Gendered marketing is restrictive and damaging to both children and adults. For children, those who do not conform to the likes and dislikes assigned to their gender are often bullied and ostracised by their peers. The stereotypes marketing assigns to genders linger throughout and affect the lives of people from birth to death. Gendered marketing limits both men and women, and excludes non-binary people entirely.
Limiting what toys children can play with because of their gender is harmful. Play is an important part of learning for young children, it teaches them how to interact with others, share and learn about the world. Some toys such as construction toys help children develop spatial skills, and role-playing toys help develop social skills. Since the former is mainly marketed to boys and the latter to girls, it is unsurprising that girls tend to have better social skills while boys have improved spatial awareness.
The marketing of toys in this manner also reinforces negative gender stereotypes. Action toys such as cars and toy guns are marketed at “boisterous boys” and dolls and fashion toys at “girly girls”. These stereotypes can be seen most plainly in dress-up costumes. Boys are encouraged to dress as doctors, scientists, firemen, etc. Girls, on the other hand are given the choice of fairy, princess, supermodel and similar. Children can often pick up ideas about what future career they can do on the basis of this.
Appearance centred toys are marketed towards very young girls, putting far too large an emphasis on their outward appearance, while boys are taught that caring toys are not for them and they shouldn’t feel emotion. These stereotypes can lead to mental health problems later in life, such as eating disorders in women who are unhappy with their appearance, and built up negative emotions in men who feel they cannot show them.
Transgender people are also hugely and adversely impacted by this, being forced into playing with something associated with the assigned-at-birth gender they do not identify with and often feel very dysphoric about. This is especially true of non-binary people who are never mentioned on any of the toy labels.
Often people will ask why it matters if something is labelled as ‘girls’ or ‘boys’ – can’t people just buy it anyway? This attitude ignores the huge societal pressure on children to conform and like toys made for their gender – as soon as a child can read, they will think certain things are not for them. Many parents will also not buy an item for their child labelled as being for a different gender.
Other parents simply don’t notice that science kits are all in the boys’ section, and don’t see the problem. The marketing at one gender also clearly suggests that boys and girls are “supposed” to like certain things, and if they like the other, they are somehow abnormal. The marketing of these toys creates social rules that are very hard to break and can often lead to bullying if someone does.
Clothing is another area which is very divided, for both children and adults. Young girls are given tight-fitting flowery, sparkly and always pink outfits, which are often difficult to play in. Boys, on the other hand, are given loose fitting clothes in red or blue. Slogans on girls’ clothing are often along the lines of “little princess”, “pretty in pink” or “future supermodel” while boys’ slogans are “troublemaker” or “future scientist”.
For adults, women’s clothing is often thin and poor quality, needing replaced very quickly. There is also a distinct lack of pockets – often shops will put on fake pockets to give the illusion of a pocket but lacking the usefulness of a real one because it will disrupt the figure. Men’s clothes are designed far more practically. This all feeds in to the attitude that men work and women look pretty. Non-binary people again have no section in the clothes shops and are again excluded.
There are no benefits to gendered marketing – as well as hurting individuals, it also disadvantages businesses by restricting their market. The argument against gendered marketing should not be reserved for the left, both capitalists and socialists should be condemning the practice.
Much of the gender inequality found among adults has its roots in childhood and what is marketed at children. By forcing children into boxes against their will, society is setting the stage for inequality to continue into adulthood and their entire lives. If we truly want a more equal society, tackling gender stereotypes and gendered marketing is a good place to start.
This article was originally published on the Young Scots for Independence blog, at Stephanie Melnick: Gendered Marketing is Damaging Children — Young Scots for Independence