother, in the army during WWII. She didn't get the memo that liking the military was a boy thing ;)
My awesome grandmother, in the army during WWII. She didn’t get the memo that liking the military was a boy thing 😉
My 6'5" ex-Marine father who baby-sits my kids, sews curtains for my mom, and made all my childhood Halloween costumes
My 6’5″ ex-Marine father who baby-sits for my kids, sews curtains for my mom, and made all my childhood Halloween costumes

I’ve chatted with my son about how other kids may say some things are “girl things” and “boy things” as he gets older, but not to worry because this is not the case. People are free to be who they are and to like what they like. There’s zero truth that says you have to like football because you’re male and I have to like ballet because I’m female. Girls can grow up to love Star Wars and boys can grow up to design dresses, even if the toy aisles and clothing departments disagree. I hate to dance and my husband hates football, and life has gone on just fine for both of us. My hope that what we teach at home, about being yourself and accepting others who do the same, will be a louder voice in his head than voices of those who disagree with us.

22 thoughts on “Science shirts for the girls; racks of camo for the boys?

  1. Thanks for this. I have oft lamented how everyone loves a TomBoy, but people are still horribly uncomfortable with JaneGirls. It is a loss for us all.

  2. Why, before kids have curves, do we even NEED to have “boy’s clothes” and “girl’s clothes”? I have 3 sons and 1 daughter. If my daughter wants to wear a superhero shirt she can put on a “boy’s shirt” but if one of my sons wants to wear a My Little Pony shirt, he can’t because the “girl’s shirts” are shaped to give the illusion of curves! My youngest happens to like pink, and I have found a total of two pink boys shirts at walmart (they say “tough guys wear pink”). It would be so much easier if I could pass down his sister’s stuff!

  3. This is fantastic.

    My son is almost 3 and most of the people where I live already make gendered assumptions (which they say to me) about what he should like to do/wear and how he should behave. It makes me crazy and I’m dreading the first time he runs up against gender discrimination directly. I’ve already talked with his MDO program about NEVER discouraging him from any activity/toy/color that he’s interested in. At least the director and assistant directer are on the same page with me but there isn’t much I can do about subtle shaming that might happen from any given teacher. (And of course on “super hero day” the director sent out a text letting us all know that girls could dress as a princess if they wanted… I sent one back reminding her that some boys might want to dress as princesses too but never heard back). The other day at the YMCA he was allowed to pick a trinket from a box as a reward for good behavior and he chose the pink “diamond” ring which he proudly showed me when he got home. According to my husband who picked him up, the sitters at the Y didn’t discourage him. At least it’s not as overt for toddlers but it starts very early around here.

    And not being the mom of a girl I hadn’t noticed this before but, the other day while buying shorts for him at goodwill (where the clothing is organized by general size and color, not gender) I realized that all the shorts that were originally sold as “girl” clothing are incredibly short while all the shorts originally sold in the boys section of the store are long. Turns my stomach.

  4. Thank you for this!!! I have one son who likes the science, dinos, sports stuff….and one who decidedly does NOT. Now that he’s going into 2nd grade, even finding something as simple as a lunchbox that suited him was surprisingly difficult — he didn’t want a “boring, plain” one, but he knew he’d get made fun of if he picked something he really liked (like My Little Pony), and he didn’t feel like dealing with that at the lunch table every day. We eventually found something that he’s happy with, but ugh! He’s a wonderful musician, loves orchestra and dance, and he’s great at horseback riding, but none of those interests can be found reflected in clothing and accessories that aren’t pink, ruffled, purple, or bedazzled. When people started talking about the Lands End science shirts, my first thought was “Okay, so when are they going to get some less gross-out/rough and tough designs for the boys?” All I can say is…thank God for tie-dye, which at least gives some interesting color and pattern to things in a relatively unisex way.

  5. I bought my son a yellow shirt with a lighthouse on it while we were on vacation. Today I took the tags off and noticed that inside it says “Girls 7-8”. A yellow shirt with a lighthouse?! REALLY?? Anyways, thought that was timely given that I had just read this post. Thanks for bringing the “boy mom” perspective to light.

  6. Hi Sarah, Loved this article. The separation of girl vs boy is something I deal with everyday in my world but mostly from the girl side. Variety is limited from both sides but I find that most products made for girls are not made as well as those for boys, take for example the warmth of a winter jacket or the construction of sneakers. From a manufacturer perspective what is difficult is the limited amount of shelf space. Retailers will only take a few items so choice is limited. The more choices companies offer the more expensive the items become because of smaller volume and unfortunately consumers are just not willing to pay. So until someone comes up with a wider range of choices and more affordable options I guess we can either dust off those sewing machines or choose solid colors. So let’s celebrate boys in pink and girls in navy blue. Keep up the great work!

    1. You are so right! I’ve found so many boy-moms (and dads) who share this sentiment about wanting their sons to feel free to be themselves, but it’s hard to find anything that fits the bill. We ended up going with a solid green backpack this year (literally ALL the “boy” patterns were sports or camo!) and we’re getting some iron-on patches to make it what he wants– a great suggestion we got from a friend. Sad to hear about the difference in quality and practicality of boy versus girl clothing. UGH. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

      1. Does the quality of clothing also match up to the stereotypes? We have been told that boys are hard on their clothes, so these clothes should be durable. Girls, on the other hand, just need a lot of variety (girls can’t be seen wearing the same thing day after day!), so items will be outgrown before they`re outworn. My youngest is now 17, and the stereotypes seem to fade as they turn into adults (at least in the city… my son`s haircut received many a comment when we went into a rural community yesterday to attend a wake).

        My worse experience with clothes shopping, though, had little to do with colour. My youngest was not stick-thin (nor was she overweight), but apparently girls` bathing suits are only made for stick-thin youngsters. We finally found one that fit properly, but only after she was humiliated. We couldn`t go into teen sizes because they all had built in bra cups (!!!). Now I watch my friends with girls that same age going through the same humiliating experience. Apparently only the kids who look exactly like the kids in the ads are allowed to feel good about themselves. Parenting is only for those with guts of steel.

  7. This is so complex and what I spend too much of my life trying to unravel. The truth is that the very same gender role norms define what is acceptable for both boys and girls, men and women, and that they restrict both, shame both, and distance us from each other. Even raised by two feminist social workers my son admittedly limits his choices because of what “feedback” he’ll get “from friends.” I find it sad and enraging so hard, even in my own home, to do something constructive about, though I will forever keep trying.

    1. I plan to keep trying, also. It’s really hard, isn’t it?! I know there may be times when the voices of peers seem to be winning, but I’m hoping those times are just phases. Happy to hear that I’m not the only one who sees gender role norms as something we should worry about across the board.

  8. After two back to school shopping trips, I could not agree more. Why is everything of gender assigned in kids clothes? I am proud that my daughter only loves blue and green and we get more of her clothes in he boys department and she and I could care less.

    1. Yes! It’s great that you do that. She shouldn’t have to wear princess shirts just because that’s what marketers say she has to wear. What I struggle with is my son would LOVE to wear pink shirts and have pink shoes, but there’s not that same freedom for boys to just shop in the girls’ department. For some reason, our society still cringes at boys who like “girl things” while the reverse (girls who like “boy things”) is (finally!!) becoming more acceptable.

  9. Sarah, I so agree! Should we be encouraging girls in underrepresented areas like math and science? Of course! But what about encouraging boys in their underrepresented fields? It would be great if the world of possibilities was open and accepted for both boys and girls. They say it’s a man’s world, but boys still need our attention. Thanks for writing on this topic – so important!

      1. Yes! Just because men are the majority in so many areas doesn’t mean we can ignore boys who don’t follow the crowd. No one should face bullying and harassment for what colors they like and their interests, male or female.

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