I'm really, super excited to be posting for Alida Makes's Calling All Kids Series today! This is a series about breaking down stereotypes about 'what girls like' and 'what boys like' and instead celebrates kids' individual likes and unisex design.
The 'gendering' of childhood is a subject very close to my heart and actually one of the reasons I started this business. I'm so tired of (and angry about!) the marketing of toys, books, fashions, etc on a gender divide. At its most explicit we get divisions in shops or the labelling of toys and books with 'For Boys' and 'For Girls', but more pervasive are the assumptions made about kids based on their gender. That all girls like pink, or princesses, or makeup, or domestic play based on cleaning one's house; that all boys like blue, or sports, or dinosaurs and diggers, or messy play (they're just noise with dirt, amirite?!) or aggression based play. Insidious messages that tie identity to gender and provide a nebulous framework of the 'right' and 'wrong' ways to be girls or boys damage both genders.
I admit that I've found (and find) this a really hard part of being a mother to a daughter, particularly a daughter that identifies with more 'girly' interests than I ever have. I was considered a 'tomboy' growing up, and had little interest in dolls or princess narratives- instead I was heavily involved in various sports and preferred construction-based play like building forts in the woods or obstacle courses in the garden. I'm not going to shame or discourage her (you like what you like!) for wanting to play princesses, or bedazzling jewellery boxes, or the million apps about applying makeup that she always wants but I am going to call her out for linking it to her gender.
Even as a toddler Maia would verbalise so many 'boys are' / 'girls are' tropes and gender stereotypes that I found it a mixture of terrifying and hilarious in a funny-not-funny way. I joked to a friend once that I should've named her Patriarchy for all the things she said: from girls don't like science, to boys are better at sports, to telling me I should always wear makeup because I looked prettier with it. Those millions of tiny messages are getting through, and at a younger age than I expected.
It's intense, and it's ongoing, but we've come a long way. One of my proudest mum-moments was when she and a friend were looking at magazines and the friend said, 'This is a magazine for girls' and Maia said, 'That's a magazine for people who like princesses'.
I've spoken about this many a time before, but my mum is an all-around bad*ss and inspiration. She sews, she's an amazing knitter, she makes glorious stained-glass, she does woodwork, makes furniture- you name it, she can do it. She officially retired this year, so obviously she's relaxing and enjoying her down-time by building a second house in their upper lot. Her mum / my grandma was also a bad*ss and Maker of All Things (her furniture making in particular was amazing), and could often be found hauling around huge rocks and building stone walls until she was almost 80. One of my favourite memories of her was when I was enlisted as a teenager to help her stack a huge pile of wood that had been delivered and despite being in her seventies and all of 4'10" she was OMG SO COMPETITIVE about being faster than me. A couple of years ago me and my mum were chopping a tree down for Christmas, lying on our stomachs in the snow with a crosscut saw, and she said her mum would be smiling down on us. Women doing it our own bad selves.
So we sat down last weekend and I told Maia about the Calling All Kids series and showed her some of the projects that people had made for it. We got a notebook out and made a big list of all the things she'd heard about the differences between boys and girls. She helped pick out the fabrics, and we brainstormed about what kind of outfit would break down bias and appeal universally. Blue and green- check, star print- check, sporty- check.
The top is a unisex Dolman tee shirt with shoulder princess seams and contrasting striped side panels.
The shorts have a yoga waistband for comfort and allow a lot of freedom for movement. I also made some knee socks (which I should've made a couple inches taller in hindsight because the stripes don't have much vertical stretch). An outfit for movement and action, not a outfit for adornment. Phew, a bit of a novel for a quite simple outfit!
The tl;dr version: gender is not identity. Maia might like a tonne of things society associates with female-ness (and that's okay) but she should never be limited or defined by it. For every dress or skirt that I make her, for every princess-print I might use, I'll make her a dozen of these more gender-neutral pieces. Be strong, be confident, be without limits.