Marketing sexism in a box.


A week ago, a tweet from Waterloo flew around the world. A University of Waterloo professor posted about gender stereotyping after seeing these baby pyjamas in Target.

Hero or zero?

Hero or zero?

Here she talks about why she took issue with the outfits:

Waterloo prof's photo of 'sexist' baby pyjamas leads to online outcry | CTV Kitchener News.

The response was instant, global, and varied. She received numerous retweets, including many more pictures of gender stereotyping in children’s clothing.

Invariably, some responders felt that she was overreacting, that she had too much time on her hands, and that she was overly sensitive. “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.” seemed to be a popular response.

But not all girls like pink, and not all girls think painting their nails and bedazzling t-shirts is bliss. And not all boys like blue, or have an avid fascination with Iron Man. And it makes you wonder, when marketers look at branding and packaging, do they not know this, or do they just not care? Or are they starting to look beyond the obvious stereotyping?

This question lead me straight into Toys’R’Us, a shop where branding flourishes, to see if the perceptions I formed a decade ago still hold true. Then, walking into the store, you were overwhelmed by the clear division between PINK, and all the exciting stuff. The good news is, there has been some changes. 10 years ago, all the scientific and discovery related toys would have been packed in the boys section of the store. Now there is a wide range of science and exploration learning toys displayed in a gender neutral section.

The bad news is that the differences between the boys’ section and the girls’ section still play firmly into traditional gender bias.The girls’ toys are still dominated by princess dresses, toys geared at nurturing girls’, well, nurturing side, and toys designed to practise the art of looking pretty and making pretty things.

Girls Collage

Boys, on the other hand, have toys that allow them to explore, have adventures, be protectors and rescuers, and build.


Clearly, when it comes to marketing to children, the concept of boys playing with dolls that are not action figures, or engaging in arts and crafts, has still not quite penetrated the minds of the manufacturers and marketers of toys. Neither has the idea of girls as action figures or risk-takers.


So, is this overreacting, or does gender stereotyping in products geared towards children entrench stereotypical behaviour? What do you think?

5 thoughts on “Marketing sexism in a box.

  1. While gender-stereotyped messaging is rampant in all corners of society, I particularly see it in the comic book industry, seeing as that’s where I devote a lot of my focus. It’s fitting to me that a comic book related example is what really sparked this discussion.

    The problem always comes down to a small but extremely vocal minority who see any form of change, no matter how well rationalized or moral, as a threat. Those people cannot and will not be pleased with discussions of this kind.

    The onus, therefore, must fall to the people in control of the message. They must take the moral high ground and move issues of gender, race, religion, etc. forward. Only when the messaging that surrounds them no longer supports their point of view will that vocal minority lose its voice.


  2. I don’t expect these types of messages to disappear overnight. What concerns me is that we’re not seeing any bold statements that provide an alternative perspective on gender roles. Sure, it’s great that there’s a gender neutral section in Toys’R’Us, but that only passively tells girls that they are “allowed” to learn about science and exploration alongside their male counterparts. Why can’t we dress girls in “Future Astronaut/CEO/Software Engineer/President” shirts when they go to school? This makes me want to learn how to screenprint clothes for my 2-year-old niece!


  3. Great idea. It’s amazing how everybody agrees (I think/hope?) that if you constantly tell a child he/she is stupid, the child will believe it, and act accordingly, but they don’t see the correlation between that and gender stereotyping.


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