I’ve often seen this video posted on social media. This little girl is perhaps not so unlike me when I was young. If I had the opportunity to meet her, I imagine discussing how that shirt came into being. It was likely designed by a junior to mid-level designer at a t-shirt/design company that contracts with the (by the looks of it) large discount store she finds herself in now. The designer probably did not give much thought to it. They may be in their 20s or early 30s – too old to relate to a kid but too young to relate to a parent who thinks about what we message to kids. They are making what they think their employers, suppliers, and average families want – which amounts to things they’ve seen before. Kinda current, but generally traditional and not too different or controversial.
There is no mastermind or conspiracy. There is just a general laziness mixed with a mild fear or servility driven by the desire for job security or advancement. The employee wants to stay employeed and their employer wants to keep the contract.
To the girl, there are a couple options I would suggest in this situation. First of all, you can buy the “boys” shirt. Perhaps the sizing or color signifies this was made for a boy, but who cares. No need to overthink it or adhere to arbitrary rules.
If you are creative and motivated, you can make your own shirt and it can say anything you want to say. You can design something on your computer and print it using iron-on paper. Or you can use fabric paint and do it free form. Or you can silkscreen, which is a little more involved but often looks better and lasts longer.
If you are independently wealthy, you can afford to be more ambitious. You can produce more shirts for resale and rethink the messaging and gender-targetting. This eventually can be your business and you can empower your employees to not get stuck in the same creatively stifling situation as the one who designed the shirts you were looking at.
If you are not independently wealthy you may be reliant on products produced by others, sold at a price point you can only get at discount stores. You may grow up and be in a similar situation as the employee who designed those shirts. You may have boundaries that you must adhere to (though they are often not as narrow as you think). Do what you can, but it may be more difficult if you make enemies of colleagues or those with more power. You need solidarity and it can be hard to move forward if bitter and unemployed. But you will learn things and gain power. Over time you may have more say over your product and clients or finally be in the position to start your own business (see paragraph above).
The glimmer of awareness is the beginning, not an end unto itself. Don’t become content with ranting. It is perhaps the first step, but change is slow in coming if only seen as someone else’s responsibility. Understand the larger systems. It makes solutions more elusive and complicated, but can build strength, empathy and compassion and ultimately – new realities.