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Buying Boys Underwear for My Daughter: Gender Disparity in Kids’ Character Undies

Buying Boys Underwear for My Daughter

(This article was reprinted by The Good Men Project and The Huffington Post)

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.

Girls Underwear Aisle

The Girls’ underwear aisle at Target. Where’s Wonder Woman?!

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.

Buying Boys Underwear for My Daughter

What do kids’ underwear manufacturers think when they gender underwear?

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.

Wonder Woman Underoos

See? That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

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.

15



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Author: Tom Burns View all posts by
Tom is a 10-year veteran at an educational publishing company and has been a writer and/or contributing editor for pop culture sites like UGO, Movie Retriever, The Deadbolt, and Hollywood Chicago. He founded Building A Library - a website devoted to helping parents find the right books for their kids. He's also published by The Good Men Project and has been spotted on The Huffington Post.
  • LizzieSavage

    For years I had to buy “boys” underoos to get Marvel characters (as a college student, when I wasnt feeling sexy, etc etc). I also had to buy boys’ clothes to get any male-gender-based character clothes (especially tee-shirts). The problem with being a woman in boys’ clothes is that the thighs on underoos are too tight, and the sleeves on the shirts as well (but they were still tight and cute). ;) Thankfully, Now-a-days there are plenty of adult female clothes (since the female comic audience is finally “cool” and trendy). There were NEVER any females at comic-con when I was younger

    • http://www.8bitdad.com Zach Rosenberg

      And now chicks in Marvel character underwear is totally acceptable. I mean, on some websites, they actually pay for pictures of that sort of thing.

    • Lyddiebug

      It is interesting that the marketing has sort of caught up with the adult women who enjoy comics and superheroes, etc and yet it hasn’t for the kids. Perhaps that’s because many parents are so intent on teaching their child to behave with the “right” (read: socially acceptable) gender characteristics. Personally, what I’d REALLY like to see is a piece about a Dad buying Disney Princess underwear for his little boy and how that’s OK too. The thing about all this gender stuff is that the underlying message is that boys are awesome and girls kind of suck, so our culture is way more tolerant of girls liking “boy stuff” than of boys who like “girl stuff.” There is definitely a place for the feminine in our culture and I would argue that that particular set of gender characteristics can be demonstrated (to varying degrees!) by both biologically female and male people.

      • http://twitter.com/BuildaLibrary Tom B.

        I think this is a great point. My daughter gets appreciative “awws” when she touts her Spider-Man underwear, but would a young boy get the same reaction for proudly wearing Cinderella underwear? Probably not and that’s really unfortunate. Though I will say… my daughter can fit into the boys’ underwear because it’s all pretty roomy and baggy. Boys who wanted to wear princess underwear would definitely have to buy their underwear really big because some of those young girl undies are crazy small, even on the girls.

      • http://www.8bitdad.com Zach Rosenberg

        I don’t know, but I wore my wife’s underwear to work one day because I was out of my own and it was NOT pleasant.

  • robyns

    A helpful pro-tip from my five year old son…wear your Lego Star Wars underwear backwards, so you can see the picture.

    • http://8bitdad.com Bryan Ferguson

      I can’t imagine that working well for Juicy Couture clothing.

  • Shu

    If this helps, and you don’t mind internet shopping:

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/Twynmawrmom

    This lady is combating the problem ;)

    • http://8bitdad.com Bryan Ferguson

      That’s pretty awesome. Maybe we’ll get her for an interview!

      • http://twitter.com/twynmawrmom Ashley

        Hello. Just found this. Started the ETSY shop because of another blogger (and friend): Tenor Dad. Find me! twynmawrmom [at] gmail [dot] com

    • http://www.MikeIsLosingIt.com Mike

      Thanks for the link. We may give those a try.

  • HLW

    My son is only 2 and a half…not yet potty trained. But after a recent trip to Disney and a couple meet and greets with some Princess characters my son is now asking for princess bowls, cups toys etc etc.., He does not see one character as boy and one as girl…they are Disney. Period. I love that. I know it will change eventually…mostly due to peer pressure I am sure. Which sucks. He should be able to wear what he wants without worry. Anyway..what I am saying is I am certain my son will want princess undies one day. And if he wants em…he shall have em.

    • http://www.8bitdad.com Zach Rosenberg

      Well, you’re part of the solution! Make your son feel comfortable in his choices, even when others are pushing back. Sure, you sometimes aren’t as powerful as peer pressure, but you have a profound effect.

  • http://www.MikeIsLosingIt.com Mike

    Great, fun article. Our experience has been nearly identical to yours. Our six-year-old LOVES all things superhero, Pixar, and Star Wars, and consequently has several pairs of boys character underwear and loves them. But she is self-conscience about wearing them sometimes, because “what if someone accidentally sees I’m wearing boys underwear???” If they were available in panties she’d have all of them by now…and would wear them constantly. We may have to give the Etsy store a try.

  • Elizamina

    I don’t get it either. And I don’t know what I’ll tell my own daughter. I very distinctly remember having R2-D2 and C-3PO underoos as a little girl. You’d never find that now.