Jardine calls for action to combat gendered marketing

Nine years ago, I blogged about the awful gendered marketing of children’s fancy dress outfits by the Early Learning Centre. At that time, they did doctors’ outfits for boys and nurses’ outfits for girls.

Almost a decade further on, it’s frankly not much better. Try searching fancy dress for girls and boys. Boys get the superhero stuff – very active and history changing. Girls get mostly pretty dresses and uncomfortable and impractical shoes. Have you ever tried climbing a tree in a Belle costume? It’s not easy. The more recent Disney Princesses have a bit more agency than they used to, but the Early Learning Centre seems to still concentrate on the ones with long dresses.

 A poll carried out by the Fawcett Society shows that I’m not alone in my concerns.  It found ‘widespread concern’ about ‘pink for girls, blue for boys’ advertising by manufacturers and retailers.

63% of mothers and 60% of fathers agreed that product marketing reinforces gender stereotypes. Fawcett says these misgivings are not limited to parents, ‘as over half of men and women who do not have children also agreed’.

Earlier this year, Christine Jardine brought in a bill to prohibit the differential pricing of products and services that are substantially similar other than being intended for, or marketed to, a particular gender. She expressed her concern about gender stereotyping in marketing.

It is unacceptable that in 2019 companies are still marketing their products using outdated and sexist stereotypes.

These tactics are damaging for both children and adults. Trying to put children in marketing boxes according to arbitrary ideas of what it is to be male or female is regressive and could give them a damaging and limited image of what they can achieve or what their societal role should be.

The clichés of gender-specific products also lie at the heart of the pink tax, where women have to pay higher prices than men for the same products. The Conservative Government must stop refusing to act. It’s time they ensure all major retailers end these harmful marketing practices.

In her book Equal Power, Jo Swinson memorably described the girls’ clothing aisles in many stores as being like a “marshmallow has vomited up a florist’s shop and then rolled around in some glitter at a tea party for unicorns.”

There are many aspects to the issue of gendered marketing.  It’s important to recognise them and the harm that they can do in setting expectations of behaviour.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • I agree that the marketing is crazy, but why not encourage parents to ignore it, if their little girl wants something that is marketed for boys, buy it from the boys section (and vice versa of course).

    One of our girls is heavily into Star Wars, SW PJs seem to be only listed under the “boys” heading, so that’s where we got them. Encourage parents to take their children down both isles to see if they can find what they like, the markets will react if they think they can make money from change.

  • Sue Sutherland 30th Apr '19 - 1:07pm

    We have 3 daughters who are now mothers themselves, so we have four grandsons in the UK and a step granddaughter and two granddaughters in Australia. I bought boys clothes and toys for my daughters but not exclusively because they also had my little pony stuff and party dresses but having experienced a very feminine environment and now a masculine environment has made me think more about gender equality in toys and clothes.
    In my experience small boys and small girls love bright clothes and glitter and jewellery equally. While girls have bright colours , boys clothes are an endless sea of beige, grey, navy and pale blue with a little bit of brightness hiding in the boring depths which my daughters and I exploit as much as possible especially if there are reversible sequins involved.
    All my grandsons like to play with the doll and its clothes that I bought for them despite the fact that virtually all dolls are little girls with dolls clothes to match. This denies boys the opportunity to practise nurturing and developing their caring side. We all encourage the boys to express their love for each other, which they do along with the aggro which girls also experience.
    And then there is pink! I love pink. I suffer from M.E. and find that seeing a great zonk of pink, especially in winter, gives me a terrific boost. Why should a boy be made to feel that pink is not for him? My husband has waged a pink battle for decades because he likes wearing it and he even had a pair of pink glasses at one time.
    It is so sad if either boys or girls aren’t allowed to experience the frothy side of life because that is sometimes where the seeds of creativity are sown. The daughter who was most passionate about my little pony then started to want Transformers ( for boys) and now works in a creative job as an interior architect. I can still remember the anxious discussions her parents had about whether we should get her a my little pony castle for Christmas.
    I think it’s important to realise that boys as well as girls are treated badly by gender stereotyping, IMO the aim should be to allow both to develop to their optimum capacity in all fields.

  • I’m with Christine entirely. Hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity only reinforce outmoded social norms and stereotypes, to the detriment of men and women.
    Unfortunately many parent like to emphasize their child’s gender identity at an absurdly young age. Two year old boys with shaved heads, girls a confection of pink.
    Personally, as a child of the 60’s I prefer a bit of androgyny – jeans and long hair for all !

  • Lorenzo Cherin 30th Apr '19 - 4:33pm

    I agree with the article. But really it has little to to with politics or government or society but a lot to do with businesses and tastes and conservatism of both.

    Can we have women in parliament who can also concentrate their fire on the really worrying things for girls , like the online porn that is often violent and worryingly, although our spokespeople have little to say other than, oh, we must not snoop….

  • Forgive me, but this is politically correct claptrap. Worse than that, it denies the great majority of children a normal and conventional childhood.

  • I agree with Lorenzo about the online porn which is a far bigger problem to our children than whether we dress then in pink or blue. Like Peter says the article is mainly “politically correct claptrap” – surely it’s not beyond parental ability to find a football kit or a spiderman outfit for a girl or a doll for a boy. Stop making a fuss about nothing and just buy what suits your child – you can find it if you shop around. Frankly I like “gender marketing” if I’m looking for a pair of trousers I like to be directed to a pair of “mens” trousers.

  • Why would anyone think of wearing a Belle costume to climb a tree? What a ridiculous construct.
    And I note it is not alleged that the Belle costumes were priced differentially higher than Batman.

    Just the kind of irrelevant rubbish that gets us rated 6th in opinion polls.

  • Sue Sutherland 1st May '19 - 1:04pm

    Goodness me this article has definitely brought out the “grumpy old men”. Peter when you start talking about denying children a normal and conventional childhood what exactly do you mean? Over the last sixty or seventy years there has been a huge change in the role of women but equality is still out of reach. The traditional role of men is also changing in response to this and also in response to changes in the economy. We have to help our children to adjust to the changed expectations society will have of them as adults.

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