A couple of weeks ago we were in Walmart to print photos for E’s assignment at school. I ended up trolling the aisles with E. and P. in tow because we needed various things, including waterproof mittens for both kids. E. has for years worn the same style of mitten from MEC but he needed the next size up and when I looked on the website I saw that MEC has changed the style and the new version is not getting good reviews. I also live in fear of E. losing expensive mittens at school, so I figured there wasn’t any harm in trying out a cheaper pair.
We poked around for a while and found one pair that E. liked. I was worried they were a touch too small.
Then I spied another section across the aisle.
“E., come and look at these. Tell me if you see anything you like.”
E. came over, took one look and stopped short.
“Mummy, I can’t wear these. These are for girls.”
Inwardly, my reaction went something like this: OH FUCKITY FUCK FUCK. WE’VE WORKED SO HARD ON THIS!
Outwardly, I said to E. that even though the store wanted people to think that there were girl clothes and boy clothes, because that meant they could sell more clothes, the truth was it didn’t matter.
“No one is allowed to say that only girls can wear purple and pink and only boys can wear blue and red,” I finished, pulling a pair of black mittens off the rack. “I bet they had the same mittens on the other rack and they’ve just sold out.”
E. picked the black mittens and a purple pair of waterproof gloves.
Before we left we gathered up a bunch of purple and pink mittens and gloves and put them on the empty racks in the “boy” section.
That would be the end of the story except that it quickly became apparent that these mittens and gloves were still a little too big for E., so on Monday I took him to the dollar store.
E. very quickly picked out two pairs of waterproof mittens (red and purple), one pair of purple and black wooly mittens and one pair of lightweight turquoise gloves with snowflakes on them.
“Look, Mummy,” he said happily about halfway through the process. “I can pick whatever I want because there’s not a girl or a boy section.”
I stopped dead. I’d been in that store earlier that morning (buying mittens for P. because there had been nothing appropriate for her at Walmart). I’d observed there were loads of mittens in E’s size but had completely failed to notice that they hadn’t been in any way segregated.
The dollar store has fairly minimal outdoor gear (and I might still come to regret buying mittens from it, but we’ll see) and even less by way of clothing, so it makes sense that everything would be confined to one big aisle.
I hadn’t noticed when I’d been collecting purple mittens and a purple baby balaclava for P. (because she kept picking the purple options when I put several in front of her) that the purple and the pink and the red and the black and the blue and the green mittens were all on the same hooks.
He is a boy who has always loved pink, a boy who happily wears leggings from the “girl” section to school, a boy who can sit and flip through the pages of a cake decorating book from the 1980s and criticize its gender assumptions (“Mummy, look- there is a rocket cake but they say it is for boys! That is inappropriate because everyone likes rockets. What do they think girls like?” *turns pages in ever-increasing horror. “A princess castle? Well I like pink and I like princesses and I like castles. A sewing machine?! Well if a boy doesn’t know how to make his own clothes he would have to go to the store. An oven?! That’s ridiculous! Everyone needs to know how to cook!”).
But even he, at age six, knows that he is somehow not supposed to shop in the section for girls.
There’s starting (finally!) to be a serious movement to stop the practice of segregating toys in stores and making assumptions about which kids should want (or be allowed) to play with them.
Toys aren’t going to be enough.
We need to do clothes too.
And if the dollar stores mittens actually turn out to be waterproof, we will be buying more of them in future.