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It’s Not What Girls Wear That Gives Them Power, But What’s Inside Them


One of my favorite shopping activities is freelance product placement. You may think merchandisers have studied traffic flow and sales and come up with strategies to maximize sales based on customer preferences, but you would be wrong. In fact, retailers actually place products around the store not in an effort to meet customer demand, but for nefarious reasons having to do with what the French would call “I don’t know what.” That’s where I come in.

Instead of standing idly by while these corporations attempt to subjugate our minds with hypnotizing patterns and colors, I take matters into my own hands and move stuff around. Sometimes I move lemons into the pet food section because one time I watched a hilarious video of a Bernese Mountain puppy attempting to eat the citrus fruit. Other times, I move Crocs into the family planning area. But none of my work has reached the level of Katie Hinde, who moved some NASA tank tops from Target’s boys’ clothing section to the girls’.

That’s some next-level thinking right there. If only I had thought of it first, then my three daughters wouldn’t be suffering at home under the misconception that they can never become astronauts. Except, oh wait, we did already think of that, although not in such terms because we don’t expect store shelves to inform our kids’ self-esteem. Instead we established a policy that goes like this: it’s a freaking T-shirt, kids, knock yourselves out.

‘Band-Aids Are Stupid’

If the four-year-old wants to sport an Avengers tee, despite being torn between Chris Pratt and Chris Hemsworth, then she is free to do so. That’s because, as mentioned, it’s a freaking T-shirt. Similarly, if the seven-year-old and the nine-year-old want to wear more athletic gear when not in their school uniforms, we don’t care. They tend to gravitate toward pinks and purples, though, so I guess we’re failures as parents. Maybe my next guerrilla organizational task is to move the sportswear from the boys’ section to the girls, so they can continue to choose whatever colors they want.

Look, having three daughters makes me a little more about girl power than I might otherwise be. I’m not in favor of girl power in the accepted way, but I’m still sympathetic to the argument. This hit home for me when our middle daughter inveighed against pinks and girly clothes because, in her words, “I’m tough!”

Her statement is undeniably true. She once fell and ripped a scab off her knee during a soccer scrimmage—we’re not even talking about an actual game—and refused to leave the field. When a break was called, I looked at the blood trickling down her shin and reminded her I had some Band-Aids in the car. Her response? “Band-Aids are stupid.”

So I understand the argument. We don’t honor women the way we could; we don’t give their toughness its requisite due. But on the other hand…

Sex Has Nothing to Do with Strength

Have I mentioned that this particular bleeding child’s complaint about pink and girly clothes was made while she was wearing a stylish top, miniskirt, and tights combo in which she’d dressed herself?

The oldest has made similar statements and is also not in danger of becoming a shrinking violet anytime soon. I’m pretty sure the youngest, despite her affinity for Captain America and Thor, is actually a tiny Incredible Hulk, just waiting to lay waste to vast swathes of the country. She may be four, but she possesses the rage of a much older woman. We don’t have to worry about her toughness, just how it’s applied.

Nevertheless, it is important to us that they not associate their sex with weakness. Also, though, we don’t push that their sex naturally imbues them with strength. Instead, we do something completely radical and encourage them to be individuals. Not only do we not rely on various stores to raise our children and tell them how awesome or not awesome they are because they’re girls, we—gasp—treat them like unique people with strengths and weaknesses arising from their individuality. Crazy, I know.

The Words On Our Clothes Don’t Determine Our Trajectory

It’s a mostly unprecedented move given the world today, but one we stand by. Our daughters’ strength and ferocity comes not from their genetic makeup, but from inside them. If the youngest falls off the top of a ramp at the skate park and responds by throwing her scooter Bobby Knight-style then consoles herself with a stuffed animal, so what? If the middle daughter changes into a pink unicorn nightgown after washing the blood off from soccer practice, also so what? And if the oldest is starting to get into fashion and style while not being afraid to spill some blood at softball—again, so what? They’re living their truth.

This is to say, in a non-ridiculous way, the words on their clothes don’t determine the trajectory of their lives—unless those clothes include the phrase “correctional facility”—any more than their sex determines how strong or mentally capable they are. So instead of freaking out that there aren’t enough NASA shirts in the girls’ department, maybe those who worry about such things should instead look in the mirror and think about why they expect store shelves to teach young girls about what is possible in their lives.

It’s not the store’s job to do anything but make money, as evidenced by the fact that if demand were high for items emblazoned with the NASA logo, they would definitely be on the shelves in the girls’ department. As they are not, but your little girls still want them and they’re only available in the boys’ department, just buy them a shirt from the boys’ department. Then go back to the business of raising them to take risks and pursue the options that inspire them to greatness.

Otherwise, don’t sweat it. If our daughters are acting like young women and making independent choices, that’s not cause for alarm. Even if those choices don’t conform to a store’s categories, which, as of today, are apparently sacrosanct, that’s still not cause for alarm. It’s actually likely cause for celebration. Being a little girl is not a mistake and definitely not a condition worthy of being labeled a thought criminal. It’s a badge of honor, even if, in our modern times, we’ve forgotten how important it is.