I will never forget a conversation I had with a childhood friend who was about three years younger than me at the time, maybe 9 while I was 12. We were in my backyard enjoying the sunny day when I told her I’d recently become interested in Star Wars. She looked me in the eye and asked, somewhat incredulously: “But isn’t that a boys’ thing?” I was so dumbfounded I couldn’t think of what to say. It took me years to realize that my friend’s innocent question was symptomatic of our gendered culture and that society had taught her boys do boy stuff while girls do girl stuff. Looking back on my own childhood, I remember a mix of the two. You could catch me playing with Barbie, small cars and Biker Mice from Mars. I also remember being very fond of a black San Jose Sharks cap and my pink swimsuit. I suppose I was lucky to have parents who let me do my own thing. Looking back, I don’t think I was all that interested in what kind of a girl I was; I was too busy being a kid.
It’s very easy to find places where gendered marketing directed towards children (and their parents) can be seen at work. Go to any store that sells toys. Boys’ and girls’ sections are divided into different shelves and both are usually dominated by specific colors. This division implies you have to choose one when actually you don’t. What’s even sadder is that it’s not just toys that are being sold but ideas of what it means to be a girl or a boy. It creates two different worlds that don’t seem to have much in common. It plants the seed of miscommunication and sexism.
Happily, people are starting to see through it, but we still have a long way to go. I’d like you to watch this video of a little girl giving her opinion on gendered marketing. She hits the nail right on the head and uses far more sophisticated language than I ever could.
Illustration by Johanna Ruuskanen