What are Gender Stereotypes?
"Gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. This includes norms, behaviours and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy, as well as relationships with each other. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time."
World Health Organisation
"A gender stereotype is a generalised view or preconception about attributes or characteristics, or the roles that are or ought to be possessed by, or performed by women and men. A gender stereotype is harmful when it limits women’s and men’s capacity to develop their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers and make choices about their lives."
United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights
Read more here
The aptly titled report Stereotypes stop you doing stuff by the NEU (National Education Union) begins: "Stereotypes are invidious things. They underpin prejudice and discrimination and place constraints on people’s lives."
When we talk about stereotyping - whether its based on gender, race, culture, age, class or appearance, stereotyping makes a judgment about a person, without even knowing them. They are often over-simplified ideas about certain groups of people, and are often extremely negative (ie, prejudice)
Gender stereotypes for example, are rigid ideas about the behaviour and roles of men and women in society. They are strict rules not based on any scientific foundation, but traditional ideas held by a society. They are essentially gender rules that restrict choice, and limit ambition, and they are deeply harmful to children and the development of an equal society.
Clothing & Gender
"Clothing is one of the most immediate and effective examples of the way in which bodies are gendered, made "feminine" or "masculine"
Joanne Entwhistle, The Fashioned Body
The clothes we wear now are very different to what people wore say, a 100 years ago - and will probably look very different 100 years from now. Just like ideas about the role of the sexes (gender), clothing that society considers feminine OR masculine, have changed over time.
Trousers are a great example of this, and were considered a male-only garment until the turn of the last century, but changes in women's working patterns (especially during WWII) meant trousers were simply more practical and more and more women started wearing them. In the west it is now very common to see women wearing trousers without being "masculine" and likewise we attach the same ideas to other garments, like skirts and dresses as feminine. Are skirts therefore for women only? We don't believe so. In non-western cultures, skirts and skirt-like garments are very common. Kilts are another great example of a skirt-like garment worn by men, and yet the idea still comes up against cultural resistance. Why is this?
In the UK is it considered far more acceptable for girls and women to wear traditional "masculine" clothing, than it is for boys and men to wear clothing deemed "feminine." For example, girls face less stigma for wearing trousers than a boy in a skirt. Girls can wear almost any colour, but pink is an uncommon sight in boys clothing ranges. When we appeared on GMTV to talk about gender stereotyping in childrenswear, presenter Piers Morgan was adamant that it was "bonkers" for dresses to be labelled as unisex, or made available to boys. Unfortunately this is a very common attitude, that where it comes to items traditionally associated with girls (again, this is where ideas about gender come in), or femininity, that this is somehow demeaning to boys. You've heard the insult "like a girl" or "girly" aimed at boys right? We want to challenge that idea and some of the stereotypes around what children wear.
What's going on in Childrenswear?
"When it comes to children’s ranges our members recognise their responsibilities in providing age-appropriate clothing designs, and marketing these to parents and guardians in ways which do not sexualise or unduly gender stereotype children."
Chief Executive of The British Retail Consortium 2020 Childrenswear Report
"Parents need encouragement to feel they can change things and that their voices will be heard. Regulators, businesses and broadcasters should do more to connect with parents - it’s not enough for them to work out what is acceptable from what people complain about afterwards. I hope that they see that it’s good business if you look out for families. Then we can all help to make Britain a more family friendly place."
Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of Mothers’ Union
How do you make more money out of one product? You make more than one version of it. What if you could do this across every single product, AND prevent hand-me-downs between siblings of the opposite sex - selling twice as much again?
Gender marketing has become a stalwart of the high street, and after nearly 40 years of rolling out products aimed at children based on strict gender rules, its no wonder that those ideas have become even more embedded in our collective consciousness.
Many of these ideas around gender were already there to begin with, and clever marketeers simply exploited what many people were already - rightly or wrongly - thinking.
What does Gender Marketing look like?
“We do not want to reinforce gender stereotypes within our John Lewis collections and instead want to provide greater choice and variety to our customers, so that the parent or child can choose what they would like to wear.”
Caroline Bettis, Head of Childrenswear at John Lewis commenting on the new "Girls and Boys" and "Boys and Girls" labels.
Read more here
There are lots of ways retailers use gender marketing in product design, but many will also use instore signage, specific girl & boy categories online, descriptions that describe girls as pretty and boys as adventurous - plus photographs to match.
In recent years retailers have tried to side-step the issue of stereotyping by rebranding their childrenswear as "kids" while maintaining very specific gendered marketing designs.
A great example of this is John Lewis, who until 2017 used a John Lewis Boy label in blue, and John Lewis Girl label in pink that was physically sewn into each garment. John Lewis removed in-store girl/boy signage and started using John Lewis Girls & Boys and John Lewis Boys & Girls tags, committing to not reinforcing gender stereotypes. Product design however remained unchanged, and hopes that online categories and titles would reflect the new unisex approach have so far, failed to materialise. The clever switcheroo in wording was welcomed as better than what had preceded it.