Kids have interests all over the board. So why are we still stuck on gender labels?
My goddaughter and her big sisters are geniuses. (I’m only a little biased here.) They’re bright and curious; they love playing dress-up and reading books and climbing trees. They love farm animals, puzzles, Doc McStuffins, and every Disney princess there is, was, or ever will be. Each of them have different interests, some traditionally “girly,” some not.
But supporting these interests isn’t always easy. When I try to find Christmas or birthday presents for these fabulous little girls, I am always confronted by The Pink Aisle, where pink and purple toys and games and clothing and dolls seem to focus on one thing: being one particular version of a “girl.”
There’s nothing wrong with being a pink-loving girl. But we don’t have to put all young girls in one box.
I still want to shower these girls with gifts when I can, so I usually just buy books. But books aren’t the end-all, be-all of presents for kids. How can parents (and family friends) encourage their daughters’ interests in all educational avenues?
BuddingSTEM is a company started in 2014 by two Seattle moms who are aiming to do just that.
“We’re not anti-princess or anti-pink,” founders Malorie Catchpole and Jennifer Muhm stress. Their little girls both love Elsa and pink and sparkly things. But Malorie’s little girl also loves trains and Jennifer’s wants to be an astronaut.
Trouble is, mainstream retail says those things are for boys.
And too often, mainstream retail and media push girls to internalize the message that science, technology, engineering, and math (collectively known as STEM) aren’t for them. The images girls see every day, from childhood to middle school and into adulthood, in media and in their own closets, influence how they identify, and what careers they choose. Consider that adult women hold less than 25% of the careers in STEM fields in America, though they make up more than half the American workforce.
Catchpole cites her own family as an example: her daughter loves trains, and asked for train underpants as she was being potty trained. Eager to both encourage her daughter’s interest and to give her an incentive to master the big bad potty, Malorie and her husband went in search of underwear with trains on them.
Only the boys’ department sold them. Malorie remembers feeling frustrated that she couldn’t do more for her daughter. She says:
“Kids like to express themselves through their clothes. They want to wear what they like, just like we want to wear clothes that support our favorite sports teams.”
Jennifer Muhm’s experience was similar. Her little girl is going places. Space, to be exact: it’s her dream to be an astronaut someday.
One afternoon in October, as the two of them were looking through the catalogues of Halloween costumes, Muhm’s daughter said, “Mom, I can’t be an astronaut; this is for boys.”
Think about how many little girls nationwide have the same experience. Why are we dividing up interests between genders?
These Seattle moms bonded over this issue, and agreed something needed to be done. They started meeting nights and weekends between their already overflowing lives of full time work and co-parenting to bring buddingSTEM into existence. They have researched and developed a line of clothing for girls that features dinosaurs and rocket ships and other science-themed items.
The apparel is adorable, simple, and active—leggings, t-shirts, dresses, and underpants featuring Apatosauruses and rocket ships. Your girl loves pink and dinosaurs? She can rock this. She likes green and trains? They’ve got that too.
I love the space that buddingSTEM is inhabiting, because they’re not trying to get rid of pink, or stop girls from loving what they want to love—the founders say their girls are as into princesses as the little girls I love getting gifts for. They just want to widen the spectrum of expression that parents can provide girls in their clothing choices. And that’s the right message to send to kids.
Their Kickstarter campaign is climbing, and the moms say that the outpouring of feedback along with financial support has reinforced what they believe: little girls know they can be anything, and clothing purchases should reflect that.
The clothing line will go into production on the West Coast when the goals are reached (as early as this spring), and Catchpole and Muhm have high hopes for their e-commerce site and eventual placement in retail stores. But to them, the long nights and weekends devoted to this project have already paid off. Catchpole says:
“No matter what happens, I’m proud of us. I think we’re setting a good example for our daughters.”
Slap an entrepreneur like that on a t-shirt and I’d rock it.
Disclosure: BuddingSTEM Co-founder Malorie Catchpole and the writer are friends from college. Neither Groundswell nor the writer received any compensation from buddingSTEM for the writing or publication of this story.
Emily Rabbitt is a freelance and fiction writer in the Washington, D.C. area. She is a Massachusetts native, iced coffee enthusiast, and marathon runner, and tries to be a good citizen of the planet. Follow her on Twitter: @rabbitterun.