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Why Sexist Stereotypes on Girls' Clothes Matter

Mimi Haddon / Jupiter Images

Though perhaps not as immediately gut-churning as crotchless thongs for children, sexist lines of onesies and tee shirts have been popping up in retailers nationwide over the past few months. Actually, we’d venture to say that they’ve been there for years—but they’ve been attracting plenty of notice as of late, from frustrated and angry parents who wonder why gender stereotypes of girls as pretty and/or ditzy and boys as smart and/or tough continue to appear on store shelves in 2011. Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams smartly tackles the issue in her recent article, “The War Over Sexist Onesies.”

Williams notes that not all parents are up in arms over shirt slogans about girls’ perceived weakness in math or the championing of their beauty over their brains, and that some feel these angry parents are making a stink over nothing when there are much bigger problems in the world. But why shouldn’t parents demand better for their daughters—and their sons—even at the local mall?

It is possible, Williams says, “to be pissed at sartorial sexism and still have umbrage left to take aim at sex abuse, how Congress is nutritionally short-changing our children or any number of compelling issues. To care about one thing doesn’t mean you have to relinquish your stake in everything else, or that you live in a world in which all issues merit the exact amount of care and attention. And calling BS on a crappy marketing plan doesn’t mean you’re ‘hysterical’ over a ‘perceived slight.’”

Plus: How NOT to Talk to Little Girls

After ‘fessing up to rocking ruffled skirts and mascara herself (or, as she puts it, being “far from anti-girly-girl”), she concludes:

“I want my daughters—and yours—to grow up in a world in which they can brag of their math prowess or their rascally natures on their own shirts. Not shirts pinched from the boy’s collection, but their own. They can rock them with their tutus and their glitter headbands if they so desire; they can still be pretty. But they need to know that just because you’re a girl, you’re not limited to being anybody’s fairy, princess or fluffy little cupcake.”

What do you think? Are parents overacting, or do they have reason to be upset?