Parent’s post about Woolworths’ gender binaries blows up online


A frustrated mom, Paula Chaplin probably didn’t expect her Facebook post on the lack of diversity in Woolworths’ toddlers’ clothing to blow up like it did. But just over a day after Chaplin put up the post, it has been “liked” over 11,000 times, shared more than 1,700 times and racked up more than 1,000 comments.

Dear Woolworths. I thank you for the range of clothes you have on sale for my toddler. But I think maybe you’ve…

Posted by Paula Chaplin on Monday, 17 August 2015

In her post, Chaplin took issue with

  • the impractical clothing, including cropped tops, short shorts and wedge heels, on offer for little girls
  • the profusion of merchandising featuring characters like Barbie and Hello Kitty
  • the fact that most of the clothing for girls is pink while other colours are neglected
  • the separation of toys deemed to be for either girls or boys

She ends off saying, “I’m so sick of this gender stereotyping! Come on Woolworths – do better!”

Other parents – of girls and boys – soon chimed in.

“Can’t dress my 7 year old daughter at Woolies anymore either. At the start of winter it was all black, lace and high fashion. Even the tracksuit tops were cropped!” said Elodee Haupt.

“I was in woollies the other day and saw a padded bra for a 7-8 year old….I was horrified,” wrote Kaylee Vermeulen.

“This is how I feel! Even now. With boys at ages 9 and 6! Why can’t I find them pj’s that are just comfy and soft with NOTHING on the shirt! Must they think about batman or wrestling even when they are peacefully in their beds? I hear you frustration! And I totally identify with it!” said Janice Roberts.

“Please, please, please listen to all these frustrated parents,” commented Sandra Lallemand. “I refuse to buy Disney clothes and gender-stereotyped colours, and don’t even get me started on sexualised kiddies clothes. Even flipping Target has done away with “boys” aisles and “girls” aisles.”

Lallemand was referring to US retail company Target’s recent decision to do away with the “Girls” and “Boys” labels in its toy department.

Writing about the decision in the Washington Post recently, Rebecca Hains said that gender stereotypes and gendered marketing are passé and that “the decision from the second-largest discount retailer in the US signals a real cultural shift.”

It’s a cultural shift that Woolworths appears to have been slow to catch on to.

For years now there has been a growing move away from stuffing children into little gendered boxes, which you can see in campaigns like Pink Stinks – which targets the products, media and marketing that prescribe heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls – and Let Toys Be Toys, and its offshoot Let Books Be Books, which are asking the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.

Another campaign, called #ClothesWithoutLimits, aims to fight what it sees as the limits retailers put on children’s ideas of what they are supposed to be interested in.

“Kids definitely notice when retailers divide clothing so starkly into ‘boys’ vs. ‘girls’ colors, themes, and styles; and that sends a limited message about what they are supposed to like and who they are supposed to be,” they say on their site.

Similarly, the highest funded children’s clothing project in Kickstarter history is Princess Awesome, a project that focuses on creating clothing for “a different kind of girly girl because girls shouldn’t have to decide between dresses and dinosaurs, or ruffles and robots”.

The parents who are now complaining about the gendered commercial world we inhabit were born in the 70s and 80s, when children’s clothing and toys were more neutral. As a little girl, I recall wearing mainly red, blue and – my favourite – mustard.

This Lego advert from the 80s has been doing the rounds this year as an example at how far we’ve come since then. (Back then, nobody prescribed little children’s interests. Today little girls are plied with pink and purple Lego sets featuring cupcake shops and beauty salons.)

Lego advert from the 80s


Hains points out that gender-based marketing only really took off in 1990s when, she says “companies realised they could convince parents of children of both sexes to buy twice as much stuff by introducing gender segmentation to kids’ products.”

As for that old pink/blue binary, it may surprise you to know that this delineation was a product of the 1940s. Before then pink was considered a more manly colour, and little boys were draped in the stuff, while blue was considered to be a more genteel colour, suitable for little girls. Earlier than that, little boys and girls were dressed identically from birth until the age of 7, when boys were “breeched” and put in trousers for the first time. (This explains why girls and boys alike were – and still are – Christened in little dresses.)

So the “new normal”, where you enter a shop and are confronted with 50 shades of pink, is just that – relatively new, and certainly not immutable.

Woolworths pink pajamas

It’s not like there aren’t alternatives. Many of the commenters on Chaplin’s post have been throwing out suggestions to others to shop at stores like Cotton On, Earth Child, Ackermans and Pick ‘n Pay.

But we – and certainly Woolworths – can still do better. Parents looking for a t-shirt for their pink-obsessed son or for matching pyjamas for their pigeon pair shouldn’t have to run from pillar to post to find what they’re looking for.


  1. What nonsense. How is this any of Woolworths’ problem. You can’t be everything to everyone especially. Especially in when it comes these prides and boring people. Having a wife in fashion she often states that their clothes are boring. Very far from high fashion.

    Woolworths sticks to one and that’s the numbers, and pink and barbie sells much better. Simple commerce. As liberal as this thinking, it just an echo of what happened in the US with target

    • Woolworths is run by human beings who make decisions about what products they are going to sell to their customers. Yes there is a small (mad) percentage of the population that are happy to buy heels and apply make up and dress their daughters up to look like adults (I know one of them), however, the majority of people I know don’t want this for their children. How is sexualising children socially responsible? And really, personally, I don’t need a fashionista to dress my child. I think Woolworths needs to do a bit more research into how 5 year olds like to play before they decide how they want 5 year olds to look.

  2. We have twin boys, now aged 5, and it is a nightmare to buy them clothes. I have complained to Woolworths and PicknPay on numerous occasions as the kids section is 95% aimed at girls (who apparently HAVE to wear pink) and 5% aimed at boys aged 0-18.

    What on earth is wrong with just shorts, jeans and t-shirts? The comments are right – what child needs heels and bras, unless your gameplan is to hinder their development. Ok, so people have suggested other shops….which are either stupidly expensive or bad quality. Woolworths and PnP offer decent quality at a decent price – just the wrong stuff!

    It is socially irresponsible marketing, how can they think it is okay to sexualize little (LITTLE!) girls. The problem is that they supply because parents buy…not sure if its because they have no choice or if it is because they want to dress their 5yr old kids up as 17yr old teenagers.

    Who exactly do you want your little 5 yr old to look “sexy” for??? Really, you should be asking yourself this….

  3. I’d immediately demand a full refund, Paula et al.
    Or maybe simply cut out the middlem… “middleperson” (forgot where I was commenting for a moment, LOL) and choose not to shop at Woolies.
    Why should others have to endure pointless change just because you don’t like what they stock?

  4. Meanwhile, a quick look at Paula’s FB suggests that she feels that she has whole-hearted support from everyone, everywhere.
    No, Paula, that’s called an echo chamber – and those meetings WW are planning on holding will merely concentrate the effect.

  5. At this point, we’re just going to point out how all the people here disagreeing with Chaplin’s post are male. And then we’re going to ask people to look up the word “mansplaining”. And then we’re going to politely butt out again.

  6. Well, here’s a man and father who couldn’t agree more with Paula Chaplin’s point. My five year-old girl has dresses and skirts, but she spends 80% of her time in jeans, T-shirts, takkies and hoodie tops, and ends up dressing remarkably similar to my 7 year-old son. This is not a deliberate social experiment – it’s just practical common sense. And the thought of raising my daughter to feel she must aspire to anything different from my son just because she’s a girl is the most absurd notion. She’s strong-willed and independent. But, more importantly, she’s five years old and shouldn’t have a concept of what it means to be sassy or flirty or sexy. Besides, comfy, practical kids clothes don’t have to be boring. If Woolies decided tomorrow to ditch the Disney branded princesses, Barbies and fairies for skater girls, surfers and rockers, I bet they would sell just as much.

  7. I agree with Paula. I find it ridiculous that I cannot find my 3.5 daughter clothing that does not encourage the feeling that kids clothing ranges at Woolies are for way older kids. I don’t want her sexualised and dressed like that. Increase the range and provide clothes that allow kids to play/ paint / run and do all the normal things small children do.

  8. This is appalling. To all those who suggest that we should just shop elsewhere – its not easy at other places as well. This is an endemic crisis beyond woolies and the shops that have more gender neutral clothing are just too expensive for most people b/c they are “specialized” stores.

        • so freedom of choice means pedophilia? pseudo-intellectualism is your word for the day. next you will be saying that you are fighting the ways in which women are oppressed through systems of capitalism and private property.

  9. SO glad this has blown up. It is so nauseating – the pink frills and mini bras for the girls and the combat gear for the boys. I had a conversation with a friend a couple of years ago where we considered starting an online clothing store – Normal Clothes for Kids. Funky without looking like a tart or bob the builder.

    • Go Nadine with your online store! Woolworths has never quite got it right in the clothing sector. And South Africans have got a long way to go in dismantling the gender biased structure in our society – to which MANY are still evidently blind. Well, at least Paula is challenging their comfort zone. What a relief to see there are men out there who want independent minded daughters and embrace their strength of character. The posts however have not only been about girls. They are also about boys…ultimately why we have to associate children’s clothing with Hollywood and Disney characters. Life is not a caricature…or is that the way retailers view children?

  10. It’s interesting how all of the thoughtful citizens trolling this post are men. I’m the father of a three year old girl and I don’t want to dress my child like a Las Vegas hooker, or in polyester crap that’s been produced in sweatshops by children and marked up 600%. This really is a thing.

    My guess is that you guys don’t have children. Or wives. Or girlfriends. But at least you have each other.

  11. Love this post so much. I have a toddler under 2 and I understand this all too well. I was a jeans and mustard and red baby and I still dress my daughter in the comfiest way possible. She didn’t have to try and learn to crawl around jeans, and she didn’t wear proper shoes until very recently and even then I made sure the soles could bend right over to make sure they don’t trip her up. I don’t honestly care what it looks like, as long as she can play, I dress her in it. It does mean she’s worn a lot of blue (seriously tracksuit pants for girls at Woollies that flare out, how is that warm? ) and she’s often confused with a boy but I don’t care. She is streets ahead of her class in terms of development and she’s a sweet kid. I stuck to old school despite peer pressure and it’s great!

  12. Thanks for a thought provoking article on a topic that is close to my heart, so much so that I am about to launch a gender neutral kids label in 2 days time at Mama Magic.

    I am a mum of a 6 month old boy and an aunt to a one and a half year old niece. I am very conscious about how I raise them. I want them to be free to be whoever they want to be and not be prescribed to by their gender. Dress is one of the ways that reinforces gender stereotypes.


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