After a visit to Shrewsbury’s Primark, author Kate took to Twitter to berate high street stores for bombarding children with slogans she calls “tired, sexist and naff”.
The photographs Kate shared showed girls clothing branded with slogans about positivity, friendship, love and happiness, whilst the boys clothes were adorned with technology, adventure, travel and sport.
While Kate, who lives in Whitchurch, says there’s nothing wrong with the individual messages, the contrast between what is being advertised to young girls and boys is striking.
She said: “I’ve been noticing the slogans on girls’ and boys’ clothes since 2018, and in every high street shop and supermarket, the pattern is the same. It’s inescapable, wall-to-wall.
Primark was the shop where my very first kids’ sexist clothing thread originated, several years ago. I popped into the Shrewsbury branch today to see if anything was different.
This are the messages for little girls I saw: girls need to be exclusively positive. pic.twitter.com/NwRr6psc7o
— Kate Long (@volewriter) February 22, 2023
“Girls get bombarded with the idea that they are there to make others’ lives better and put themselves second.
“Always be happy, be magical, sparkle, shine, love more, spread kindness, be humble grateful and positive are the kinds of messages girls – and only girls – are having pushed at them. It’s tired, it’s sexist and it’s naff.
“Boys, meanwhile, get told the world is theirs and they should go ahead and take what they want. Boys’ slogans cover exciting stuff: sport, gaming, science and tech, travel, adventure, alongside general messages ‘bigging them up’ – Awesome! Epic! Dude! Icon! Legend! But they never get messages about friendship or caring.”
Research by Lifting Limits, an organisation dedicated to promoting equality through education, demonstrates that gendered stereotypes influence the career choices, self-esteem and aspirations of young people.
Professor Becky Francis, director at the UCL Institute of Education said: “The tendency for boys to be attracted to technical and physical occupations, and girls to be attracted to caring and creative jobs, remains evident.
“These preferences (and later, choices) reflect the different life experiences according to gender to which children are still subject, many people are still having their ambition and potential capped by horizons that are narrowed by gender.”
Such marketing, Kate argues, has a harmful knock-on effect into adulthood.
She said: “If girls and women are continually nagged to be nice, be kind, be grateful, they may go on to have difficulty asserting their boundaries – and that can have implications for their personal safety.
“Most women have been in a situation where they’ve felt threatened, but been too worried about offending someone to speak up. We need to be teaching girls to be more assertive, not compliant and passive.
“By the same token, if boys’ slogans insist that love and kindness have nothing to do with them, that’s not realistic or helpful messaging either.
“Are boys not loving, caring sons and grandsons, brothers, friends, future husbands and fathers? Looking at boys’ t-shirts, you’d think their only significant relationships were ever going to be with skateboards and PlayStations.
“64 adult men a week commit suicide in the UK: we need to be teaching boys how to build up their emotional language and manage the full range of feelings.”
It’s the retailers, Kate says, not the customers, that are responsible for making the change.
“Lots of children will feel too awkward or nervous to choose the ‘wrong’ t-shirt, in case they get teased. Shops need to display clothing by type, then kids can choose from the full range, not just what some stranger has decreed they’re supposed to like.
“The root of the problem is, there is no choice. Every high street shop and supermarket stocks the same boring, outdated slogans.
“Retailers need to step up and take responsibility now: adults and children are asking for change. Ridiculous, 1950s-style gender stereotypes need to get in the bin. Start listening to your customers! It’s 2023!”
Kate is the author of eight novels, including the number one best-seller The Bad Mother’s Handbook.
Primark has been approached for comment.
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