From the moment we become aware of the concept of gender as children we automatically become conscious of the unwritten rules that dictate what constitutes gender. From a very young age, we are taught that girls are supposed to aspire to look pretty, to be delicate and to enjoy playing with dolls and dressing up as princesses. We are then told that boys are supposed to have short hair, not like the colour pink, and should spend their break times playing sports with the other boys.
Perhaps these old fashioned ideals are less relevant in today’s society, but they are still ingrained in all of our minds. The question is, who or what is it that imprints these ideas onto us?
Whilst some may have rigid ideas of gender forced upon them by the people in their life, this isn’t always the case, and yet we are still all aware of these gender ‘rules’. There probably isn’t one single explanation for this. However, it seems that a huge contributing factor is the fact that we live in a society that genders material objects. Our world is dominated by consumerism, and when so many of the products available on the market are assigned a gender we are constantly having these stereotypes forced upon us.
gendered products contribute to the perception that gender is binary and inflexible
The danger arises when gendered products limit gender equality and freedom of identity by contributing to the perception that gender is binary and inflexible. Pressure is imposed upon us to perform as we are traditionally expected to, depending on the gender that has been assigned to us at birth. A strong argument can be made for the neutralising of products in order to begin tackling the issues of gender inequality and stereotyping that are worsened by the vast number of gendered products that we consume every day.
Perhaps one of the most obviously gendered products is clothing; whenever we walk into a clothing store we are immediately struck by divisive sections. Whilst men and women’s clothes are not as different as they were a century ago, there is still a clear division in the style of clothing, and very few options are provided that don’t conform to these rigid gender ideas. However it is clear that more of us are beginning to question the gendering of products. A 2018 study explores the way in which the gendering of children’s clothing ‘reinforces harmful stereotypes’.
An observation made was that many boys clothes are branded with masculine slogans including ‘I flexed so hard my sleeves fell off’, whilst girls’ clothes often feature words such as ‘princess’, thus pushing strict gender rules onto young children. The study also involved an interview with a parent who says that through buying these gendered clothes they would feel they are ‘already choosing their child’s identity’.
One of the greatest dangers of gendered products is their influence on the gender we subscribe to, which in turn makes the assumption that everyone will identify with being either a stereotypical male or female and those who do not aren’t valid, as they do not have products that cater to them.
It is clear to us now that there are ways forward; many more brands are introducing gender neutral clothing, such as John Lewis who began creating gender neutral children’s wear in 2017. Whilst the brand was accused by some critics of “bowing down to political correctness”, most were pleased at the action it has taken and hoped other retailers would follow.
There are also many independent gender neutral brands, such as No Pink Please, a unisex kids clothing brand created by Victoria Handley which challenges gender stereotypes. When speaking with Victoria, she told us that the name of her brand is “meant to be tongue-in-cheek” as she has “nothing against the colours pink or blue, and it is just the commercial marketing of these colours that is frustrating and unnecessary”.
Victoria says she created No Pink Please as she feels children should ‘feel free to wear whatever colour they like and form their own preferences’ instead of having their identity decided for them. She then continued to highlight the problematic nature of gendered clothing, saying that “gender stereotypes are limiting, and labelling toys or clothes sends restrictive messages to children before they have even discovered the opportunities out there”.
gendered products influence the gender we subscribe to
Clearly this gendering of material goods is a tool our society uses to project rigid ideas of gender onto us. This does appear to be one of the reasons we are all so aware of how we are expected to behave and present ourselves depending on our assigned gender. Whenever we are told to act and dress in a certain way, our power to decide our own identity is diminished and stereotypes are reinforced, leading to inequality and segregation.
By creating gender-neutral clothing, brands such as No Pink Please and John Lewis are making important steps forward as when clothing is neutral it does not enforce a fixed idea of gender. Even high fashion brands such as Vetements have begun producing gender neutral clothing; a development which has generally been praised by the fashion industry.
So, while there isn’t a single solution to the huge issue that is gender inequality and stereotyping, perhaps making products more gender neutral is one of the first steps we can take in order to change the perception of gender as a binary concept.