Gender Assigned Items: A Roadblock to Embracing Your Gender
By Kileigh Ford
From large drug store chains to toy stores, most toiletries and toys have certain gender specific colors, scents and shapes associated with them, targeted at a particular audience. For the female audience this means pinks and purples, rosewater and lavender, fluffy and shiny items that catch your eye in the flashiest fashion. Whilst for the gentlemen this means smelling like ox, musk, or football while donning various shades of blue and green. The problem that assigning gender to items in such a fashion creates is that it reinforces the two binary labels of male and female which produces even further societal issues.
Stereotypes are a society’s oversimplified generalization of a group of people based on specific characteristics. Within the U.S., the same gender-based stereotypes have existed for decades; they say women are fragile creatures with an affection for flowers, pink, dolls and cute things. Alternatively, men have always been branded the stronger, tougher of the two genders with appreciation for woodsy activities, cars, blues and greens. Stereotypes reinforce the idea that people must conform to one of the two binary genders, male and female, and the assigning of gender to hygiene products and toys only reinforces this in only providing two choices.
A quick scan of the most popular female deodorant scents of 2018 on Amazon create a list of fruity and flowery fragrances: boho berry, vanilla jasmine, coconut pineapple, raspberry, rose, cashmere mint, grapefruit, and lavender. Whereas the deodorants available for men don a naturesque image on the label and give the option to smell like various forms of “cool”, “fresh” or typically dubbed manly things: cool rush, extra fresh, cool wave, Everest, Denali, Fiji, pure sport, swagger, wolfthorn and captain. These scents reaffirm a cool factor and leadership potential with the feeling of power for men while the femininity of flowers is reinforced for women. The past few centuries have put given men the title of the head of the household while women were pushed into the doting mother in the kitchen role.
Like deodorant, the scents of shampoo for each gender remain the same. In specifically looking at Head & Shoulders, the female targeted shampoos under the “for women” section have images of various brightly colored pink, purple and orange flowers but no mention of the words “for women” on the bottle. The men shampoo’s feature colors of green and red with MEN across the top of the tube. Aside from minor ingredient differences in the shampoos to add volume or extra moisture, the shampoos are made up of the same ingredients, regardless of the gender on the bottle, meaning they are essentially the same.
Not to mention the pink tax, a term referring to how women pay more for goods and services, causing these items, which are virtually the same, to cost women more. But the pink tax is a whole other thing to unpack. These companies put unnecessary labels on items to drive up their prices according to their aimed gender. A young girl should be able to smell like roses or musk. It’s up to her to choose, not companies that stereotype her gender.
Similarly, toys for kids have become even more gender divided than in the past. The fad of princesses for girls to idolize and play with was first brought into the media in the 1990s and has only grown since then. American Girl dolls and Barbies alike have promoted more characters and expansions of stories, creating a greater number of dolls for girls to play with than ever before seen. In the world of toys marketed at boys, Power Rangers are notorious for featuring just one or two female power rangers, if that, always the pink and yellow ones. According to a study conducted by Carol Auster and Claire Mansbach, Disney’s U.S. Webstore featured most toys predominantly marketed towards girls or boys, few being towards both. The girls were aimed at “pastel colored toys, predominantly pink or purple toys, and those that were dolls, beauty, cosmetics, jewelry, or domestic-orientated typified toys.” The boy-aimed toys featured dark colors like red, black or gray on “action figures, building toys, weapons or small vehicles.”
Items like these are what reinforce the gender binary stereotypes of female and male, but what about the portion of the population that identify as both, neither, or other? As Lisa Wade, of Pacific Standard Magazine, put it: “affirming the gender binary also makes everyone who doesn’t fit into it invisible or problematic.” These brands are lacking representation for those who identify as genderless, bi-gender, genderqueer, non-binary, trans, etc., limiting the scope of their audience and demonstrating a lack of knowledge about this percentage of the population.
In addition to underrepresenting genders other than male and female, these gender-specific items reinforce certain stereotypes for growing children that they feel they must abide by. From a child’s birth, parents are encouraged to dress their newborns in the color corresponding to their gender, which is assumed based on their sex. In the U.S. we have become accustomed to using sex interchangeably with gender when they are very different things. Sex refers to your physical makeup like genitalia, chromosomes and hormones whereas gender refers to what you feel you are and how society perceives you. Right off the bat, dressing according to sex becomes an issue because not all children are born with a definitive sex; some are born intersex, sometimes with one more apparent set of genitalia, and often the parents choose which the child will keep, determining their sex and subsequently their gender for the time. Other kids grow up feeling like their gender identity conflicts with their sex. These items just reinforce the idea that sex and gender are the same thing and push children to stick to the stereotypical colors and toys of their gender.
Essentially, genderizing items is ridiculous. We live in a modern world where people aren’t as afraid to embrace who they are as they once were and the increase in gender assigned items just seems to go against this. It’s about using what you like, despite what gender the bottle has assigned to it or the shape of a toy, and letting children figure out who they are and what they like on their own. Ignore the packaging next time you want to try out the Old Spice Game Day, scent, slap that thing down on the counter at CVS and take a stand against gender assigned items.