This is baby blogging, but it’s also a post about gender. As most of you know by know, I have two little boys, and one thing I really like to do is dress them in cute little outfits. Over the past few months, as I’ve perused the baby departments at numerous stores, I came to the conclusion that I like the clothes made for boys clothes better than I like the clothes made for girls. It’s not that I don’t like frilly dresses and ruffles. What I like about boys clothes is the bright primary colors that are more common in clothes marketed for infant and toddler boys and the themes used in both boy clothing and gender neutral clothing. My favorite themes are usually animal themed clothes, and above all else I like ducks and frogs–probably because yellow and green are my favorite colors. In my view frogs and ducks are generally androgynous, but many animal themed clothes are marketed for boys. For example, dogs, dinosaurs, lizards, bugs, and turtles are often found in boys clothing. I’ve also noticed two other common sets of themes that I like in baby boys clothing–occupational themes and activity themes. As I was looking through my little guys clothes, I noticed several outfits that had themes related to predominantly male (and mostly working class) occupations. The outfits they are wearing above are firemen themed. In the first picture, Mark’s shirt has a firetruck on it, and in the second picture Eli’s shirt says, “Chief Fire Dog to the Rescue.” I’ve also see baby boy clothes with policemen, construction worker, mechanic, pilot, and soldier themes. Activity themes involve clothes the promote going on safaris, hunting, fishing, eating, playing sports, and one outfit my little guys have promotes making robots (which could also be construed as an engineer’s outfit).
What strikes me about baby boys clothes is how much they promote activity and paid labor force work. Even as infants, we start to socialize baby boys into occupations. You rarely find occupation themed clothes for girls. Little girls clothes often have flowers, frills, and some animals (i.e. butterflies), but they don’t have occupational themes. They also rarely have activity themes outside of shopping or cheerleading. In fact, to me the worst subset of little girls clothes are those that say princess or diva. Diva is oftten used in a derisive way to indicate that the girl is overly demanding, and unlike the fireman or construction worker a princess doesn’t earn her title–she’s born with it or marries into it. Princess themed clothes also seem to play up baby girls looks–looking like a princess means looking pretty. I’ve seen a few shirts that have messages about boys being handsome or cute, but those are much less common.
One of the reasons that baby clothes are so strongly gendered is that babies themselves are often androgynous. If you put them only in a diaper, it’s often hard to tell what sex the baby is, but that androgyny doesn’t fit well into our gender polarized society, so this is where the clothes come in. Those clothes have underlying and blatant messages. Baby boy clothes have subtle and not so subtle messages. They say–be active, be bold, enjoy the outdoors, and get a paid job. It doesn’t seem that baby girls clothing has similar messages.