Retailers and the targeting of gender stereotypes

The above is a picture of my 8 year-old daughter taken on the last day of 2017. Please excuse the general mess (including her hair – it was early in the day and she’s a stranger to a brush at the best of times).

I took it because it’s a stark demonstration on just how far retailers have still got to go when it comes to not targeting gender stereotypes – whether it’s actively specifying something is for a girl or boy (when there’s no need to) or use of pink and blue to separate the sexes (it’s amazing that retailers/manufacturers think this is an acceptable way of doing it without mentioning the individual sexes).

Let’s go through everything…

T-Shirt and shorts – both are from Next and, as I’ve written before, they are some of the worst high-street offenders of strict, regimented division of children’s clothes into boy and girl sections. Both of these are from their boy section, which have a much more fun selection, particularly of t-shirts. Just outside of the picture is her Captain America baseball cap. Again, it’s from Next and, again, it’s from the boys section.

Socksfrom Amazon, these say nothing about sex but merely refer to them as “childrens socks” (sic). This is a lot better than most others but why “children”? What about adults with small feet? The packaging itself is refresingly absent of sex or age references and only specifies their intended size.

Tablet – this is one of Amazon’s Fire HD “Kids Edition” tablet. Intended for children, it’s a standard tablet with a protective surround, enhanced warranty and a year of exlusive children-targeted content. When they’re older you can remove the surround, set up a standard account on it an use it as a grown-up tablet. It’s available in pink, blue and yellow, the latter feels like an addition so that Amazon can say they’re being more inclusive but the fact that 2 out of 3 are pink and blue is still frustrating.

However, let’s go back to the software and content for a moment – when setting up your child’s account you have to specify their sex (and full date of birth, which is annoying too). This allows Amazon to then target specific content. So, state they’re female and you get a screen of Barbie, mermaid and generally pink and glittery content. There’s no option to not specify sex, allowing a targeting of all content (to be fair, it’s not all content anyway, as you provide an age range of content that your child may be interested in – this is up to you to specify).

Headphonesagain from Amazon, these are some cheap Bluetooth headphones, targeted at children. They have volume limitation, are designed for smaller heads and come in a range of colours. They also have a built-in FM radio and will play MP3s via a built-in micro SD card slot. These would get full marks from me, if it wasn’t for the images used on their Amazon product page – boys wearing the blues ones and girls the pink ones. Boo.

Trunki – this is a few years old now but is a great travel case for children. They do a range of colours and characters and this just happened to be my daughter’s choice. All seems good at first until you realise that different styles was not sufficient for Trunki – they had to name them as well. So, yep, the blue one shown here is called “Terrance”, the red fire engine is “Frank”, the pink ones are “Rosie” and “Trixie”, the unicorn one is “Una”… you get the idea.

So, a lot to do. The message about not labelling products as for boys or girls is getting through, albeit mainly away from the high street. However, making items exclusively (or near-exclusively) in pink or blue is fooling no-one and there is still much work to be done here.

Not a single item above is 100% inclusive – the closest are the socks, which although not falling for any sexual stereotype, classify themselves as “for children” for no apparent reason. Here’s the thing – there’s no need, at all, to label products for any specific group of people if there’s no need to. They don’t have to say it’s for children, just as Next don’t have to sell Avengers t-shirts in a “boys” section of the store. It doesn’t cause confusion but actually widens your potential customer base.

Let’s hope I can do this again next year with more positive results.

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