Holly Phillips discusses the impact of sexist slogans on the popular brand's children’s clothing.
Primark has come under fire in a recent scandal regarding their choices of phrases featuring on their new range of children’s clothing. Items on their website labelled as ‘older girl’s clothing’ were illustrated with phrases such as ‘positive energy only’ and ‘smile bright, shine bright’, whereas clothing in the ‘boys’ section were designed with slogans such as ‘dare to be different, never stop’ and ‘fearless’.
There has been a high amount of online frustration from people, mainly parents, who highlighted their anger with Primark’s range of ‘hugely sexist’ clothing, with one parent suggesting that it is a throwback to the 1950s.
Annoyance grew when shoppers discovered an ‘older boys’ sweater with the phrase ‘future leader’ in bold and capitals, especially considering there was no equivalent in the ‘girls’ section in store or on their website. This suggests that it is seen as abnormal for young girls to aspire to be future leaders, again reinforcing outdated stereotypes. Unfortunately, there are few women in positions of power, both in politics and business. Part of the reason for this ‘glass ceiling’ is because women don’t believe they belong in these roles, or that it is a realistic achievement. This conditioning is often indirect: for example, not seeing women in positions of power. However, the clothing that is being sold by Primark is a direct contribution to this inequality.
These phrases are inherently sexist and are encouraging patriarchal norms and gender roles in society. They may seem harmless, but do ultimately create a secondhand smoke effect by subconsciously ingraining these motives into children’s minds, leaving young girls to think they have to be perfect - mainly for the satisfaction of their male counterparts - and that young boys have to be strong and emotionless. These t-shirts are embedding expectations into children from a young age, when we should be teaching all children that it is okay to show emotions and you do not always have to be perfect.
Phrases such as ‘you are limitless’ put pressure on young boys to become ambitious over-achievers, making them feel like a failure if they don’t succeed and conform to typically ‘masculine’ hobbies - for example sport, playing outside or proving that they can do anything. It also highlights the vast difference between society’s expectations of young men and women in the way that young men are expected to be ‘future leaders’ and young women are expected to be ‘kind’ and to ‘smile’.
These phrases also contribute to mental health issues that men face in society because they are taught that showing emotion is not ‘masculine’. They indicate that it is abnormal for men to show emotion, whilst imperatives on girls’ t-shirts such as ‘be kind’ demonstrate that females are expected to be emotional. Society’s expectations and traditional gender roles place pressure on men to bottle up their emotions, making it more difficult for men to reach out and speak up.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with the phrases themselves; of course we should be encouraging children to be ‘limitless’, ‘strong’ and ‘kind’. Nevertheless, in these circumstances, there are clear differences between the phrases on boys and girls clothing.
Primark is a large and successful company and it is no doubt that there would have been a thoughtful design process with these specific products. Some originate from a collaboration with singer and TV personality, Stacey Solomon, in order to make sure that their products sell. Therefore, they clearly think that these sexist designs and slogans will sell, displaying that we still live in an outdated, patriarchal society.
But is Primark merely a passive reflector of society’s values? Or should they rather use their resources and influence to shape it in a way that will benefit future generations?
Words by Holly Phillips
Photo credit: https://www.netmums.com/life/mum-slams-primark-over-sexist-clothing-which-tells-girls-to-be-good-while-telling-boys-to-make-the-rules | https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/primark-sexism-children-clothing-b2009033.html