Fed up with subliminal messages on children's’ clothing perpetuating gender roles, two Delhi-based women started their own line for kids.

Girls play football boys can cook No gender stereotypes on these kids teesKids in the 'Senstivity' themed tee
news Gender Monday, June 11, 2018 - 12:05

Raising a child is no easy task, but Amita Malhotra found there was an added challenge – her daughter, at the mere age of three was already being sent subtle messages by society and media dictating what she could wear, do, and be.

“If she wanted a toy guitar, I would only be shown pink ones in shops,” she recalls. Her friend Reema Ahmad, a sexuality educator, too found herself facing a similar challenge for her 11-year-old son.

The two Delhi-based women decided to do something about the issue and started ‘Candidly,’ a platform to educate parents and teachers.

Reema and Amita

They began conducting workshops on issues like child sexual abuse and body safety for children and have now have launched ‘Equalitee,’ a line of unisex kids’ t-shirts with illustrations that challenge gender norms.

“In the workshops, it felt like we were converting the converted. The people signing up for these workshops were already those interested in and aware of these issues. But there is so much subtle messaging in media and popular culture. So we thought we had to enter pop culture to combat the stereotypes in it,” Amita says.

The 'Opportunity' themed tee

Launched just a few days ago, Equalitee by Candidly has tees for children between two and eight years of age. They ship all over India and are trying to enable international shipping as well.

The tees are divided into five themes: activity, creativity, opportunity, sensitivity, and equality. The illustration on each one imbibes a message of inclusivity. For instance, the ‘activity’ tee has girls and boys together forming a human pyramid, reaching for the sky. The ‘opportunity’ themed tees, meanwhile, have children playing football together.

“The segregation between boys and girls begins early on,” observes Amita. “Studies show that a large number of girls drop sports by the time they are 14 either because they aren’t told how important physical activity for them is or they don’t have many role models. It happened with me too – we used to sit with our books during PE periods in school.”

The 'Activity' themed tee

The segregation, she says, creates several artificial barriers. “Our children start getting exposed to media from a very young age. And kids’ products are also marketed in a way that is polarizing – it is not enough for my daughter to ride a bicycle; it has to be a pink one. And she will be teased about it otherwise,” Amita says.

She hopes the t-shirts will appeal to both parents, as decision makers, and children who have begun to have some notion of what it means to express their gender. “That’s why we had boys and girls both on the tees, so the children could relate to the figures,” Amita explains.

The 'Equality' themed tee

While she says that it’s too early to gauge the response, it has gotten people’s attention. “When I sent it to my family and friends, it got their attention. Even some of those who did not previously think that sexist messages could be passed through subtle cutesy phrases on girls’ tees and could perpetuate stereotypes were forced to think about it. That, I believe, is a start,” Amita states.