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
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.
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."
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.
"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 Sweatshirt" June 2020