A U.K. department store’s decision to re-label their children’s wear offerings “Girls & Boys” and “Boys & Girls,” versus following traditional binary labels, has sparked an outcry.
John Lewis, which has 48 stores in England, Scotland and Wales, announced last week that it would do away with gender labels on clothing, as well as separate girls and boys sections in stores. In addition, the retailer has also launched a new unisex clothing line for kids featuring dinosaur and space ship graphics.
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“We do not want to reinforce gender stereotypes within our John Lewis collections and instead want to provide greater choice and variety to our customers, so that the parent or child can choose what they would like to wear,” Caroline Bettis, head of children’s wear at John Lewis, said in a statement.
Reaction to the retailer’s announcement has been mixed, although the most vociferous opposition came from Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan on Monday. In a fiery debate with his co-host Susanna Reid, Morgan said the department store chain’s decision “should not be allowed to happen.”
“Why can’t we let boys be boys and girls be girls?” he questioned on air, and pointed out that his three sons have never “shown any interest in wearing dresses, and my daughter wears 20 dresses a day.” He also joked that the store should be renamed Joan Lewis.
He preempted his televised comments with a tweet that has received over 20,000 likes since Sept. 2.
His sentiments have been echoed by countless people, among them Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who said: “I have no idea what would possess John Lewis to do this. Boys and girls labels and signs are informative. I think removing them could be very confusing for the consumer. It appears political correctness continues to march and, whether it is going in the right direction, is a point for debate.”
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The argument about whether this move signifies a trend towards inclusion or whether it’s pandering to upper-middle-class elitism raged on Twitter.
The retailer’s decision to do away with gender binary labelling comes on the heels of a controversy surrounding Clarks shoes. Last month, the footwear giant pulled a girls’ Mary Jane style shoe called “Dolly Babe” from the collection in the wake of accusations of sexism. The main issue plaguing the company was that the corresponding boys’ version of the “Dolly Babe” was named “Leader.”
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Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, called it “almost beyond belief” in a tweet, while Carolyn Harris, a shadow minister for women and equalities, described it as “blatant discrimination.”
Clarks responded to the outpouring of criticism by saying: “We are working hard to ensure our ranges reflect our gender neutral ethos. We apologise for any unintended offence caused.”