As the father of a young daughter, I am not used to social progress. I’ve come to expect that female politicians will be constantly asked about their appearance. I’ve come to expect that corporations will forget to make toys based on the female lead of their new blockbuster movie. I’ve come to expect that it will take Barbie over 50 years to acknowledge what real women look like. I’ve come to expect that, at every turn, society will find a way to let my daughter down, in big ways and small ways, entirely due to her gender. I am used to being disappointed on my daughter’s behalf.
So, imagine my surprise when I recently encountered some small, hopeful progress for girls in a completely unexpected place – children’s character underwear.
That’s right. There are Star Wars and Marvel underwear for girls right now and it’s kind of a big deal.
Let me explain — over three years ago, I wrote an article for 8BitDad titled “Buying Boys Underwear for My Daughter: Gender Disparity in Kids’ Character Undies.” It was all about how angry my five-year-old daughter was when she discovered that boys’ character underwear was much, much cooler than girls’ underwear, largely because retailers and manufacturers had decided that most popular pop culture properties were “boy properties.” That meant that boys got Star Wars, Pixar, superhero, and Phineas & Ferb on their underwear and girls got hearts, princesses, and Hello Kitty. For a comic book-loving, proudly geeky five-year-old girl, there could be no greater injustice.
The article was shared thousands of times and led to a series of follow-up pieces where I interviewed some underwear manufacturers and noted the growing online demand for more options for girls’ underwear. (One manufacturer, when asked about what it would take to get a retailer to start carrying more gender-neutral character underwear in stores, replied, “It would take a big, bold retailer to do it.”)
Being the cynical dad of a daughter, I didn’t think much would change. I liked calling attention to the problem, but, in my heart of hearts, I couldn’t see retailers ultimately caring about the issue.
Cut to 2016. A week ago, out of the blue, I received a package from one of the underwear manufacturers I interviewed for my original article. It was filled with underwear for my daughter.
But not just any underwear. It was character underwear. Gloriously geeky character underwear. Star Wars underwear. Marvel underwear. DC Comics underwear. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle underwear. And it was ALL MADE FOR GIRLS. All of it.
And the manufacturer included a note. It said “Tell your daughter she helped shape a generation.”
My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe it.
I know cartoon character underwear could NOT seem more frivolous to some of you, particularly when you look at all of the inequality and war and injustice in the world today. So, throw around words like “trivial” or “#firstworldproblems.” I can’t really argue that point, but this package… it was a win. It’s a small win, sure. But it was a win. It was movement, tangible movement, in the right direction. It was movement that I hadn’t been expecting.
It was really, really nice to see.
Needless to say, my daughter, even though she’s older now, was over the moon when we opened the package. She kept saying “THIS IS SO COOL” and she beamed, she beamed for the simple fact that these things existed.