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Gender-Based Marketing And How It Can Lead to Bullying

The Bark Team  |  November 13, 2016

When you think of marketing, chances are good that your mind is drawn to things like fast food commercials or even ads for different makes and models of automobiles. However, as a parent, it’s important to think about the impact that gender-based marketing has on your children as well. Often, the manufacturers of product lines will advertise certain things to different genders based on institutionalized biases and what they believe will “sell." This can create problems for children in a few ways.

The Culture of Pink and Blue

When a woman is expecting a child and has her baby shower, people often ask one question more than any other – is it a boy or a girl? They want to know what color clothing and accessories to buy. For many, purchasing a pink blanket for a boy or a blue blanket for a girl isn’t socially acceptable. But this wasn’t always the case.

In the 20th Century, gender identification by color started to gain traction, and many today follow this color scheme without much thought. Before this, in fact, pink was often a color recommended for boys, and blue for girls, though many people chose to ignore these recommendations. Then in 1927, Time magazine printed a gender-appropriate color chart based on the leading retailers' recommendations. Some people think this was to encourage parents to buy a whole new wardrobe for their children, rather than just reusing the ones from older children or friends and family. Then clothing manufacturers began creating pink clothing almost exclusively for girls, and blue clothing for boys.

However, fashion and marketing aren’t static industries. About 200 years ago, if a woman was wearing a black dress, she was in mourning. Wearing a black dress otherwise was taboo. Today, though, the little black dress is a staple in many women’s wardrobes. The same type of shift hasn’t yet happened in the pink and blue culture. Today, marketing has created a country in which pink is for girls and blue is for boys, and anyone who strays beyond that social norm is “weird.” This attitude around color ‘appropriate’ choices creates a culture of exclusion and lack of empathy for those who do not want to follow the social norm.

It’s More than Just Color

Gender-based marketing goes far beyond just the colors indicative of genders in today’s accepted social norms. For example, commercials for dolls very rarely show little boys, and commercials for toy cars and trucks rarely include little girls. This sends the signal to the masses that certain toys are designed only for their indicated genders. In this case, dolls are for girls, and trucks are for boys. Department stores even divide their toy sections; the blue side is for boys, and it contains toy tools, automobiles, and more. The pink side is for girls, and it contains dolls, kitchen sets, and others.

What has resulted is a culture that will ridicule a little boy for playing with a doll or make fun of a little girl for preferring toy cars. In fact, the bullying goes beyond the children and spills over into the adult world, too. Parents will often poke fun at other parents for allowing their little boy to wear pink shoes to school, even if those shoes were his choice and his preference. Sadly, this is all the result of entrenched biases perpetuated by gender-based marketing.

How Parents Can Handle the Bullying

Cases of bullying that are initiated through years of conditioning via gender-based marketing are often hard to overcome. The best thing parents can do is instill the values in their children at an early age to be understanding and kind to other people who are perceived as different. A little girl who chooses to play with toy tools, trucks, and cars is no more masculine than her peers who prefer dolls. Along those same lines, a little boy who chooses to play with dolls or wear pink shoes is no more feminine than his peers who prefer trucks and cars. And other children should be treated with respect and acceptance no matter what type of toy they choose to play with or what color of clothes they want to wear.

When we examine gender-based marketing, we need to be aware that the message that’s being told can have detrimental effects on children. Not only can it accentuate a perceived difference based on simple color choices or which toys or games a child may choose to play with, but it can convey a message that a child cannot do something based simply on gender. One way we can curb bullying, is to acknowledge that no matter what color a child wears, or toy they choose to play with, it's not acceptable to make fun of them for their choices. Instead, promoting acceptance and understanding of others and their choices, helps your child think for themselves and be less influenced by the media messages they see.

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