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Sparkly Pink Dinosaurs With Bows On Their Heads

Was it John Lewis which started it all? There was such a big fuss when they claimed to have made their children's clothing department gender neutral - people reacted as though letting boys wear pink and girls wear blue would sterilise the lads and stop the lasses from ever finding suitable husbands.

Except, of course, their children's clothing department isn't gender neutral at all. The traditionally boyish clothes say "Boys and Girls" on the labels; the traditionally girly clothes say "Girls and Boys"; gender neutrality would have seen them all simply labelled as "Kids". No, all they really did was stock a dress which was covered in dinosaurs.

And they were by no means the first shop to stock dinosaur covered girls' clothes (we had bought some from Sainsbury's about a year beforehand) - they were just the first ones to spot the PR opp.

Nevertheless, since all that publicity, it's hard to find a clothes store which doesn't have dinosaur print clothes in their girls' section. Girls' clothes are awash with pretty pink Stegosauruses with bows on their heads and Diplodocuses with sparkly jewels around their necks.

The thing is: this isn't gender neutrality. The problem is not [just] that girls don't get enough dinosaur clothes.

Herbivorous dinosaurs are trendy at the moment but that's not the same thing as treating all kids as equals. You can't bung a purple Triceratops on a T-shirt and claim that your store's a feminist must-shop.

To be fair, there are a handful of stores which have moved on from dinosaurs. If you can afford to buy at Boden, their girls' section features dragons and sharks and pirate flags, all on dresses and skintight leggings; if you're a supermarket shopper, Sainsbury's offer robots with skirts on. And that's... something.

But it's still hard to climb in a skirt; it's still hard to keep a pastel T-shirt clean in the mud; it's still hard to keep flimsy fabric intact when you're swishing through nettles with a stick. The images might suggest that girls can play at boys' games, too, but the clothes themselves don't particularly allow for it.

It's also fairly easy to find T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like GIRLS ARE SUPERHEROES and GIRLS RULE and GIRLS CAN DO ANYTHING. And that's... something, too.

But it's still dividing children up into two teams: girls and boys. It's still using their biological sex to define what they're capable of. It still encourages them to claim that the other half of the classroom is crap.

Meanwhile, for all the cute dinosaurs on girls' clothes, I've yet to see a unicorn or a flower or a slogan about the importance of friendship in the boys' section (which, yes, I do still - fruitlessly - peruse). It's still a depressing mass of drab colours, fierce creatures and words like MONSTER and TROUBLE.

Girls are still being treated as delicate and pretty; boys are still being told they're a bit of a nuisance. The shops haven't succeeded in making their clothes sections gender neutral; they've succeeded in making dinosaurs gender neutral - and, even then, only the ones which ate leaves and look cute when they're coloured in pink.

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