"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

UNHRC.jpg
Small Strokes

What are

Gender Stereotypes?

"Stereotypes are invidious things. They underpin prejudice and discrimination and place constraints on people’s lives"

So states the first line of the National Education Union's report on the importance of challenging stereotyping in primary education, aptly titled "Stereotypes stop you doing stuff."

Gender stereotypes 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

Peruvian Dancing Skirts

"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 gender, clothing that society considers feminine OR masculine has 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, after all 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.

 

Lets start with colours.

Hanging Suit

Gender Stereotyping 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."

Helen Dickinson, 

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

Bailey Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood, 2011

Graphic Cubes

What's going on in Childrenswear?

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 embedded in our collective consciousness. 

Many of those ideas around gender were already there to begin with, and clever marketeers simply exploited what many people were already - rightly or wrongly - thinking. 

Gender Marketing

 “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

Tree Pattern

What does Gender Marketing look like?

There are lots of ways retailers use gender marketing in product design, but many will also use instore signage and specific girls and boys online categories - with similarly loaded descriptions. In recent years more 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. Regrettably these ideas didn't translate into designs, nor were online descriptions of boys clothing or girls clothing altered. The clever switcheroo in wording was welcomed as better than what had preceded it, but disappointingly little has changed since. 

Gender Stereotypes in Childrenswear Design

Our top 10 of how to spot gender stereotypes at play in childrenswear

1. Colour

Small Strokes

Pink for girls and blue for boys? 100 years ago, it was the other way around.

 

Colours represent certain ideas and feelings in our collective consciousness as a direct result of our environment and how those colours have been used over time. Red for example is both the colour of "passion" wheeled out every Valentines Day decked in rouge love hearts, but also a warning, the stopping of a car, or the visible in every stop or give way sign.

 

Pink has also become the colour of all things feminine, not because the female sex is predisposed towards all things blush, but because ideas about women as passive creatures, sugary and sweet, 

but is the female sex naturally disposed towards all things fushia and rose

Pink and blue work much the same way, with pink products explicitly coded for girls, and blue for boys. These two colours have become the ultimate visual coding for oppressive gender stereotyping, the feminine and masculine arcs of the rainbow - but who made this decision? In 1918 the fashionable "Ladies Home Journal" would have you believe its the other way around...

"The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls"

Ladies Home Journal, 1918

2. Slogan

Dotted Background

"Here comes trouble" for boys and "Smile" for girls, these slogans are anything but benign.

 

Slogans aimed at girls are dominated by appearance, in particular themes around smiling and being pretty. 41% of girls aged between 9 and 10 believe that "women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability." 

Girl Guiding Attitudes Survey 2016

Rigid ideas about masculinity are "narrow and constraining" say The Samaritans. In the UK suicide rates amongst men are three times higher than women. Toxic phrases like "Here come trouble" are all too common. Boys deserve better.

Design T-Shirts

Try our Slogan Generator

Slogan content taken from the Summer 2019 T-shirt ranges at John Lewis, Marks & Spencer's, Debenham's, George at Asda, Peacocks, M&Co, H&M and NEXT.

3. Unicorns & Dinosaurs

Dinosaurs were all male?

Perhaps that's why the dinosaurs died out? When the Natural History Museum and M&S teamed up in 2015 to produce a range of t-shirts featuring Dinosaurs, many from the UK Science community were outraged that the partnership excluded girls. Girls should be encouraged to explore science and natural history - just like boys.

Unicorns are just for girls?

It seems unlikely that as a mythological creature and symbol for Scotland, that the Unicorn should exist to entertain girls and send boys running. So why not let children decide what they like? Boys should be given the same opportunities as girls to explore their imagination.

4. Sizing

Colorful Paper Cutouts

Up until puberty, girls and boys are pretty much "child" shaped with similar waist, hip and height measurements. Most high street retailers have identical sizing charts for both. This includes shoes (with the same "standard" width) hats and yes, even pants!

However, shoppers will notice very different sizing between girls and boys ranges, regardless of the age or sizing information supplied. For example, gender trends in clothing aimed at girls increasingly leans towards womenswear fashions or as marketing groups call it the "mini me" which means clothes are cut slimmer and shorter with lower necklines and shorter sleeves. In contrast clothing aimed at boys is more likely to be child shaped, i.e a loose, practical fit designed for comfort rather than accentuating a shape the child does not have.  A customer buying a t-shirt from Girlswear and the same size from Boyswear will end up with two very differently sized products. The image on the right is a great example of this, the top white t-shirt is from the girls section, the bottom blue one is the same size from the boys range.

Different size?

5. Cut of clothes

Colorful Paper Cutouts

"Here comes trouble" for boys and "Smile" for girls, these slogans are anything but benign.

 

Slogans aimed at girls are dominated by appearance, in particular themes around smiling and being pretty. 41% of girls aged between 9 and 10 believe that "women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability."

Girl Guiding Attitudes Survey 2016

Rigid ideas about masculinity are "narrow and constraining" say The Samaritans. In the UK suicide rates amongst men are three times higher than women. Toxic phrases like "Here come trouble" are all too common. Boys deserve better.

6. Comfortable and practical, versus, not...

Colorful Paper Cutouts

"Here comes trouble" for boys and "Smile" for girls, these slogans are anything but benign.

 

Slogans aimed at girls are dominated by appearance, in particular themes around smiling and being pretty. 41% of girls aged between 9 and 10 believe that "women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability."

Girl Guiding Attitudes Survey 2016

Rigid ideas about masculinity are "narrow and constraining" say The Samaritans. In the UK suicide rates amongst men are three times higher than women. Toxic phrases like "Here come trouble" are all too common. Boys deserve better.

7. Animals, Wild or Domestic?

Colorful Paper Cutouts

"Here comes trouble" for boys and "Smile" for girls, these slogans are anything but benign.

 

Slogans aimed at girls are dominated by appearance, in particular themes around smiling and being pretty. 41% of girls aged between 9 and 10 believe that "women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability."

Girl Guiding Attitudes Survey 2016

Rigid ideas about masculinity are "narrow and constraining" say The Samaritans. In the UK suicide rates amongst men are three times higher than women. Toxic phrases like "Here come trouble" are all too common. Boys deserve better.

8. Strike a pose

John Lewis Girl & Boy T-Shirts, 2018 Range

Colorful Paper Cutouts

"Here comes trouble" for boys and "Smile" for girls, these slogans are anything but benign.

 

Slogans aimed at girls are dominated by appearance, in particular themes around smiling and being pretty. 41% of girls aged between 9 and 10 believe that "women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability."

Girl Guiding Attitudes Survey 2016

Rigid ideas about masculinity are "narrow and constraining" say The Samaritans. In the UK suicide rates amongst men are three times higher than women. Toxic phrases like "Here come trouble" are all too common. Boys deserve better.

9. Words matter

Colorful Paper Cutouts

"Here comes trouble" for boys and "Smile" for girls, these slogans are anything but benign.

 

Slogans aimed at girls are dominated by appearance, in particular themes around smiling and being pretty. 41% of girls aged between 9 and 10 believe that "women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability."

Girl Guiding Attitudes Survey 2016

Rigid ideas about masculinity are "narrow and constraining" say The Samaritans. In the UK suicide rates amongst men are three times higher than women. Toxic phrases like "Here come trouble" are all too common. Boys deserve better.

10. Missing characters

Colorful Paper Cutouts

"Here comes trouble" for boys and "Smile" for girls, these slogans are anything but benign.

 

Slogans aimed at girls are dominated by appearance, in particular themes around smiling and being pretty. 41% of girls aged between 9 and 10 believe that "women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability."

Girl Guiding Attitudes Survey 2016

Rigid ideas about masculinity are "narrow and constraining" say The Samaritans. In the UK suicide rates amongst men are three times higher than women. Toxic phrases like "Here come trouble" are all too common. Boys deserve better.

11. Science

Colorful Paper Cutouts

"Here comes trouble" for boys and "Smile" for girls, these slogans are anything but benign.

 

Slogans aimed at girls are dominated by appearance, in particular themes around smiling and being pretty. 41% of girls aged between 9 and 10 believe that "women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability."

Girl Guiding Attitudes Survey 2016

Rigid ideas about masculinity are "narrow and constraining" say The Samaritans. In the UK suicide rates amongst men are three times higher than women. Toxic phrases like "Here come trouble" are all too common. Boys deserve better.

Shopping Mall Escalators

So why do retailers do it?

Retailers worked out that by splitting or "segmenting" the market into girls and boys products, they could sell more. We call this gender marketing, and yes, it means business.

By selling a product based on societies traditional ideas about gender, retailers were able to:

 

1. Discourage clothes being handed down between siblings of the opposite sex (so parents have to buy twice as many clothes, a set for girls and a set for boys)

2. Create a right and a wrong way to dress your child. Children want to be accepted, and conforming to what are established norms of dress are really important. If retailers can control these norms, and amplify our fears, then they can sell the solution.

3. Use gender marketing alongside other new marketable trends, such as gender reveal parties, Christenings, first birthday, first Christmas, first tooth, first sleepover, first loose tooth, first fart. You get the picture, and it comes in either pink or blue.

4. Sell products based on adult gender marketing, for example, girls clothing is more likely to be fitted, shorter and focused on appearance. The combination of skinny fit, beauty and "fashionista" is all part of the unrelenting pressure placed on women to look and act a certain way - but which make some brands millions of pounds each year. This is also a win win for retailers because they also get to prime their future adult market. Girl today, woman chasing unrealistic beauty goals tomorrow.

5. Accessorise the shit out of girls and boys clothing. Girls, if you're buying a dress you will need tights, matching shoes, hair accessories and a bag. Boy, you're going to need practical clothes in quantities because your active lifestyle will eat through everything you put on. You name it, and the gender marketing stamp will be added to it - in "this seasons" "must have" "wardrobe update!"

The answer is: Money

Variety of Coins

12. Science

Colorful Paper Cutouts

"Here comes trouble" for boys and "Smile" for girls, these slogans are anything but benign.

 

Slogans aimed at girls are dominated by appearance, in particular themes around smiling and being pretty. 41% of girls aged between 9 and 10 believe that "women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability."

Girl Guiding Attitudes Survey 2016

Rigid ideas about masculinity are "narrow and constraining" say The Samaritans. In the UK suicide rates amongst men are three times higher than women. Toxic phrases like "Here come trouble" are all too common. Boys deserve better.

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