Boys like blue and girls like pink. Men like football and women like romance novels. Gender is pretty straightforward, right?
It’s actually much more complicated.
For example, what would we find if we were to look across time and space to discover what it means to be a man? During the Renaissance era, only the manliest of men sported tights and frilly collars. In China today, affluent businessmen carry leather purses as a status symbol. It quickly becomes clear that gender expressions vary immensely between cultures.
Because we know that gender varies across time and geographical location, it is safe to say that it is primarily a social construction. Gender is a meaning system created by society that slips into every facet of our lives. It is through gendered social norms that we learn how to act in every social situation. From birth, we are taught how to behave within the confines of our designated gender: male or female. Our walk, talk, dress, and emotional expression are all informed by this binary system. Though it may be harmless, baby girls do not inherently prefer pink to blue.
Today, an overwhelming amount of products are gendered. Such gendered commodities include alcohol, clothing, toys, furniture, automobiles, books, magazines, films, and even food! It is usually easy to pinpoint, while walking through Wal-Mart, which products are feminine or masculine. Even though it is a social construction, gender weighs in on almost every purchase we make as consumers.
What does this means to marketers? Gender stereotypes are real because we perpetuate them and accept them. One option is to accept this “gendering” (I think I have invented a new word) of products as the status quo. Essentially, marketers can use the gender stereotypes as a tool to market more products by offering everything in pink for the women customers. Men get burlap.
Alternatively, firms could choose to be different by offering messages that buck the gender norms. This is based on the premise that there may be large segments of buyers that are not getting what they want. This could include women that desire high performance sports cars and older men who want make up to look more youthful in the workplace. Something tells me that these other markets might be bigger than the stereotypes might have you believe.
For some interesting examples of gender stereotypes please visit the Society Pages.
John Bradley Jackson
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