Monday 4 September 2017

No More Boys And Girls: Political Correctness Gone Mad Or a Step In The Right Direction?

 Recently, John Lewis decided in the act of defiance against the gender stereotypes decided to remove all their 'boys' and 'girls' labels from their clothing. Instead, labeling their clothes for boys and girls. This means that dresses say they can be worn for girls and boys. Girls and boys can wear pink, blue, yellow or whatever colour they want under the sun. When they go into the shop, they can browse all the clothes and pick out what they like, because they like it, not because of it is what they think they should like or are expected to wear. 

I stand firmly supporting this decision by John Lewis. I think it is a fundamentally important step in the right direction to encourage children, just to be children and not be what society thinks they should be. Constant reminders of differences between boys and girls, sink in and have a lasting impact. One which many don't realise until it is too late. 

There are of course many people who are against John Lewis's decision, claiming that is is politically correct nonsense. Parents inflicting their views on children, who really don't care what they wear at that age. Some simply don't understand the argument and reasoning behind removing girls and boys labels from clothing because they are so blinded by society's beliefs of what a girl and boy should be like from the day they are born, what toys they should play with, what they should wear, right up to what job they should be doing in the future. 

Before we go any further, let's define some basic terms shall we? Firstly, the difference between sex and gender. Sex is the biological differences between men and women, which we all know and can't dispute. Gender is how you identify. Gender is often influenced by the social and cultural differences of what is expected of men and women, which can be found in every aspect of our lives. 

Those who criticise the argument think that by removing labels, you're trying to remove gender, but get confused with the difference between gender and sex. John Lewis isn't introducing a whole section of beige, yellow clothing. Quite the contrary. They are allowing children the choice to express themselves in whatever way they want and not be pressured by society to only think they can wear certain types of clothing. 

Some argue that it's just clothing. Clothing is clothing, kids at that age don't really care. However, these people aren't aware just how damaging gender stereotypes are. 

No More Boys And Girls: Politically Correct Gone Mad Or a Step In The Right Direction? girls boys John Lewis gender neutral clothes

Brain structure for boys and girls is the same. What makes boys and girls different is the environment they are exposed to. Brain plasticity refers to how the brain structure can be changed and molded as a result of our upbringing, experiences and the environment we are surrounded by and that's what children's brains are- moldable. 

In an experiment by DR Javid Abdelmoneim, they studied a class of 30 7-year-olds, in a typical classroom, in a typical school. They tested the children on a wide range of skills including self-esteem, empathy, confidence, perceived intelligence and how well they could express their emotions, they found some absolutely shocking results. (Source

The girls in the study had lower self-confidence, self-esteem and perceived intelligence. They associated themselves with words such as; pink, pretty, lipsticks with one girl even describing her self as ugly. On the flip side, boys couldn't express their emotions as well as the girls, apart from with one emotion and that was anger. 

Other findings highlighted that boys were three times more likely to over estimate their ability than girls, with 50% of boys saying they are 'the best' in stark contrast to only 10% of the girls. (Source)

No More Boys And Girls: Politically Correct Gone Mad Or a Step In The Right Direction? clothes John Lewis boys and girls gender sex neutral

These differences may seem insignificant to many, but by ingraining children from the day they come out of the womb with these rigged beliefs only sets them up for a life where they are restricted and can't achieve their full potential. 

John Lewis noticed these findings and realised that it's not okay for girls and boys to have restricted beliefs at such a young age where quite rightly the world is their oyster. Sceptics may argue that there is no harm in putting a little girl in a top that says 'I'm Beautiful' but that what seems like a completely innocent phrase acts as a catalyst for a future that teaches them, looks are everything, boys are better and eventually they are just made to be under paid.

It's the same for boys. Seemingly innocent phrases like ' Here comes trouble' or ' Strong boy' only reiterates a set of misleading societal beliefs. A Strong boy becomes, real men don't cry, or real men don't talk about their issues, which then leads boys to be bottled up with emotion and nowhere to express it.

Nowhere is this difference more evident than in mental health. Statistics for male suicide are shocking. Attempted suicide rates for female on the rise. The country is facing an epidemic of mental health problems. These are all headlines we see weekly, but is anyone really stopping to think about why this is the case? 

Girls, struggling with their mental health internalise their problems, they struggle with depression and anxiety. Whereas, boys are more likely to externalise. They express their emotions in anger and noncompliant behavior which isn't productive.

No More Boys And Girls: Politically Correct Gone Mad Or a Step In The Right Direction? John Lewis clothes boys and girls gender neutral

It is really easy to think that boys are just naturally better at some things than girls. Boys are naturally inclined to prefer to play with cars and building blocks and girls dolls and teddies. This isn't the case. Boys and girls brain structure is the same. So why are less than 10% of engineers female and only 13% of STEM jobs in the U.K are taken up by women? (Source)

This is because boys are given more opportunity to practice the skills needed to be good at maths and science related jobs. Boys are given puzzles and Lego which allows them to develop their spatial awareness or problem-solving skills, something which girls don't get the opportunity to do through playing with dolls. 

I could go on for days, explaining just how important it is for gender labels and stereotypes to be removed in classrooms and family homes, but I won't, and instead, I'll leave you with one last message.

How would you explain 75% of men in 2015, taking their own life? Or female suicide rates increasing by 3.8%? (Source) Would you blame the parents, the upbringing, etc.? Is victim blaming really needed? Or should we start realising the systematic failure of society to bring up children in a gender neutral environment where they have equal rights and equal pay? 

If you believe what John Lewis has done with their clothes is wrong, then you need to get your head out the gutter, wake up and smell the coffee. It's 2017. Not 1940, anymore. 

* This post does not acknowledge the experiences of those from different ethnic backgrounds, those with disabilities, cisgender or who are homosexual because I'm not an expert and I don't claim to know everything. I'm looking further into these facets of a child's identity may influence their experience of school, for a future blog post.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic in the comments down below. Was what John Lewis did right or wrong? Do you think more retailers should follow suit or is it just political correctness gone mad? 

Thanks for reading, as always X

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