When it comes to the topic of gender, items for kids seem to be the target of discussion. From Target taking down gendered signage to Halloween costumes and nixing "boy" and "girl" labeling, the push against gender stereotyping seems to be turning in the right direction, especially for little girls' clothes.
Less-stereotypical clothing for girls has gained some momentum, including early this September when Ellen Degeneres partnered with Gap for a girls' clothing line whose shirts included phrases such as "Be Your Own Hero."
But now, a few designers want the retail industry to turn its attention to the flip side of the discussion: boys.
Courtney Hartman, owner of anti-gender stereotyping clothing brands Free To Be Kids and Jessy & Jack and one of the designers behind the #ClothingWithoutLimits movement, told A Plus that she and other designers, including Jo Hadley of Handsome in Pink and Martine Zoer of Quirkie Kids, want their next push to raise awareness for boy clothes — many of which still enforce traditionally masculine roles and, as always, blues, grays and greens.
"We would love people to start embracing boys' love of stereotypically 'girly things' in the same way that they embrace girls loving science and sports," she told A Plus.
Though the key to doing so is getting people to let go of the idea that clothing can influence sexuality.
"People seem to fear that if we let our sons wear pink, like kittens or bunnies, or be proud to be kind or loving, it will turn them gay or make them confused about their gender," she wrote.
"I hope that sparking a discussion of boys and gender stereotypes will help people get more comfortable with the idea that boys should also have the freedom to enjoy and explore all animals, characters, colors, and interests, and it won’t turn them into anything but well-rounded, well-adjusted little humans."
Though Hartman and the other designers have children of their own, many of which are boys, this isn't just a personal initiative. Limiting kids to certain interests and styles, and sending them similar, stereotypical, messages does more harm than good.
Dr. Rebecca Hains, author of The Princess Problem and an expert in children's media culture, says that we're living in a culture of gender stereotyping worse than past decades, especially with kids.
"It's the idea that we don't want to feminize our boys and that's just garbage," she told A Plus.
She says that having clothes that don't categorize them is just a healthier option.
"Things targeting boys, whether it's clothing or toys, tend to emphasize very stereotypically aggressive forms of masculinity. Girls' [items] tend to promote passive types of femininity," she said. "Healthy, well-rounded people can pull from all personality traits, without relying on stereotypes."
Just like when girls sees clothes that only promote pink and princesses, and not encouraging topics like engineering and math like "boy" clothes do, "boy" clothes preaching toughness can have the same effect — leading them to think that they aren't allowed to be emotional or like traditionally "girl" things.
Hartman and the other designers have begun to create clothes with this in mind.
The Free To Be Kids 'boys''' shirts include phrases such as "Mr. Nice Guy" and "I'm a cat guy."
There's no evidence that proves clothing can influence personality, but there is evidence that kids who feel boxed in to be a certain way or like certain things can suffer more detrimental effects.
According to a 2014 study, unreal gender ideals can lead to low self-esteem, bullying, and violence in addition to health issues.
But good can come from examining kids clothes without gender lenses, too.
"In letting children wear designs that appeal to them, it honors who they are as whole people — who will hopefully grow into well-balanced [adults]," Hains told A Plus.
And who wouldn't want that?
Note: A few quotes have been updated for clarity.