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How do YOU shop?

Gendered marketing seems to be bigger than ever

By Nadine Afram

Stereotyping at an early age, in fact from the day we are born and surrounded by our pink dolls and pink bedrooms or monster trucks and superheroes, can affect us longer than we like to think. In STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), women are still underrepresented, and while the science community has been making an effort to balance the situation, the market does everything to maintain stereotypes in our brains, behaviors and choices. Preferences are forced upon us, and the box to which we belong has our gender written on it. Might gendered marketing (targeting certain products towards girls/women or boys/men separately) have an influence on our later career choices?

This article was inspired by an example of extreme gendered marketing that was sent to me by an NCCR colleague, Andrea Fortier, whose attention was caught by two children’s books seen recently at the gift shop of the ‘Deutsches Museum’. The picture below shows the two books: ‘The Boys’ Book’ for adventurous boys and ‘The Girls’ Book’ for curious girls. Note the different covers.

Photo: Andrea Fortier

How prevalent is this type of marketing? A few weeks ago, at the Manor toys’ department, I saw aisles labelled with ‘girly’. I was going to look for the ‘boys’ aisles, but I was in a hurry and forgot about it.

It seems to be very commonly accepted to have such segregations in girls’ and boys’ toys. ‘But my son wants the big transformer car and my daughter wants the pink dolly’ you might say. The problem is that when marketing revolves solely around gender, it forces you to think of your gender when buying something instead of thinking of your preferences, especially if you are a child or teenager and you don’t want to be excluded.

‘Gendered marketing affects men, women, and also those who identify as gender fluid, which is an individual who fluctuates between the two perceived genders, or falls somewhere along the gender spectrum. When toys and merchandise are targeted towards one gender in particular, it suggests that any individual who deviates from that norm is not accepted or valued. Marketing strategies should not play on the stereotypically aspects of what define each gender, especially when gender is not an absolute, black or white concept. Separating children based on gender from an early age can create stigmas that affect their self-esteem and their perceptions of others. Advertisement and marketing strategies should move towards a gender-neutral approach that promotes equality and positivity to encourage the idea that one’s gender is not their only defining trait.’ (from:

There are abundant products that are marketed for a certain gender without any reason (see e.g.

To me, books that are marketed to be for boys or girls only (without a specific reason), especially irritate me, because I would have to pick up something from a store that is explicitly not labelled for me, even if I wanted it. I did not have to look far for some other examples:
‘Learning to read for girls’: The stories revolve around a pony, a princess and the cake monster and animals on the farm. On the pink cover we see a pink princess, animals and a kitchen-mixer (?)
‘Learning to read for boys’: with a space adventure, a story about the police and a kidnapped grandmother, and pirates. On the blue cover, a ufo, a policeman and some pirates are illustrated.

Other books that I found (this is just a tiny selection, there are plenty such examples):
‘100 things that a boy must know’: how to fix a bike, how to make magic ink, how to whistle. Tips, tricks and answers, along with jokes and info.
‘100 things that a girl must know’: 100 tips around beauty, crafting and recipes….how to remove chewing gum from your hair, how to make your own bathing salts, and general knowledge: who was Marie Curie, what is the offside rule.

There are also shops that apparently make/made an effort against gendered marketing: A few years ago, the U.S. supermarket chain Target decided to stop separating toys into different sections for boys and girls, because kids are perfectly capable of figuring out what they like to play with, no gender-labelling required.

This year, I will pay particular attention to gender-marketed products when doing my Christmas shopping and try to avoid them.

Spelke (2005), that cognitive abilities of boys and girls (or male and female), from birth to maturity, do not support the claim that men have greater intrinsic aptitude for science.
Blakemore, Judith E., Asenath A. Larue, and Anthony B. Olejnik. “Sex-appropriate Toy Preference and the Ability to Conceptualize Toys as Sex-role Related.” Developmental Psychology 15.3 (1979): 339-40. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.


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