When Sarah Murdough sat down with daughter Brady to buy the 6-year-old’s backpack for kindergarten, she didn’t expect that a little online shopping would end up sparking a change in how an entire company does business.
But when Brady chose a turquoise and plum striped Fairfax Backpack on the Pottery Barn Kids website, mother and daughter ran into trouble. The Pleasant Hill, California kindergartner wanted to add a “dragon” patch to her new bag.
The dragon patches were available… but only if you ordered a bag in green or navy. Order it in the prototypical “girl” colors that Brady preferred, and the site limited your patch choices to fairy, owl, heart, rainbow, kitty or butterfly patch.
Since Brady was born, Murdough says she’s become increasingly frustrated with the gender stereotyping of children’s clothes, toys and other products. And as her 6-year-old asked for the dragon, her heart sank.
“I knew instantly that it wasn’t going to work,” Murdough told SheKnows. But she decided to call the company to see if maybe a customer service rep could make an exception, make a change that she couldn’t on the website. But rep after rep (she spoke with three) all told her the same thing: it couldn’t be done, even though the emblem was available on the exact same bag… albeit in colors typically assigned to boys.
“They were all perfectly lovely,” Murdough says, “But they all said you have to order the boy colors.”
Brady was disappointed. The 6-year-old who waffles between wanting to be a veterinarian or Darth Vader when she grows up loves dragons. She couldn’t understand why she couldn’t have the dragon and a pretty backpack.
“She said, ‘But I like boy things,'” Murdough recalls. “I said, ‘You don’t like boy things, you just like things.’ She still uses that boy/girl language, but she gets it on a certain level.”
The 6-year-old gets that girls are treated differently in this world.
Angry, Murdough took to her Facebook page to vent about her daughter’s disappointment, and a friend suggested that she address her rant to Pottery Barn Kids itself. So she did. On Aug. 14, she posted a complaint to the company’s Facebook page that quickly went viral. In it, she asked, “My question is: Why does PBK decide what girls like and what boys like? Why can boys get dragon, spaceship and football patches but not owls or fairies or kittens. Do you know each child personally? Why are you limiting their decisions and forcing such basic and antiquated gender norms on them. Why can girls not get green and navy backpacks and boys can’t get turquoise or plum? Who are you to decide this for our children? Also, what does it say to girls that they can’t get dragon, football or spaceship patches. Are they not allowed to be interested in science fiction, sports or space? Is this really 2015? Is this really what we are offering our children?”
On Monday morning, she got a phone call from the company’s director of public relations. They wanted to send Brady a turquoise and plum backpack with a dragon emblem (when Murdough asked that they send one to a charity for kids who need school supplies instead, the company offered to do that and send Brady a bag). And they wanted to tell Murdough they were changing their policy. Not only would they stop genderizing emblems, but Murdough said that the director promised that they’d take a look at their offering as a whole — from the color of embroidery thread on down.
SheKnows reached out to Pottery Barn Kids for clarification on their new policy but had not received a response at press time.
“It made me feel really good that I said something,” Murdough said of the response she got from them. “I feel like a lot of moms sigh and say, ‘What am I going to do? It’s Pottery Barn, it’s a big company, I can’t change it.'”
As for people who will say, “but it’s just a backpack,” Murdough agrees. “It didn’t end world hunger,” she admits. “But I feel this is important, especially for our girls and our future.
“Maybe some of our girls can address [world hunger] in the future because they won’t be dealing with these small things.”