Ninjas Stole My Homework: Kids’ Graphic Tees and Self-Esteem
Fixing social inequalities is a tricky thing, as wave after wave of feminists can attest. There are members of my family who can talk about the first time they were allowed to wear “slacks,” and the freedom that brought them, as girls. In more recent generations, we’ve had our eye on the pink, princess candy-floss onslaught aimed at our daughters by kids’ fashion marketing. “Girls can wear blue!” we tell our daughters, “Girls can wear anything!” Stores are now full of sparkly graphic tees declaring mottos like “Girl Power” and “Girls Rock.” It’s true. We do. ;) But guess what, so do boys.
The trouble is, in freeing our girls from stereotypes of unicorns and rainbows, we’ve forgotten to share these with our boys. Girls can now rock entire “menswear” fashion looks, complete with sweater vest and loafers (Fashion note: cool look!) but we have yet to see stereotypically feminine colours, symbols or styles cross the aisle into acceptability for boys. In fact, something different and very strange is happening to boys messaging.
Whereas university classes used to be man caves, and academics were thought of as a male pursuits, kids’ t-shirt manufacturers are now firmly dumbing down the messaging aimed at our sons. Girls’ tees now say “Gifted” and “#Genius,” whereas boys are now walking billboards for anti-intellectualism and crappy behaviour. We regularly see boys going to school advertising messages like “Ninjas Stole My Homework,” or “Homework Must Be Stopped - It Kills Trees!” Where “Girls Rule,” boys’ fashion warns the world “Here Comes Trouble!”
As a teacher-librarian and media literacy specialist in a primary school, I talk with kids about their graphic tees on a daily basis. I stress to my students that the wearer of a message -- although not its author -- is still the broadcaster of whatever claim their t-shirt is making. Their audience (teachers, friends, classmates, the bus driver...everyone!) will assume that the kid wearing the message is “saying” it, and believes it, on some level. The truth is, though, we likely put those words in our kids’ mouths. Children aren’t the ones with buying power. When parents, grandparents, or birthday gift-givers choose a tee that says “Future Astronaut” or “Future Couch Potato” they need to pause and think about how that kind of messaging will affect, and reflect, our kids. Do we really need 3 month old babies labelled “Mommy’s Big Guy,” or “Daddy’s Little Angel?”
Moms of girls have learned to cross the aisle, into the boys section, for inspirational messages about futures in math and science, or confident athletic graphics. Some clothing companies have even started to “girl-up” these kinds of formerly “masculine” messages, with sparkles and sequins. Good strides are being made -- no doubt. Let’s be careful not to demean our sons, though, to boost the self-esteem of our daughters. Good boys make good men, and good men make good fathers. You get the picture. Let’s let all kids be who they already are, instead of slapping slogans on them that pigeon-hole them for the world, and maybe even for themselves. Sequins optional.
Rebecca Saha is our Healthy Moms kids' fashion expert and co-owner/curator of iSpy Clothing children’s online resale shop (www.iSpyClothing.com), where Healthy Moms cardholders receive 20% off children's clothing, shoes, and accessories. Find out more here: https://gohealthymoms.com/ispy-clothing