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Companies Must Fix “Man-Sized” Issue of Gender Assigning Products

Gender+assigning+products+that+are+used+by+both+sexes+is+insensitive+and+frowned+upon+by+American+consumers+%28Courtesy+of+Flickr%29.
Gender assigning products that are used by both sexes is insensitive and frowned upon by American consumers (Courtesy of Flickr).

Gender assigning products that are used by both sexes is insensitive and frowned upon by American consumers (Courtesy of Flickr).

Gender assigning products that are used by both sexes is insensitive and frowned upon by American consumers (Courtesy of Flickr).


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By Kelly Christ

Gender assigning products that are used by both sexes is insensitive and frowned upon by American consumers. (Courtesy of Flickr)

If you’ve ever walked down an aisle of a children’s toy store, you’ll likely notice an apparent dichotomy between the toys. Covered in light pink, frills and lace are the toys targeting female children. Dark blue boxes showcasing action figures and trucks are the toys targeting male children. These products are probably the most common examples of gendered products. While the toys may seem harmless, excessively gendered products can reinforce harmful stereotypes that support sexist attitudes in society.
Kleenex recently renamed their “mansize” tissues to “extra large” after receiving a wave of complaints over the title. The “mansize” tissues have actually been on shelves for decades, having first been released in 1956. Advertisements from the 1950s are some of the most shocking instances of negative gender stereotypes to reflect on from today’s perspective.

From an advertisement for a ketchup bottle emphasizing that even “a woman can open it!” to an alarming depiction of domestic violence towards a woman for not buying a specific coffee brand, these advertisements show the perpetuation of detrimental gender stereotypes that has been occurring for decades. Thankfully, advertisements have improved greatly in recent years, fixing the portrayal of gender in product marketing. However, many gendered products remain.

While gendering products that are geared towards a specific gender makes sense, products like Kleenex’s tissues are unreasonable to market to a single gender. Kleenex is far from the first confusingly gendered product: other examples have included Unilever’s men’s toothpaste and Bic’s “for Her” line of pens. In addition, the gendering of products continues to promote harsh stereotypes that negatively impact gender in society. Men are frequently depicted as aggressive or brutish, while women are depicted as fragile or vain. These gendered products do not positively affect either sex, so why do brands continue to use them?

When companies decide to target a specific demographic with their product, they use a variety of marketing tools to attract these individuals. Companies often try to create a product for the gender opposite to that of the majority of their current market in order to expand their revenue. They believe that the gendered products will appeal to the targeted sex and will add another demographic to their current costumer range.

American society has shifted dramatically in its views on gender in recent years. Now more than ever, many Americans believe that children should be raised in a more gender-neutral environment in order to prevent the influence of harmful gender roles. The advertising and marketing tools utilized by companies in promoting their products can have limiting effects on what young children see as possibilities for themselves. Studies have shown that counter-stereotypic advertisements have resulted in a more flexible notion of gender in children.

Gender has become an evolving notion in our society. We are slowly learning to correct our mistakes from the past and to reach closer to the realization of gender equality. Marketing and advertising play important roles in the development of unfavorable gender stereotypes that facilitate gender discrimination and inequality. If companies can help to stop these problems from persisting in society, it is imperative that they take whatever action they can to have a more positive influence on the issue.

Thankfully, the general public can have a powerful impact on companies failing to take on the responsibility of this influence by boycotting and advocating against sexist products and advertisements. As the notion of gender and its influence on society continues to evolve for the better, so too will product marketing.

 

Kelly Christ, FCRH ’21, is an English and psychology major from Manhasset, New York.

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Companies Must Fix “Man-Sized” Issue of Gender Assigning Products