I first began venturing to the men’s department as a 13 year old in search of “cool sneakers.” All the musicians I looked up to wore shoe brands like Converse and Airwalk and Vans in specific styles which back in 1997, were usually only found in the men’s section. I learned that my men’s shoe size was a 6 and quickly had my parents buy me a pair of black Airwalks and some blue Chucks in which to stomp around my middle school.
As a teenager, I also discovered the beauty of thrift shopping and developed a gift for finding cool t-shirts in the Boy’s section (at the time I only weighed about 110 lbs). It’s not that I only shopped in the men’s department and wholly turned my back on anything “girly” (anyone who remembers my pleated skirt and fishnet stocking phase can attest to this), but rather that I recognized early on how much we limit ourselves due to simple signage.
At the time, I didn’t recognize how very feminist it was of me to turn my back on gender norms and adopt a personal style based on what made me happy rather than what Macy’s or Target thought I should wear.
Recently, a friend was tweeting about her frustration with the Disney Store’s need to gender the hell out of their toys
, marketing some toward girls and others toward boys (and never the two shall meet). I, too, often run into this problem when shopping for my one-year-old son. You won’t find more rigid gendering than you will in Baby and Toy sections at stores. When shopping for him, I often wander into the Girl sections in case I find something he might like, and to expose him to these areas so he never feels they are “forbidden” to him simply because we are (up to now) raising him as a boy (he’ll decide later on if this is right for him).
The point is, there’s no actual reason why men can’t find a shirt they like in the women’s department or why a girl can’t buy her shorts in the boy’s section. There’s no real logic behind only buying toys that are marketed toward your gender. And really, when we stick to following the signage, we’re taking part in our own gendering, we’re being complicit to the absurd notion of the gender binary.
So if you’re reading this, I challenge you to wander into potentially unknown territory and see if you genuinely like something–a pair or pants or some socks or a hat–and ignore the signs that limit your choices. Mix it up. See what fits. And if you have kids, let them wander the aisles of the toy store so they can decide for themselves if they like cowboys or princesses or robots or fairies or all of it. You may surprise yourself.