Anyone who has kids or who has been near them, knows that they say the darndest things. And you often find yourself saying things that you never imagined, or, to the untrained ear, statements that would be so completely off the wall if they were outside the context at hand.
Here is what I have said five times this week after dropping M off at preschool:
“Put your underwear in the cup holder before going inside.”
And then I have chauffeured a (clean) pair of Thomas the Train underwear with me to work. Anyone who looks in my backseat must think we’re slightly off.
Here’s the context: M is presently in love with Thomas the Train. When she was sick a couple of months ago, she got to indulge in some serious couch/TV time and that was the On Demand show of her choice. She’s seen only a couple of episodes since she got better but she is still fixated on him. I’m sure part of it is the novelty of it having been on TV given how little she watches, but at any given point in M’s young life she has been fixated on the most random of inanimate objects for periods of time, including a random page from a kid’s magazine that she walked around with so much that we had to tape it together and were on the verge of laminating. We bought her a couple of Thomas books so that we could keep the TV off but indulge the interest a bit, and she bought a small Thomas train with some of her birthday money. These were our efforts to quench the Thomas fixation.
But when we recently went shopping for various household items, I remembered that she needed some new underwear. Since she happened to be with me, I let her pick out her new pairs. And that’s when she spotted them all blue and red and green in their packaging: Thomas and Friends underwear. A week’s supply! Of course she wanted those…but they were clearly made for boys.
But after only a two second pause and a large effort to quash the tirade going on in my head about how toy and costume makers continue to marginalize young boys and girls by essentially dictating what is a “boy” toy or what is a “girl” costume, I said she could get those underwear. Thinking ahead to her likely wanting to wear those to preschool, I told her that she’d have to wear them at home, not to preschool “because they were boy underwear”.
Open mouth, insert foot…
Why oh why did I tell her that? After a flood of questions about why they were boy underwear (the flap/escape hatch in the front–do little boys really use those?) and some unabashedly white lies about why she had to wear them only at home (I said it was because they were special underwear–the truth is I didn’t want her to get teased by other kids in the class whose families might have different views…she’s too young to take on that task just yet), I got angry again at the marketers and sellers of these types of products. Despite her incessant talking about them, showing them off and general love for them, she is also concerned about the fact that they are “boy” underwear.
Why ARE Thomas and his pals only on underwear designed for boys? The message that this sends–that only boys are entitled to share in the fun of trains, or that only girls are only entitled to share in the fun of fairies, princes and princesses–is extraordinarily disappointing in this supposedly enlightened age of gender equality. I’m not saying that I want to see a male attorney strut into court wearing pantyhose, but during childhood shouldn’t all of these things be created equal? I even Googled “Thomas girl underwear” to see if maybe it was just the store I was in. But the results confirmed my disappointment and a lot of the results showed rants similar to mine.
One would think that some of these companies would wake up and realize that they are missing out on a segment of profits simply because they are being biased. I wouldn’t even care if their motivation was to increase profits under the guise of promoting equality. Just give us parents, and more importantly our young kids, the option. Instead, we are left to make decisions like this and tell our blossoming and otherwise tolerant young children to hide part of who they are for fear that they may be teased by someone else over something so trivial as what is on their underwear. Even though marketers and retailers might tell our kids that they should not cannot have things just because of what’s between their legs, I will support M with her choices because they are made with her heart and what is between her ears.