January 2, 2013

Ever-Present Stereotypes

One thing that struck me over the past few weeks, however, is the fact that in some cases, it seems as though we are losing ground.  In particular, in the prevalence of stereotypes that has seemed to worsen over the past year.

For example, during a Christmas shopping expedition, I happened to notice gender segregation in the toy department!  Even though there have been efforts to neutralize gender stereotyping (there’s now a blue Easy Bake Oven for boys and there’s a Lego line made just for girls – although the girls’ line is more about beauty and domesticity than building), aisles and displays filled with pink and pastel, with toys involving homemaking and beauty obviously catered to girls, and across the way, blue and army green aisles filled with action, sports, and building-oriented toys were filled with boys.

I did a bit of research, and found that although there had been clear gender-based marketing when I was little, it somewhat disappeared in the 1970s – in fact, a researcher noted that in 1975, more than 70% of toys in the Sears catalog showed no markings of gender at all – there were even photos of girls playing airline pilots and boys cooking in the kitchen.

Over the past 30+ years, gender-based marketing has become much more explicit, causing increased pressure for girls and boys to stay within the manufacturers’ boundaries for their play choices.  According to the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, parents interviewed when leaving a toy store reported purchasing gender-typed toys because the kids asked for them, even though the toy may not have been the parents’ choice.  This type of phenomenon has no doubt fueled the development and marketing of gender-based toys under the guise of gender-differentiated play preferences.

Experts believe that the reflection of stereotypes about gender roles in toys and their marketing shows how little retail marketers’ attitudes have changed over time – even though 70% of mothers are in the labor force today, and most domestic responsibilities within a family are shared.

In a culture that bombards us with gender messages, it’s so important that we help both boys and girls understand that the choices and options are completely open to them, regardless of gender.  In Chrysalis After-School programs, we help girls navigate the gender-biased messages they see and hear in order to dispel the myths they convey.

P.S. Just for fun – when you think the minds and marketers in Hollywood are finally “getting it” -- http://youtu.be/i1FZF4nynMI