One awesome woman in Phoenix, Arizona is breaking down gender stereotypes, one tank top at a time.
When shopping at a big-box store on Sunday, scientist and professor Katie Hinde stumbled upon yet another example of enforced gender norms. There was a rack of NASA-themed tank tops in the boys’ section, but seemingly none were hung in the girls’ section.
Struck by a sudden spark of impulsivity that she called a “George Banks is saying ‘no’ moment,” Hinde took the shirts from the boys’ section, transferred them the girls’, and then posted about it on Twitter. Little did she know that one small move would affect so many people.
“The merchandise that surrounds us, shapes our gender stereotypes, and this starts very early in life,” Hinde explained to Babble. “Boys and girls look at what’s in ‘their’ section, but they also look at the other section and that can shape not only their own preferences, but their expectations of the interests, skills, and activities of others.”
I don’t know about you, but I had never really thought about this point before. We all understand that a girl’s or boy’s choice of clothing is limited if we only provide stereotypical options. And yes, a parent can buy clothes from either section for their child, but a boy observing what is provided for girls and not him (or vice-versa), can have an impact as well.
As Hinde notes in an example to Babble, if a little boy is standing in the boys’ section of a store in front of let’s say a shark T-shirt, and looks over at the girls’ section, he is learning that sharks are for him, and not girls. And this small social cue, along with hundreds of others they receive every day, subtly present gender messages to our kids.
In just five days, the tweet has received over 132K likes, 27K retweets, and 3.6K comments. And while I’d love to say that everyone was on board with this small feminist action, that wasn’t the case.
Hinde has received a plethora of feedback, to which she told Babble opened up “important dialogues about how to protest and advocate, with lots of valuable perspectives.” One of which featured a “space-obsessed” little girl, who greatly appreciated Hinde’s tweet.
On the downside, however, Hinde also received “aggressively histrionic tweets, laden with sexist tones and terms.”
[Insert eye-roll here.]
But being the scientist that she is, who works on inclusivity in academia and science, broke down the responses on her blog Mammals Suck…Milk! with some very interesting insights.
For example, many of the commenters claimed that this was a “non-issue” because Target sells NASA shirts in the girls’ section. So while Hinde was sure not to specify the store she was in when moving the tank tops as to focus on the grander social issue and not criticize a specific brand, she decided to check out a Target store for herself.
According to her blog, Hinde found that NASA shirts were located in three different locations in the boys’ section at varying eye levels for adults and young kids. When she asked staff in the girls’ section for NASA shirts, they replied that “they definitely had them in the store … somewhere.” It turns out, the girls’ NASA shirts were located at the back of one section, facing a divider, away from the main path.
[Insert second eye-roll here.]
Commenters also accused Hinde of inconveniencing the retailer, who would later have to move the shirts back. Taking this into consideration, especially as a former retail worker, Hinde explained that the shirts were where she had left them the next morning and later spoke to an employee about what she had done to avoid any further disturbances. Spoiler alert: they didn’t care.
Hinde also points out that retailers do separate clothing based on gender because men and women are shaped differently, resulting in differently proportioned clothes. And while this can be a totally valid explanation, for children’s clothing, it’s unlikely because kids under the age of 10 are generally similar in size.
Long explanation short, Hinde was trying to make a point about gender stereotyping in a small, simple, non-violent way. There are many ways that we all choose to make a difference in the world, and this was just one example for Hinde.
When asked if she had encountered any other instances of gender stereotyping, Hinde jokingly replied, “How long is your article?” Further emphasizing that gender stereotypes are everywhere beginning from a young age.
In fact, Hinde recalls a moment from her own childhood that had an impact. She had had come home from first grade one day with a coloring activity of a picture of a cheerleader. When her dad asked about it, Hinde explained that the boys had gotten a picture of a quarterback, and the girls, a picture of a cheerleader.
“The next day, my Vietnam veteran dad took me into school and let that teacher and her principal know in no uncertain terms that they would NOT be putting their gender roles on his daughter ever again. My dad was amazing.”
Clearly, these small acts of protest can make all the difference.