This post was contributed by Aimee King. Aimee is a freelance writer and single cat mom based out of New York. Her interest in gender stereotypes comes from her rugged upbringing spent exploring the outdoors. You can find her other work here. Care.com, a site that connects users to different types of caregivers, recently posted a question asking readers: “If your son wanted to dress up as a princess for Halloween, would you let him?” As they explained in the article:
“Playing dress-up is more than just fun. It also teaches creativity and allows children to role-play. Halloween is a time when kids stretch their imaginations. But many parents say there’s a limit to how far they’ll let their boys go.”
According to their survey, 65% said no, they would not allow their son to put on a dress, and 35% said they would allow it. What’s even more interesting is that when the very same survey flipped the topic to costume choices for girls, the results were polar opposites. When they asked, “Would you let your daughter be a cowboy for Halloween?” 90% of readers said they would, and only 10% said no.
Pediatrician and author of several best-selling books on children development and parenting, Dr. Meg Meeker said that the skewed results are due to parents fearing what costumes say about a child’s sexuality. Kids, on the other hand, don’t connect clothes with sexuality. In addition, parents are more likely to infer that a boy wanting to dress as a girl is a reflection of his future sexuality, but there’s less likely to be an assumption made about a girl wanting to dress in a typical boy’s costume.
Thankfully some companies are doing what they can to combat the misunderstanding and distortions of some parents, even if it means disagreeing with potential customers. Kate Pietrasik is doing just that with her children’s clothing line Tootsa. For years, they’ve regularly posted articles regarding gender bias to their company page, encouraging those to reach out to additional sources in an effort to raise awareness to the issue.
In a June 2014 blog post, they even recommended that customers read Crystal Smith’s The Achilles Effect. As they explain, the title “explores gender bias in the entertainment aimed at primary school boys, focusing on the dominant themes in children’s TV shows, toy advertising, movies, and books.” It also “examines the gender messages sent by pop culture, provides strategies for countering these messages, and encourages discussion of a vitally important issue that is rarely talked about—the impact of gender stereotypes on boys.”
Why is Tootsa’s history on the issue important? It’s a risky move for any company to take a stand on something controversial. The Business Journals cited a study conducted by the public affairs firm Global Strategy Group, which said that just last year, 56% of consumers reported they did not approve of a company taking a side on an issue, believing they should remain unbiased.
This year was the first time it was reported that consumers claimed to be “okay” with it. In fact, 80% said they thought it was “important for corporations to take a stance on political issues that affect their business.” Far before it was ever considered acceptable by the majority, Tootsa had always made their firm opinion on the subject known. Now instead of being given a black mark for voicing their opinions, Tootsa is being praised for it.
It just goes to show that there’s something to be said for sticking to your guns on a subject. With more companies and campaigns taking a similar stance—just look at the Let Toys Be Toys movement—we should see more advancements in creating a more gender-neutral world for our children. At the very least, perhaps more boys would have been able to dress as princess Elsa this year.