Monday, September 04, 2017

Malcolm Saville did not worry about gender-neutral clothing in 1945

At the first sight of the two children Penny whistled softly in surprise and Jon polished his glasses again. They were boy and girl twins about 10 years of age and were amazingly alike. With most twins it is possible to see a general likeness, but it was difficult to tell these two apart at first glance. 
They were both wearing dark blue shorts and khaki shirts open at the neck, but the girl wore a bright green bow in her hair, which was curlier than her brother's.
These words of Malcolm Saville may have defied biology, but they did not cause a stir when his The Gay Dolphin Adventure was published in 1945.

Nor did Bertram Prance's illustration of the scene, an enlarged detail of which you can see here.

But today the media clearly expected us to be up in arms about the decision of John Lewis to stop labelling its children's clothes as being for boys or for girls.

My impression is that children's clothing is far more gendered than it was when I was young. The idea that everything a girl wears must be pink and sparkly is a heresy of the last 20 years or so.

I thoroughly approve of small boys with muddy knees, but then a lot of girls like to get muddy too. And some boys are happier in the library.

So I welcome John Lewis's decision.

And as far as there has been public uproar over the decision, that just suggests to me that our construct of masculinity is notably fragile.


Anonymous said...

Youi seem to think the drawing reflects reality.
In 1945 children were often wearing hand me downs. Everything was rationed everything in short supply.
And nowadays any yielding to the gays etc. just leads to more demands

David Bertram said...

There is a vague hint of the Hitler Youth or Junior Anti-Sex League about the illustration. But your point is a good one.

Anonymous (above), your second one is less so.

Jonathan Calder said...

I think that is more true of Enid Blyton's Famous Five.

As I once wrote:

"Julian, in particular, looked capable of ordering the burning of the entire village if the tea he and his chums were offered did not come up to scratch."

Roger said...

Julian probably grew up to burn villages in Kenya as a British Army Officer.

Seems crazy now, but as a young BBC Producer in the 1960s I had to fight for the right of my female P.A. to wear trousers.

Of course we will not have true gender neutral clothing until men can freely wear skirts as much as women now wear pants. But we should not fight that battle using children. Let boys wear skirts when grown men do, not before. And I don't see that happening any time soon.