Gender stereotypes

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.   



Beginnings by Sabria McElroy

Shortly after my daughter, Leila, was born, Born To Be was, well, also born.  

My daughter at four months, around the time that the idea for Born To Be started to form.  

My daughter at four months, around the time that the idea for Born To Be started to form.  

The idea – like many ideas – started when I wanted something I couldn’t find.  When I went shopping for my daughter, I found lots of baby girl onesies that said “princess” or “adorable” or that were decorated with flowers, hearts, and bows.   But what I wanted was an adorable, creative onesie for my daughter that featured an engineering theme or a girl astronaut or said something like “P is President (not just princess).”    

I thought, how cool would it be if my daughter stood out with some sort of cute, girl power themed outfit. I wanted to make a statement about the endless potential I saw in my baby girl.  People would comment on how she was going to grow up to be a scientist or the president and refrain from calling her “princess.”     

There's no shortage of onesies like these!

There's no shortage of onesies like these!

I also felt it was important.  Even though Leila was an infant at the time and didn’t care what she was wearing, I knew that gender stereotypes influence how adults interact with babies and that, in turn, influences babies’ development.  I thought that greater diversity in clothing for baby girls might remind people to focus on and support girls’ curiosity and intelligence. 

So I decided to start a clothing company that would make the kind of clothes that I wanted to buy for my daughter. 

I came up with a name (which has since changed) and a concept that I really liked – each clothing item in my line would center around a “born to” theme.  For instance, a “Born to Discover” shirt would feature a science-themed design.   

But I was a new mom who had recently returned to my full-time job as an attorney.  I didn’t really know where to begin to start a clothing company and more than a year passed before Born To Be really began to develop.

By this point, I had learned a lot about the fashion industry and I knew that I wanted to create a product that was manufactured in the U.S. and that used eco-friendly fabrics and inks.  And I finally started taking concrete steps to make it happen (more about that in future posts!). 

After talking to other parents about Born To Be, I also decided to expand my product line beyond baby and toddler sizes to include little girls' sizes as well.  I realized that there was still a need and desire for empowering and beautiful clothing lines for little girls like Born To Be. 

Recently, my daughter has made me see this even more clearly.  Since turning two a month ago, she has begun insisting on picking out her own clothes.  She strongly prefers clothes that have graphics and prints over anything plain because they reflect the things she’s interested in and loves.  If she had her way (and she usually does), her clothing rotation would consist of shirts and dresses featuring Minnie Mouse, trains, the moon and stars, fish, and flowers.  (You can probably guess which items from the rotation were made for boys.)  

Like kids everywhere, Leila is starting to use clothes as a form of self-expression.  I want to make sure that her options aren’t limited by gender stereotypes and that she’s able to express a wide range of interests, from planets to computers to dancing. 

That’s why I can’t wait to add the first Born To Be designs to her wardrobe.  She told me that she likes the mock-ups.  (Her exact words were, “Nice!”).  Fingers-crossed that they make it into the rotation!