One story that’s hit the news in the past few days is that John Lewis, a British retailer, has produced a line of gender-neutral clothes for children. I don’t shop at John Lewis myself, but full respect for the move: It’s a great reaction to the growing concerns that childrens’ fashions are still rooted in anachronistic stereotypes.
The reaction in both the press and on social media has been quite off-balance. With few exceptions, the reports I’ve read have a very noticeable lean towards the negative: The Mirror and the Huffington Post are the only reports I’ve seen with any kind of balance or neutrality.
Yes, there’s been a lot of “outrage”, “backlash” and calls for a “boycott”, but it looks to me like a complete over-reaction:
- There was no indication of a “median” reaction so it’s unclear what proportion of people reacted positively or neutrally.
- With some comments, it was doubtful they’d even read (or understood) the whole story, given how many believed this was a plot to put dresses on boys. All John Lewis did was remove the gendered stereotypes and produce a range of clothes that could be worn by both boys and girls. If there was no demand from parents, there would be no supply.
- There were some comments stating that this would cause mental health problems in the future. These are only predictions, not facts, and they didn’t come from people with a background in mental health or child psychology. The demand for childrens’ clothing without stereotypes is relatively new, so without any case studies, the future effects cannot be predicted with any kind of accuracy.
- Some of the comments published came from middle-aged people who are less likely to be buying clothes for children, but more likely to hold conservative views on gender.
I’ve also noticed some of the logical fallacies at play – I’ve loved learning about these. The examples are not real quotes, but they are based on common comments and tweets:
- Appeal to Tradition: “we’ve had gendered clothing for years and it’s never done us any harm”. While that may be true, it does not imply that non-gendered clothing must be harmful.
- Red Herring: “But there are children starving and North Korea might be trying to nuke us”. A distraction away from the topic of discussion into something less relevant.
- Appeal to Common Sense: “It’s common sense that boys and girls are different, therefore they need different clothes”. Yes, they are different, but that doesn’t mean they’re polar opposites.
- Appeal to Popularity: “The majority of people won’t buy this, so why bother?”. The majority of people live on land, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a profit selling house-boats.
- Appeal to Fear: “If you put your son in these clothes, they’ll get bullied and picked on”. It’s also possible that they won’t.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears to me that all of this negative reaction is down to that last one: fear. More specifically, fear of change; I’ve seen this recurring in whatever social subject I research.
Change is inevitable: with every generation comes new technologies, new possibilities, new outlooks. Our children are both the workers and the customers of the future, so businesses look to them to keep pace with the competition and ensure their survival; that’s exactly what John Lewis has always done. The only way to stop change altogether is to stop everyone from having children!
This is not about giving into political correctness either because your freedom of choice remains unaffected. Billions of people worldwide have Facebook accounts, but nobody is forcing you to sign up for one; likewise, you still have a choice what you clothe your children in – nobody is saying you must buy only unisex clothing. If they retracted the line following the “outrage”, minimalising the offence caused to conservatives, that would be giving in to political correctness.
There are those who say you get more conservative and right-wing as you get older, but I can’t see that happening to me. I refuse to be one of those frightened old men, clinging on to nostalgia. Life experience gets you so far, but it doesn’t imply greater wisdom or superiority over younger people, nor does it provide an excuse to stop learning.
Children live in the now, and I think that should continue throughout your life. You can learn from the past, but you can’t live in it; you also can’t predict the future, but you can influence it.
Longing for the past or fearing the future only makes you miserable in the present.