A growing number of major retailers have hopped on the gender-neutral toys and clothing bandwagon to provide kids with options that don't confine them to gender roles. But there are also a few smaller, lesser-known companies created specifically with the mission of providing gender-neutral products. If you're doing any holiday shopping for children this season, you might want to check them out for gifts that fight the patriarchy while making kids happy.
By offering products not designated as "for boys" or "for girls," retailers make it acceptable for boys to buy things traditionally marketed towards girls and vice versa. They're also preventing the early socialization of children into gender roles that discourage boys from being homemakers and caretakers, discourage girls from pursuing math and science, cultivate aggression in boys, teach girls to define themselves by their looks, and have many other harmful effects.
Psychologist Judith Elaine Blakemore, who researches gender role development, told the National Association for the Education of Young Children that "if you want to develop children's physical, cognitive, academic, musical, and artistic skills, toys that are not strongly gender-typed are more likely to do this." This is because toys at the extreme ends of the gender spectrum tend to teach negative messages — specifically, those geared purely toward girls teach children to prize appearance above all else and those geared purely toward boys often glorify violence.
Gender-neutral clothing is also becoming more popular as people realize that anything categorizing people into two types can discourage genuine self-discovery and lead to an "us versus them" mentality. In this way, kids' clothing companies are way ahead of most adults'.
If you want to fight gender roles this holiday season, here are some places where you can buy clothes and toys (and one still in beta that you should look out for).
1. Quirkie Kids
Quirkie Kids, a gender-neutral T-shirt line for children, created the #StillABoy/#StillAGirl social media campaign to remind us that no child's gender should be questioned based on what they wear or anything else they do. Owner Martine Zoer tells Bustle over email that she started the company out of frustration with the limited options for her own two boys:
I got so tired of finding the same old stuff in the boys’ department. Yes, my sons love diggers and baseball and firetrucks, but they also love kittens and butterflies and really cute panda bears. I want more for my boys. I want them to be able to wear whatever they like whether its green or blue or purple or pink. Colors don’t have a gender. I am tired of big retailers telling my sons to be cool and tough and strong. What’s wrong with a boy being sensitive and sweet and caring?
The shirts come in all different colors with images of animals, cars, and other fun things that appeal to all kinds of kids and slogans like "free to wear pink" and "the bravest of them all." Zoer says one boy's mother wrote in to tell her he was teased after wearing a pink Quirkie Kids shirt to pre-school and then returned wearing it again to make sure everyone knew it was okay for a boy to wear pink. "The incident made me realize that behind each T-shirt I ship, there’s this little person who will be wearing it and who will be showing the world that it really is okay to be yourself," she says. "Whether it’s clothes or toys, it’s about time that we let kids decide for themselves what they like."
2. Nerdy With Children
Nerdy With Children, a community and clothing brand for self-identified nerds and their kids, launched its gender-neutral Real Heroes for Real Kids T-shirt line in September to challenge gender stereotypes with designs like glow-in-the-dark pictures of Marie Curie and other historical figures from science and literature. "If we restrict kids' choices based on gender, it teaches them to accept and conform to gender roles that they may not naturally gravitate toward," co-founder Jessica Trebing tells Bustle in an email. "We believe all kids should have more choices in life, not less."
littleBits sells DIY kits for creating smart home devices, remote-controlled cars, and other gadgets. The products are intentionally gender-neutral to combat traditional technology-related toys' gendered marketing, which could contribute to the exclusion of girls in STEM. A representative from littleBits tells me this is why littleBits uses white circuit boards, which are normally green, and multi-colored bits. "I believe we will level the playing field and we will really empower girls when we are empowering girls and boys, and designers and artists, and adults and young people all alike, because I don’t believe there is an inherent difference between genders," CEO Ayah Bdeir said in an interview with Fortune, adding that over half of children who use littleBits kits are girls.
Wondernik creates smart toys like nightlight houses and talking stuffed animals that appeal to children of all genders and teach them how to build circuits. Founder Yvonne Lin tells Bustle in an email that she created Wondernik to make technology appealing and accessible to a broader range of kids:
STEM toys end up being considered “boys” toys because they make it easy to build messy gadgets, robots, or cars — and hard to build anything else. Many girls don’t want to be limited like this. This means that many girls who are interested in STEM are discouraged from developing these skills by the limitations of STEM toys. On the flip side, craft and creativity toys end up being considered “girls” toys because they tend to focus on beads, bracelets, and charms. Many boys don’t want to be limited like this. This means that many boys who are interested in craft and creativity are discouraged from developing these skills by the limitations of craft and creativity toys. We believe that it’s important to encourage both analytical and creative thinking and making. It’s by combining and encouraging both types of skills that kids can wonder, learn, explore, and create to their full potential.
The products should be available starting in the spring. Though the toys are not yet for sale, Lin says she recently exhibited them at the World Maker Faire, where Wondernik won an Editor’s Choice award from Make Magazine. Lin also learned, after exhibiting Wondernik's kit for creating a motion-activated tail, that "pretty much every kid does want a tail" — regardless of gender.
Images: courtesy of Quirkie Kids; Nick Veneris And Jessica Trebing/Kickstarter; littleBits