Buying Boys Underwear for My Daughter: Gender Disparity in Kids’ Character Undies
I can’t imagine that any dad is entirely comfortable taking their daughter underwear shopping. Blogger Jim Higley did a great article back in April about taking his older daughter on shopping “dates” to Victoria’s Secret, and Higley really conveyed that wonderful, uncomfortable panic that can overcome a dad who’s forced to stand too long in the lingerie and unmentionables section.
While moms have their own unique on-the-job difficulties, I know way too many dads who are perpetually nervous about unwittingly coming across as a pervert or a pedophile, thanks to stupid societal prejudices about the perceived dangers of men interacting with children. And, though I disagree with all of those stereotypes, I will admit – when I linger in the girls’ underwear section at Target, my personal levels of social anxiety go off the charts.
Fortunately, unlike Higley, at the moment, I’m getting off fairly easily when it comes to taking my daughter underwear shopping. She’s only five years old, so I’m (hopefully) years away from flop-sweating and avoiding eye contact while I hold a purse next to the Victoria’s Secret changing rooms in the mall. Right now, we just go to Target or Kohl’s, she sees a six-pack of underwear with her favorite characters on it, I toss it in the cart, and we’re good to go. Character underwear makes undergarment shopping super-easy and predictable for the parents of young children.
Or so I thought.
Our underwear shopping system seemed to be going fine until my daughter discovered the existence of the BOYS’ underwear aisle.
“DAD! Come over here!”
I followed her voice and found my daughter standing, slack-jawed and indignant, looking at the much, much larger and more varied selection of character underwear in the boys’ aisle.
“They have Lego Star Wars underwear! And superheroes! OH! And Phineas and Ferb! Dad, can I get these? Do they have girl ones?”
And I had to stand and tell her that no, no, they didn’t make girl versions of these brands of character underwear and I didn’t really have a good explanation why.
If you’re unfamiliar with the world of children’s character underwear, here’s a quick breakdown:
In the GIRLS’ aisle, they have underwear featuring Disney Princesses, Hello Kitty, Monster High (a goth-themed toy line), and maybe a few Nickelodeon-branded kids shows (iCarly, for example). That’s it.
In the BOYS’ aisle, they have underwear featuring Star Wars (both LEGO and regular versions), DC Superheroes, Phineas and Ferb, Toy Story, Batman, Transformers, The Avengers – it’s a much larger character pool.
And, while I might (might!) begrudgingly admit that a majority of girls might not care for Transformers underwear, a LOT of the other so-called “boy” characters really do appeal to a wide cross section of children, both boys and girls.
For starters, Phineas and Ferb. EVERY kid I know loves this show and, even though the two title characters are boys, I don’t think the show has a gender-specific appeal at all. Phineas and Ferb actually has a nice selection of active female characters. And Toy Story? It’s one of the most successful children’s film franchises of all time and, while yes, it didn’t feature any sparkly princesses, I’m pretty sure that young girls made up a huge portion of its audience.
We did actually once find a pack of Pixar-themed underwear for my daughter, but even that was a little weird. They couldn’t just have WALL-E. They had to have WALL-E hugging EVE with a big red heart behind them. And Buzz and Woody couldn’t appear on any of the underwear, but Jessie and Bullseye could.
Do kids’ underwear manufacturers think that, if they put an image of a male character on girls’ underwear, that it will somehow turn the girls into boy-crazy sex maniacs? The logic completely escapes me.
My big issue is that my daughter is a HUGE comic book, Star Wars, and superhero fan, and, in my vast shopping experience, I have NEVER found any girls’ character underwear that spoke to any of those creative properties. FINE – If you think that having Anakin Skywalker on her undies will turn my daughter into a lusty, inhibition-challenged Jedi-chaser, then just let her have some underwear with Princess Leia or Ahsoka Tano on it, OK? But none exists.
There’s a pack of boys’ DC Superhero underwear that only has the logos of various superheroes on them. Why couldn’t they make those for girls? If the Superman “S” or the Batman bat symbol can appear on boys’ undies, why can’t you stick the same logo on girls’ undies and just call them Supergirl and Batgirl underwear? I couldn’t even find her any Wonder Woman underwear, even though I know my sister was the proud owner of Wonder Woman Underoos back in the ‘80s.
Yes, it’s sexist, but it’s also just weird and sad. Why can a boy walk around with Yoda on his underwear, but a young female Star Wars fan can’t? It’s gender marketing at its very worst.
So, what did I do? I let her buy and wear the boys’ underwear.
Why not? Yes, it hangs a little low in the back and, yeah, there’s the front flap, but, c’mon, NO kid (and barely any adults) ever uses that flap anyway.
And she absolutely LOVES them. Now she has Lego Star Wars undies (some of the boys’ ones DO come with images of Princess Leia on the butt), Toy Story undies, and a nice selection of DC Superhero underwear.
She adores the variety of her new character underwear and she definitely switches back and forth between brands – one day, she’ll rock the Disney Princess underwear followed by Chewbacca underwear the next day.
In her mind, Star Wars, Pixar, and superheroes aren’t just for boys, so wearing them on her underwear doesn’t feel odd at all. But, thanks to stupid gender marketing, there are whole generations of girls being told that these creative properties that they love ARE NOT for them. And, again, that’s sad and strange and seems to be leaving a whole lot of money on the table for the underwear manufacturers.
Believe me, sinister masters of the character underwear industrial complex, if you make Star Wars and superhero underwear for girls, they will sell. Because a) Young girls don’t view those as boy-only properties and b) As a parent, I will force my daughter to buy them if it means I get to leave the underwear section of Target any sooner, preferably without a pack of Miley Cyrus or iCarly underwear in my cart.