Old gender-stereotyping: Dressing your little girl in pink and your little boy in blue.

New gender-stereotyping: Dressing your little girl in blue and your little boy in pink.

It's supposed to be "the end of boys and girls," as a rah-rah Bloomberg News headline has it: the idea of "gender-neutral" clothing for children that will somehow erase the differences between little Buster and little Emily so you won't be able to tell them apart. But actually, "gender-neutral" seems to be more like "gender-switching": sticking your little girl into a T-shirt with a dinosaur and astronauts printed on it and your little boy into a T-shirt that's….you guessed it, pink:

"Most kids and parents are going to the big retailers and seeing all these messages of what its means to be a boy or a girl," says Sharon Choksi, co-founder of clothing line Girls Will Be. Choksi's daughter Maya, now 10, never liked sparkles or "feminine" colors, so the Choksis would shop for Maya in the boys' section. As Maya got older, Choksi worried that "boy" and "girl" labels would unnecessarily upset her daughter….

In Seattle, Martine Zoer had similar experiences with her sons. She grew tired of her boys, now four and seven, being pushed merchandise featuring designs of dinosaurs and trucks. In 2014, she founded Quirkie Kids, a label devoted to gender-neutral clothes. "There's nothing wrong with pink or girls liking pink," Zoer says. "But if we only offer them that choice, there's something wrong with that."

And sure enough, if you visit the T-shirt page of Girls Will Be, it's all bright boyish blue, bright boyish red, and lime green, printed with airplanes, dinos, rockets, and slogans such as "Be awesome." And at Quirkie Kids, it's…lotsa pink. On boys, that is.

What's behind this mom-driven movement? (I can't help noticing that all  the gender-neutral clothing outfits seem to be run by mothers, not fathers.) Well, first of all, there's that never-ending push to get more girls into STEM careers whether they like it or not. The idea seems to be that if you get little Bonnie into a T-shirt with a rocket-ship on it, she'll grow up to be a Nobel physicist. And if you wish enough pink on your little boy, he'll become a fashion designer. Because after all, gender preferences are all socially constructed, aren't they?

“There’s nothing hardwired in our brains that says pink is for girls and blue is for boys,” says Lise Eliot, a neuroscientist at the Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Frank University and author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow Into Troublesome Gaps—and What We Can Do About It. It’s purely a cultural phenomenon. By the time children are toddlers, Eliot says, boys start rejecting pink because they realize it may diverge from what's expected. 

These apparel choices can have enduring repercussions by affecting kids' interests and long-term goals. For instance, since most female clothes are more fitted, they often double as restraints, Eliot says, pushing girls away from physical activities. Kids' play habits matter, because they affect development and ultimately, even what career they end up embracing. If a girl is tugged away from liking outer space by societal pressures, she probably won't veer toward an aerospace profession later in life. If a boy is discouraged from playing with dolls and wearing bold clothes, they may not want to get into fashion design one day. "They see it's the boys with the rocket ships and the girls with the pretty flowers," adds Eliot.

Still, here's another thing that's impossible not to notice: Even the gender-neutralists don't really want to go all the way with gender-neutral. That shade of pink that the boys' T-shirts tend to come in is actually a bold shade of magenta, probably because even the most dinosaur-and-truck-fed-up mom knows that Junior doesn't really want to go skateboarding dressed in a delicate hue that reminds him of his baby sister's onesies. And one of the most successful of the supposedly gender-neutral outfits, Princess Awesome, puts its dino prints for girls (plus ninja prints, chemical-element prints, etc.) onto, horrors, dresses. And pink dresses at that!

Someone better warn Lise Eliot. This all sounds like gender-backsliding to me.