Angela writes that while visiting her local YMCA yesterday on one of the hottest days of the year, staff in the pool area informed her that her one-year-old daughter needed to wear a swim top. “It was fine for the baby boys not to wear a top,” Angela notes incredulously. “So as long as it’s a blue swim suit, then it’s okay?”
In my opinion, such a policy is problematic. First of all, it sexualizes infant girls. At such an early age, the only physiological way to tell a boy from a girl is from their genitalia. Their chests are undeveloped. Why would any reasonable adult think baby girls’ chests need to be covered?
Secondly, such a policy can only be enforced by relying upon stereotypical expectations regarding a child’s attire. As the campaign Let Clothes Be Clothes continuously reminds us, there is no such thing as “boys’ clothes” or “girls’ clothes”—just clothing with various colors and design elements, some of which fit our stereotypical expectations of what boys like and what girls like. But children (and their parents; and everyone, really) should feel comfortable dressing in whatever they like, without facing cultural pressures to conform to arbitrary gender stereotypes.
In other words, with children so young, unless the YMCA staff plan to implement diaper checks–which, clearly, they would not–they shouldn’t be policing girls’ swim attire. Doing so constitutes discrimination against those wearing stereotypically feminine swim attire, while allowing those of either sex who are wearing blue or gender-neutral attire to swim free of harassment from staff.
As Angela concludes regarding the photo she attached in her message to me: “My baby girl on the left—unacceptable swim attire. Baby boy on the right—acceptable. Really???”
Angela plans to address this further with leadership at her local YMCA, and her local moms’ group is even considering planning a “topless toddlers” day at the pool to press their point.
Readers: Any advice or suggestions? Have you successfully countered a sexist policy like this?