Dear boys' graphic tee designers: Nope, nope, nope.

June 04, 2018 17 Comments

Dear boys' graphic tee designers: Nope, nope, nope.

We found them in all the stores on a recent shopping excursion. There were tons of them, as I flipped through the racks for my son, among the typical footballs and soccer balls and shirts that just proclaimed “SPORTS!” One, in a size 3T, read “Ladies’ Man.” Another, again in toddler sizes: “Sorry ladies, I only date models.” Then there were the ugly sports shirts: “I Always Win.” “Winners Rule.” Add a dash of troublemaker and a few more womanizer shirts for good measure.

These are the clothes I’m supposed to put on my kind, sensitive boy? Shirts that sexualize tiny kids? Shirts that push toxic masculinity? Shirts that promote an aggressive, unhealthy notion of competition? Other than this stuff, there wasn’t much left. Lots of branded characters, and maybe a dino shirt or two. Those were our options.

We didn’t buy any kids’ clothes that day.

Slogans like these are what most kids in America are wearing, because this is what most stores are offering. Sweet little boys are sporting shirts with slogans that embrace toxic masculinity. Competition. Never being wrong (“My Brother Did It” was another shirt we found). Objectifying women. Valuing toughness, whatever that means -- and usually it means, “Suck it up, buttercup. Crying is for sissies. Be a man!”

There are other ways to be a man.

Boys Will Be Good Humans by Free to Be Kids

We need to combat this limited vision of boyhood and masculinity in any way we can. That means that we need to care about the messages our children absorb from all sorts of sources. And yes, that includes their clothing.

If you’re sitting behind your screen thinking, “Well, what the heck is wrong with a football shirt?” Well, nothing. There is nothing inherently wrong with a football shirt. But there is something inherently wrong with a system offers nothing but football shirts. There’s no choice. This sea of shirts emblazoned with sports imagery offer only one way to be a man.

But we know there are also cat guys, whose favorite shirts have cats and kittens on them.

I'm a Cat Guy by Free to Be Kids

There are little dudes who dig bunnies.

Good Listener Bunny by Free to Be Kids

And there are boys who are proud to be superheroes of love and kindness.

Love Is My Superpower  and Super Kind by Free to Be Kids

All of these are viable ways to be boys. And boys deserve wardrobes that reflect that.

As for the straight-out toxic messages – it’s time to simply ditch them. When you put an 18 month old in a “Ladies Man” t-shirt, you’re sexualizing him, which is super gross, and you’re objectifying women, which is also gross. And those “I Always Win” and “Winners Rule” t-shirts? Well, winning is fun. But you can’t base your identity on it, because someone, sometime, is going to come along and beat you one day. Then where will your sense of self lie? And what do those shirts say about your attitude towards people who don’t win?

Positive Fashion for Awesome Boys by Free to Be Kids

Four years ago I got so fed up with trying to dress my son that I started designing slogan tees for kids that push back against the negative messages in mainstream clothing stores. Today we have dozens of designs and ship tons of shirts to kind, awesome kids every single day. I've quit my day job. I'm proud of that. But more than that, I'm super proud to see the double-takes when I take my son out in his Boys Will Be Good Humans and Super Kind and Tough Like Mommy shirts. I see people reading them. They don’t glance over them the way they do other little kid shirts. These shirts give people something to think about.

Boys need these positive alternatives. It can seem ridiculous: the fight is so big, and the shirts are so small. But these positive slogan tees are a spark. They’re a spark for our kids, and they’re a spark for those who see them. They help combat the toxic culture around us. They give our boys a choice beyond sports, sex, and competition - and that's a choice boys need, and a choice they deserve.

We need positive kids’ clothing. And we need it badly.

_____

New to Free to Be Kids? We're dedicated to spreading positive messages one fashion statement at a time. Check out our collection of Positive Fashion for Amazing Boys.

 

 

 

 



17 Responses

Wendy
Wendy

March 27, 2018

I love this company. I have a 7 year old son that absolutely loves rabbits and this is the only place that I could find a gender neutral shirt with a rabbit on it. My son was getting so disappointed that the cute bunny clothes were always designed for girls.

Michelle
Michelle

December 14, 2017

I’m so glad it’s not just me that hates those kind of shirts. Being a mom to a tall 3 year old that needs size 5/6, it can be really hard to find appropriate shirts that fit him.

Candice Turner
Candice Turner

November 04, 2017

My 5 year old gets himself dressed for school. He excitedly picks out his “Kind Like Daddy” shirt all the time. He loves that he is like Daddy. I liked the shirt because he celebrates my child being kind and I sort of missed how proud he is to have a Daddy that is kind.

Caleb
Caleb

October 29, 2017

Yes! This is important – words matter! Thank you for making these shirts. Our little dude always gets so many positive comments when he wears “Love is my superpower” and “boys will be good humans”. Keep up the great work!

Kyle Marie
Kyle Marie

October 28, 2017

Thank you so much for this and for providing clothes I feel good about putting my beautiful sensitive sons in. I tried so hard to explain to my mother why the phrase “Boys will be Boys” is dangerous and undermining to their sense of self and place in the world that their father and I are trying to instill. She did not get it – I think she might start to after I forward her this!!

Melissa
Melissa

October 27, 2017

I’m right there with you on sea creatures, Jenny!! My little guy loves sea otters!! I wish there were shirts with sea otters!!

Sarah
Sarah

October 27, 2017

I ALWAYS

Krystal Thompson
Krystal Thompson

October 27, 2017

I think I have commented on this before, but I just want to say that this whole blog post had me saying things out loud like “Yes!” and “Exactly!” It’s how I’ve felt for years and I was so glad to discover this clothing line. I have bought several shirts and will continue to expand my boys’ wardrobes with these clothing items. I will say thank you also because you are having an impact. I have found several shirts at major stores lately (such as Target) saying things like “We are the future” and “We can do more”. You should be so proud of the change you and companies like you are making in our shopping selections!

Kay Robinson
Kay Robinson

October 27, 2017

Thank you! I love your store and my boy has worn the “boys will be good humans” shirts, short and long sleeve, from baby to the 4T I just ordered. People comment on it all the time and I can’t wait until he understands what he is wearing. :)

Sarah
Sarah

October 27, 2017

Hooray hooray hooray! I second (third?) the request for more non-aggressive animals for boys. My son loves horses and cats (he outgrew his first “I’m a cat guy” shirt and is on his second).

Meg
Meg

October 27, 2017

I completely agree with you. I try to shop at stores like Old Navy because they have inexpensive clothes that don’t need to last super long because my kids will outgrown them in 2 months anyway. But I can not stand all the snarky/sassy sayings. And, I cracked up when I read that you saw the “SPORTS!” shirt…my son doesn’t do “SPORTS” quite yet (and who knows if he will). I bought my son the “Boys will be good humans” shirt and I talked to him about what it meant so it’s not just “mom promoting her progressive agenda through my clothing.” I have to also comment about the same type of clothes for girls, like my 7 year old. She can’t spell so great yet and she’s not getting a phone until she’s way older, so I don’t need her wearing shirts with “text speak” on them or other sayings that promote any additional “sass” than she gives me on a regular basis anyway! And don’t even get me started on skinny jeans. Anyway, thanks for what you are doing!!

Melissa
Melissa

October 27, 2017

I love your stuff so much. I have spoken to customer service in other mainstream retailers about the lack of selection in boys clothing and gotten no where. For example, last Mothers day, I wanted to find my son a shirt to wear for the day. There was nothing. Plenty of father’s day shirts, but no selection for boys to show their love for their moms. I raised this concern to customer service and was directed to the baby section, being told there was a wide selection over there. My son is not a baby by any means. I have an older son who loves.pigs. He would love a pig shirt. Still can’t find one. The selection of clothes for girls is huge…and sadly not so much for boys.

Katie
Katie

October 27, 2017

My son has gotten more compliments on his “Boys will be Good Humans” t-shirt than ANY other shirt he owns.
We love our Free to Be Kids shirts. They’ve held up so well and as soon as he grows out of it, we’ll be buying him another in a bigger size.

Jennifer
Jennifer

October 27, 2017

Thank you for combating against the toxic masculinity. Another thing I can’t stand is going to the store and finding the “boys” department to be so much smaller than the “girls”. I would like to dress my son in more than jeans, sports wear and graphic tees. There is no individuality.
I’m also kind of jealous of parents of girls these days who can find the empowering clothes for them. Trying to empower my son makes me feel sleazy.

Courtney
Courtney

October 27, 2017

I can’t thank you enough for this!!!! I’ve been struggling with this for the last 8 years of my son’s life! When he wears the boys will be good humans shirt, he gets compliment after compliment! You are making a difference one tshirt at a time, and this momma is super grateful!

Keegan
Keegan

October 25, 2017

You mentioned character shirts and something I find disappointing about those is that it’s so often the villain featured! I know you can’t go into that realm with trademarking issues, but it is something that bugs me and is part of the conversation. Why does my kid have to wear Darth Vader or Kylo Ren looking creepy and evil instead of the positive characters like Rey, Fin, and Poe?? My boys just like Star Wars and would be happy with any of them and I definitely prefer the heroes! I wish to see the balance shifting in the force. Less dark side, please ;) Thanks for the positive messages you are contributing! I’ve gotten one for each of my four boys, two for me, and just bought one for my niece for her birthday!

Jenny
Jenny

October 25, 2017

Thank you for all you do in making options for little boys! I was wondering if you could make shirts with sea creatures on them? I noticed while shopping on Carter’s website (ugh), that everything for boys is trucks, dinos, and outerspace. And those things are cool, but there aren’t many other animal choices, like your bunny shirts. And I hate that one of the main animals on boys’ shirts are sharks, the one stereotyped as being super fierce and mean and aggressive. What about some of the other, less aggressive animals in the ocean? Something like whales, seahorses (bonus: also a good male role model), octopus, etc. Just an idea.

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