Most Women’s Voice readers will have realised just how much the rights of working class women have been affected by the policies of Thatcher’s government. Cuts in education, social services and school meals means that for many women going out to work has become an impossibility. Women are being badly hit by unemployment and are told by the Tories and the media that their place is at home caring for their families.
We are well aware of the people who seek to erode women’s hard won meagre rights, such as the backdoor attack on abortion. Women are being forced back into accepting traditional sexual stereotypes as the norm. At the same time there is another more subtle means of sexual stereotyping at work, one that can affect the way the next generation see themselves and their place in society – Kid’s Clothes!
For the last decade Mothercare shops pioneered the manufacture and supply of unisex babyclothes and children’s outfits. They sold good quality, bright coloured and easy to care for clothes which were long lasting and could be passed down from one child to another regardless of gender. This is not to say that Mothercare, a commercial enterprise out to make a profit as all big businesses are, was trying to make life easier for parents of to break down traditional male and female roles.
What they did see was that many women were demanding an end to stereotyping and more freedom from the drudgery of housework, hence the unisex babyclothes and easy to care for, hard wearing fabrics. Mothercare made an immense profit out of the demand for these products and became an international organisation with branches all around the world. Last year the company was bought out by the same multi-national that owns the equally highly profitable (and trendy) Habitat shops.
It is perhaps the evidence of the decline of the feminist movement over the last few years that Mothercare no longer sees that the marketing of non-sexist kid’s clothes is highly profitable.
Out are the tough, bright dungarees, playsuits, practical dresses and jumpers. In are frilly dresses in pastel pinks and lemons for little girls, even the dungarees are in pastel colours or covered in flowers. In fact pretty flowers are everywhere, even in pram linings. If you have a baby boy of course you can have a plain lined pram!
The boy’s clothes are equally as role stereotyping; they are displayed wearing either traditional pale blue or in sporty athletic type gear looking lively and active while the girls appear sweet and decorative, except for one or two exceptions (tom boys?).
Even in the toy section there appears to be a greater division of the sexes than there used to be, boys and girls do not appear to play together but are separated into gender role playing. Only one man appears in the entire catalogue emphasising the fact that it is women’s work to look after the children and choose their clothes. But with fewer non-stereotyped clothes on sale.
Mothercare is a misnomer; it does not care much for mothers at all, only making profits. Unless we take the trouble and have the time to shop around or make the clothes ourselves then our kids are going to have to go back to having their gender defined by the type of clothes they wear, not by their own later preferences.
It could have awful implications for the women’s and gay movements – in short, for the united working class movement of men and women working together against their oppression.
Author: Su Weston
Women’s Voice, May 1982, Issue 62