The gendering of most of this stuff just doesn't make sense. REI seems to specify genders for all sorts of things, even ones that I would say come from the manufacturer as a pretty non-gendered product. (Sure, the manufacturer might specify a gender, but REI then does their own tagging on the website and in the store, and their system allows them to not specify gender on items.) Even if one is subscribing to western gender norms, wouldn't that mean that most things are either "girl" or "everybody?" We all know that most products are designed in the default version and then the female version, right? So shouldn't the plain black bike that looks like a bike be "everyone" and the pink bike covered in flowers and fairies be "girl?" Again, putting aside that I know plenty of boys who like pink flowers and plenty of girls who like robots and zombies, shouldn't "boy" be reserved for the things that are speficially conventionally gendered, like the bikes with flames on them or whatever? Why does REI label so much plain stuff as "boy"?
The way in which it's gendered gets interesting too, and is particularly odd with athletic brands. In the adult lines, outdoor and athletic equipment and clothing seem to have some traditional gendering between men's and women's items, but I would say that the female items exude girl power and feminine diva strength, not "I'm a pretty princess who will be sitting inside while you men hike." The children's items, though, tend to differ in that the boys' items look like they're encouraging vigor and perseverance, but the girls' look like they're encouraging, um, being pretty. Even the names reflect this! There's an identical-except-for-color Novara bike called "Stinger" for the boys and "Firefly" for the girls. While I actually think "stinger" sounds a little trashy and reminds me too much of professional wrestling, I want my female kids and my male kids to ride like a stinger, fast and fearless and with a goal in mind, not like a firefly that flits around being pretty.
It gets even better. Rossignol has a model of skis that are actually called princess skis! Other than the name, this particular model is kind of cute. When I googled it I found another model of Rossignol princess skis that actually have imagery of (white and blonde, naturally) princesses on them. I assume that when these arrive, they're just decoy skis that are designed for leaning up against while talking to handsome young men outside the lodge. I don't imagine that princesses do any skiing; those kinds of skills tend to throw a wrench in the plot of needing to be rescued by strong brave men.
This is not, of course, to say that there's anything wrong with feminine young girls. I definitely subscribe to a feminism that's more in line with Black feminism and womanism and encourages females to fully participate in the world in whatever way they see fit, rather than one of the "feminists need to emulate men while at the same time hating them" schools of feminism. But there is something inherently wrong with trying to appeal to young girls by slapping princesses on very non-princessy things. It's insulting to the girl to imply that "princess" is all she is. A girl (or a boy!) who loves flowers and frills and femininity should feel elated to delicately prance around the house, taking care to make sure her delicate white tutu stays white and unrumpled, but something is really not right when her bike is all-white and decked out in flowers and screams to be polished and decorated, while her brother's screams to be taken out and ridden through the mud.
I worry about girls (and boys) who are living in a culture where people aren't seeing the whole child. I worry that she has to be convinced to try getting out in nature and using her strength and endurance by the promise that the bike or skis have princesses on them, because female socialization has removed the instinct that most kids have to try different types of activities. In the same vein, I worry about the boys who are expected to like the bike because it's a bike, when maybe they like yoga or hiking better. I think if we downplayed gender several notches, it would be a lot easier to really think about our kids as individuals, and think about which kids might be happier with individual versus team sports, or high-stimulation activities versus low-stimulation activities. It's disappointing that the backsliding of gendering has gotten to the point that even companies selling outdoor equipment are sending the message of "buy our stuff, girls, but you shouldn't really use it." And that there's demand for this.