• Suzanne Axelsson

The Story of Pockets

Pockets... I love them... as do my two daughters... but seldom do we get decent pockets in our clothes, compared with the pockets of my husband and son. In fact when we do get a garment with a decent pocket it is always commented on with great joy... especially in skirts and dresses. I see via social media, that we are far from the only females that do this.


I mean what is up with fake pockets? Why bother? And why are pockets nearly always so much smaller if they do exist?

Of course you don't have to spend many minutes to read all about the history of pockets to discover how it is about power, the men being in control of finances etc and about how women look rather than them being practicality.


BUT that this should all impact young children's clothing too seems ridiculous... girls just as much as boys like to collect things and save them in pockets... there is no gender difference in this behaviour - maybe from child to child, but I have not seen a difference between boys and girls during all my years of working with young children. The need to stuff things into pockets has been strong in most children I have met at some stage in their life.


I have seen, both boys and girls, fill their pockets with so many things that their trousers would no longer stay up.

My daughters, when they were toddlers, loved pockets and always stuffed them with things... and if they lacked enough pockets they used the body they wore under their clothes as a giant pocket... so many times the staff at their preschool would giggle and hand over a supply of pretend food and other toys that they found stuffed down my children's clothes when their nappies were being changed.


Why are children being dressed in mini-adult clothes? Why not let them be the children that they are? That the size difference between boys and girls should not differ in the way that it does... if you are 104cm tall regardless of gender, then the clothes should fit that height... not be shorter and tighter for a girl.


I ended up buying a great deal of boy clothes for my girls - partly because they were tall for their age, so I got better value from the clothes... and also realised those clothes were less flimsy and held better for climbing and play than girl clothes available... at that age children regardless of gender they are playing in pretty much the same way... until society informs them that they should not be.


I got called out by a 5 year old girl about my choice to wear super hero t-shirts - saying that spiderman was for boys... which meant I must be a boy for wearing such clothes. I simply answered that anyone can like spiderman and that I was most certainly still a girl. Within a week the girls in the group (that overheard the conversation) were coming with spiderman caps and t-shirts - as well as other superheroes. I also went out and bought myself more superhero t-shirts to really emphasise that superheroes are for anyone who likes them. I would also like to point out that most of my t-shirts are men's t-shirts... as the women ones are always too short and fitted... now I don't mind fitted... but they don't fit my body... the waist is always too high, as I am tall - and I really like my t-shirts and tops to not just meet my jeans/trousers but to be of a length I can tuck in on cold days. Oh and don't even get me started about superhero underclothes... all my superhero socks come from the men's section and finding underpants for women with superhero motifs is not so easy as it is for men... but I am going off track now...


The pocket talk makes me think of the book "Experiencing Reggio Emilia: Implications for preschool provision" edited by Lesley Abbot and Cathy Nutbrown where there is a chapter called "Sunniva's extra pocket" by Caroline Hunter. A teacher, parent of children at preschools in Reggio Emilia, and then translator for Reggio Children. In the chapter she describes her experience as a parent of children attending preschools in Reggio Emilia and she agreed with Malaguzzi's statement that her children were given "extra pockets" to dip in when needed later in life...


Amelia Gambetti wrote

In Reggio Emilia we have the highest quality kinds of materials we can find, not so that the children can become geniuses but so that they and we have many opportunities to discover their learning processes and their abilities to think. I believe that when you give this to children when they are so young, when you empower them in their thinking, it stays with them forever - as Malaguzzi used to say, like an extra pocket. They understand the power of their intelligence.(Understanding the Reggio Approach: Early Years Education in Practice. Linda Thornton, Pat Brunton 2005)

But my question is - if society is giving bigger pockets to boys and often fake pockets to girls... we need to be aware of this extra pocket that is being provided and that it does not mirror social stereotypes. That these pockets are ample enough for everyone to stuff their experiences, thoughts, reflection into regardless of gender.

Consider this quote from esteemed designer Christian Dior in 1954, reported by the Spectator, "Men have pockets to keep things in, women for decoration." The Wierd and complicated sexist history of pockets

If we want to empower children we need to make sure that the extra pocket is not for decoration but is substantial enough to fill for all genders.


Below are some more links to read about connected to this thinking.


for some reason there is a thinking that prevails about taking away the pink and the princess - as if this pinkness is the problem. Choosing to wear pink and choosing to be a princess is not a problem... ONLY if it is the only story that is being offered to what girls should connect with and that there is only one kind of princess that needs to be saved by a male. it is not the colour of the position that is the problem, but the narratives that have been associated with them.


yeah, my son caused quite a stir in a small French town when he wanted to wear a pink skirt to dance in... as his big sisters always wanted to dress up for dance, it made perfect sense for him too. As well as green glitter shoes at preschool until he got told by other boys at preschool that green glitter is not for boys only for girls... he refused to put them on again... despite support from the teachers at the setting and from home... It is hard for children as they work on their identity and the need to belong to trust in the adults that have allowed these stereotypes to prevail. There needs to be a lot of work put in so that there is acceptance for green glitter shoes, regardless of who is wearing them, rather than trying to fix the damage afterwards. Anti-bias, gender-equity, social justice work is two-fold... it is about creating a sustainable social space where everyone can be themselves, but it is also healing and fixing the problems too... the first is the best option, and working with young children we have the very best potential to create environments of acceptance. But that requires us to be pro-active and not just wait for issues to arise to fix.



IF schools and preschools are not working with these ideas and exploring gender stereotypes actively than the damage is done. It's not enough not to talk about it, and to be "gender neutral" (whatever that is... gender aware I think is a much better term... being aware of the various roles, the possibilities, the limits, the bias, the stereotypes and prejudices so that we can actively work against these having negative impacts on any and all of the children) ...

we HAVE to to discuss - how we are personally impacted by bias, how it affects how we interact with the children, become aware of how the children play and if stereotypical patterns are forming, reflect on how to create more opportunities for all genders and allow them to be available to all the children, to explore and discover the joy of play.

A part of the International Fairy Tea Party is to also break down barriers of gender stereotypes... that fairies are not just for girls, that boys enjoy magic and flying too... that fairies are not just girls with pink tutus...


you could read this text about the history of pockets from The Victoria and Albert Museum


five unexpected gender differences in children's clothes


The sneakily sexist food messaging in kids clothing


and from pockets to pocket money... gender differences


International Fairy Tea Party - facebook page

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