What About the Boys? / by Sabria McElroy

When I tell people about Born To Be, sometimes they ask why I’m not including anything designed for boys.  And occasionally someone will ask why Born To Be clothes aren’t just gender neutral. 

The answers to these questions aren’t easy or perfect.  It’s true that clothes for little boys also endorse gender stereotypes – there are too few options for all the little boys that love flowers and dancing.  And I agree with those that say imposing gender divisions on our children at a young age isn’t necessary.

So, why the sole focus on girls? 

First:  I think that there’s a need for children's clothes that communicate empowering messages specifically about girls.  As much progress as we’ve made toward gender equity, gender gaps in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math still persist and they start during elementary school.  Even in fields like law and business, where there’s a much higher percentage of women overall, women remain underrepresented at the top levels.  They are also vastly underrepresented in elected offices and less visible than men in professional sports.  

We need to affirmatively communicate to young girls that they are capable of succeeding in any subject or field because this isn’t yet self-evident in our society.  Clothes can help send that important message.  

Second:  Many kids go through a phase of gender rigidity during which they impose gender stereotypes on themselves.  We’re all familiar with the three, four, and five year-old girls that dress up as princesses everyday and their male peers who won’t be caught dead without a superhero cape.  During this period, kids declare their gender to the world by acting and dressing in gender stereotyped ways.  They strongly identify with interests and items that they associate with their own gender and shun everything associated with the opposite gender.  

Some kids experience this phase despite their parents active efforts to prevent it.  Almost all eventually outgrow it.  However, it tends to happen during a crucial learning period in early childhood that could have lasting impacts on a child's interests and confidence in his or her abilities.  

Girls at this age need to believe that they can be a princess and an astronaut or a princess who loves computers and problem-solving.  But it’s hard to get that message across when the vast majority of children's clothes available that depict these themes are designed for boys or are "gender neutral."  A pink, princess obsessed little girl does not want to wear a gender neutral shirt – in her mind, it’s for boys.  But she may consider clothes that incorporate traditional girl styles and colors, like pink, even if they don’t depict traditional girl themes. That’s where a Born To Be dress could come in!    

Finally:  There are practical challenges to starting a new clothing line while being a mother and working full-time.  The saying that it’s better to do one thing well than many things poorly applies here.  I’ve decided to put my time and energy into creating a high-quality line that addresses a gap in clothing for little girls. 

I hope – especially if I ever have a son – that boys’ clothing will also become more diverse in the future.  But for the present, Born To Be is about the girls.