What are gender stereotypes?

Sex : Biology. The sex we are born, male or female, is based on sex and reproductive organs, followed by secondary sex characteristics (at puberty) like developing breasts and menstruation for girls/women.

Gender: A social construct. Gender is a set of ideas within society about how men and women should look and behave. These ideas are predominantly based on traditional cultural ideas and will be different over time, or where you are in the world. 

Have you ever felt stereotyped? That is to say, someone has judged what you like, or expected you to behave in a certain way, based on your sex? Gender marketing does just that, and aimed at children, can be harmful to self-esteem and future aspirations.

Products for girls and for boys are strictly divided by gender marketing into a very limited palette of pink or blue, unicorns or dinosaurs, pretty or active. This not only limits choice but also carries harmful messages about the role of women and men in society.

For example, how can we expect to increase the number of women entering STEM professions if from birth girls are told STEM designs and toys are not for them? How do we tackle high male suicide rates if we convince boys that they must be tough and not seek help?

Walk round a children's clothing store. Can you see any differences between the girls and the boys section? Are they necessary? Are they fair?

If we want a more equal society, we need to tell girls and boys that they are equal to each other. After all, they are more alike than different.


Gender Stereotyping in childrenswear 

Peruvian Dancing Skirts

Clothing and 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 gender, clothing that society considers feminine/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

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

Today's classic gender-coding is based around the assumption that girls *naturally* like pink, and boys like blue, yet this fashion used to be the other way around... 

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


Ladies Home Journal, 1918 (right)

Girls will be girls, and

boys will be boys?


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.

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.

Joules Girls Viola Unicorn Jumper#.jpg
John LEwis Boys Dinosaur T-Shirt.jpg

"John Lewis Boys Surfing Dinosaur T-Shirt" June 2020

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.

Joules Girls Viola Unicorn Jumper#.jpg

"Joules Girls Viola Unicorn Sweatshirt" June 2020

Different size?

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.

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