Gender-free Clothing and the Pay Equity Gap
Posted on March 01 2016
We are raising our children in a system that predicts that our daughters will earn far less than our sons. This gender pay gap often begins in childhood and continues to widen over time. In 2013 Westpac Australia was researching a new app designed to help parents and children keep track of chores and pocket money. They found that boys earnt an average of $48 for 2.1 hours a week of chores, while girls spent 2.7 hours but only earned $45. Similarly, a UK website that lets parents set up online accounts to pay their child’s pocket money revealed that boys were getting 15% more than girls for doing the same chores. This disparity in pocket money is reflected in the real New Zealand workplace: NZ female graduates earn 6% less than their male counterparts, and this increases to 17% after five years.
Although shocking, it should come as no real surprise that such disparities in pay exist from such a young age. The moment genitals are spotted in a pregnancy scan, entire personalities and futures are being planned. In children’s clothing stores it is clear that childhood is very firmly divided into two camps: the pink vs the blue. Highly gendered clothing is great for clothing companies’ revenue so it is in their interests to promote such a trend. It means that a whole new wardrobe is acquired if a different gendered sibling is born. We have been brainwashed into thinking that the differences between girls and boys are so huge that it is inconceivable for them to wear the same clothing. However, research indicates that at birth, girls and boys are actually not that different. The chasm starts appearing soon after, due to the way they are treated and the different gender expectations placed on them. These factors mean that girls and boys experience childhood in very different ways. There is a clear message being given to kids: there is one way to be a boy, and there is one way to be a girl.
Children are gender detectives – they are constantly seeking out information about gender and want to behave in line with what they observe and the feedback they get. Recently I experimented with dressing my toddler Nina in very different gendered outfits on multiple trips to our local hardware store. When she raced round with the mini-trolley in 'boy' clothes, I fielded comments about what a handful he must be, how strong he is, how fast he is, and “what a rascal!”. When she was in a frilly pink dress I got comments about her lovely dress, her beautiful eyes, her sweet disposition and “mummy’s little helper!”. Society's reaction to Nina as a 'girl' and Nina as a 'boy' have shown me, on a very small scale, how differently the world interacts with children solely based on their perceived gender. My observations are backed up by psychological research; numerous studies show a difference of perception based on a child’s clothing - one particular study found that teachers made assumptions about children's academic ability based on their clothing.
Given that clothing has a big impact both on the way we are perceived by others and our behaviour, consider how the trend for highly-gendered clothes affects our children. For example, the girl that doesn’t run due to impractical shoes, the boy who doesn’t dance due to the restrictive clothing, the girl that doesn’t play in the mud for fear of ruining pretty clothes, the boy that doesn’t play with dolls as they are at odds with the war emblems on their t-shirt. Their clothing will also influence the way their teachers perceive and treat them. In time, these childhood experiences shape who they become as adults. The way the world treats each of us has a big impact on our sense of self: all decisions we make are based on years of 'society' telling us what we should be doing.
A small first step we can take in helping eliminate the gender pay gap for the next generation is breaking down the gender stereotypes that we place on children. Let's get rid of the limitations on who and what our children can be. Let's not allow the financial motivations of clothing companies have any part in how our children define themselves. When children's body shapes are essentially the same until puberty, why are clothing stores even dividing their clothing by gender? Let's give our children the time and the space to explore and experience their world without being limited to what pop culture dictates is "right" for their gender.