Me: Let’s pick some treasures from the park today.
Mishi: what is a tree-aa-sure?
Me: Little things that you want to keep safe.
Mishi: In a box?
Me: Yes, sometimes.
Mishi: Let’s race?
Me: We can do that. Whoever gets the most will win the treasure hunt.
(A while later)
Me: Oh! You didn’t get anything from the park?
Me: Didn't you like those red stones?
Mishi: I did.
Me: Didn’t you find that cute little pineapple-shaped fruit?
Me: You could have picked the purple flowers?
Me: Then why didn't you collect those?
Mishi: I didn't have pockets to carry them!
This was not the first time that my three-year-old had complained of not having pockets in her dress. And it made complete sense.
We all know there are significant differences between boys’ and girls’ clothing. Walk into any kids’ store, and you find separate sections for boys and girls – even for the newborns. There is often a glaring difference in colours: pink is for girls and blue for boys.
But, if you look at it, a newborn onesie is a newborn onesie.
Talk about prints, and you will see a clear distinction in the way children’s clothing is gender-segregated. Little boys get rockets, dinosaurs, trains, trucks, and all other fun and ‘adventurous’ stuff, whereas little girls get kittens, rainbows, strawberries and other sweet and ‘lovable’ motifs.
I am not sure how the designers come up with those. They may be following some set gender patterns but they are definitely not reading children’s minds.
A few months ago, we sorted through a pile of new clothing sets that were gifted for Mishi’s third birthday. Most of them were pink frocks with flowers and frills. My kid reached out for a red T-shirt with a monster truck. She was instantly in love with it and wanted to wear it all day.
This made me think of symbolism and gender in a brand new way. Little girls are being told at a very tender age that machines and gadgets are not for them, or at least should not matter for them. The same goes for little boys too. Their surroundings are so clustered with trucks, superheroes and fire stations that they tend to miss out the gentle feelings that poppies and rainbows evoke.
There is a significant difference in sizing too, and this was one of the most annoying things for me. At the newborn stage, the difference between boys’ and girls’ sizing is not large, but you should put toddler clothing side-by-side to see the difference. While boys’ shirts are broader with boxed sleeves (allowing plenty of room for movement), girls’ shirts have tight sleeves and plunging necklines, and are cinched at the waist.
Why on earth are we making four-year-old children mimic the fashion of 22-year-old adults? Why can’t a kid be given her space to remain a kid?
And, the last but definitely not the least, there is the frustrating detail about pockets, which are completely missing. Entire essays have been written about why women’s pockets are so small. Entire essays have been written about why that’s sexist.
Don’t little girls need to collect treasure?
They must! And when they do, their parents have to give them a handy box or a sling pouch to carry or else brave the boys’ clothing section (which I do, but I am also mocked for raising a tomboy, but, oh boy, my girl needs pockets!).
How can it be so hard to put pockets in girls’ clothing? Doesn’t any female designer point out the need for pockets in dresses, and – for that matter – doesn’t the male designer ever dream of kittens and hearts?
Treating children in different ways according to gender stereotypes definitely affects them later in ways we can’t comprehend. What does it mean for our children if the clothes we put on their bodies – long before they’re able to articulate their own wishes in that department – are so drastically and utterly gendered?
I don’t have all the answers, but the questions continue to unsettle me.
Ruchi Shrivastava is a Hyderabad-based software engineer in the daytime and a storyteller at home.
First published in eShe magazine