Growing up, I had an assortment of Barbie computer games, official Barbie Christmas ornaments and, of course, dozens of actual Barbie dolls. I loved Barbie’s life in plastic. It was fantastic. I could brush her hair and undress her everywhere. Imagination, life was my creation.
I felt very insecure about my interests as a child. While people like my mom never made me feel uncomfortable for a second, there were family members and friends that sometimes shamed me for playing with dolls. The one place I always felt the most shame was in the toy aisle at department stores. I would walk up and down each one and feel incredibly out of place.
I didn’t identify with anything in the “boy” aisle, because I’d rather trade in the Tonka truck for a dream car and a WWE doll for a red-carpet-ready Barbie. But in order to do that, I was expected to go against all of society’s gender norms and walk down the girls’ neon pink aisle. At such a young age, I shouldn’t have been concerned how others were going to think of me, just because I wanted a different type of doll.
It didn’t just stop at my doll of choice. Everything from my happy meals, to my birthday party themes, to my bed sheets had a gender attached to it, and the same still rings true today.
Looking down the kids’ aisles in any store, the gender lines are still clearly defined. And yes, there have been tremendous strides with Target not gendering their toys and Disney not gendering kids’ Halloween costumes, but that doesn’t solve everything.
With Marvel’s “Captain America: Civil War” coming out this week, clothing stores and toy aisles have been bombarded with excessive superhero merchandise. But unfortunately, a lot of that merchandise is exclusively advertised to boys. I will walk through stores seeing entire collections of Marvel clothing for men and boys, but not a single article geared towards girls.
And yes, we should live in a world where it doesn’t matter what aisle the clothing came from – if we want to wear something, we should be able to wear it. But unfortunately, we don’t. I was terrified to shop in the girls’ section when I was young. I wanted those Barbie shirts, but I never got to wear them, because they were designed for girls.
If clothing companies and retailers are going to design clothes for popular brands like Marvel, Star Wars, Barbie and Transformers, they need be less restrictive. Because until we live in a culture that is less concerned if a shirt is “designed for a boy,” we need to make traditionally gendered interests available to everyone.
Making clothing and toys more accessible isn’t enough though. What’s on the shirts and what the toys represent is also a problem with blockbuster movie merchandise.
There’s always a controversy following big movies with consumers voicing that they don’t see any Black Widow “Avengers,” Gamora “Guardians of the Galaxy” or Rey “Star Wars” merchandise. Female figures are constantly ignored in products because most of the products are aimed at boys and men.
If studios can’t do anything more than cast one token female in their action movies, the least they can do is include that one female on their merchandise. And yes, Marvel has increased their line of Black Widow products, but there still aren’t any Black Widow clothes designed for men on Marvel’s website. Apparently having Scarlett Johansson on your shirt immediately emasculates you, and Marvel is trying to prevent that from happening.
So while a lot of merchandising problems stem from the inequalities in representation in the movies they’re based off of, there are still issues from the clothing companies themselves. We can’t live in a society that doesn’t care about gender if we gender every toy, bed sheet and piece of clothing.
So yes, ideally we should be able to wear whatever clothes we want and what aisle they come from shouldn’t matter. Clothes don’t have a gender and it shouldn’t matter who wears what. But until it’s safe for boys to wear clothes traditionally designed for girls, and vice versa, there need to be more options in every aisle. Society can’t unlearn ignorance overnight, but clothing companies can definitely change their policies.