Last April, I posted about how Stride Rite positions girls as pretty and boys as active. After seeing their in-store advertisements and reviewing their product descriptions online, I concluded that according to Stride Rite,
girls are meant to be looked at, so their play shoes are a route to prettiness, while boys are meant to be active, so their play shoes are made for play.
Last week, while doing some back-to-school shopping with her young daughters, Margot Magowan of Reel Girl encountered similar advertising at her local Stride Rite store in San Francisco. She was deeply disappointed in how the brand perpetuated the idea that girls are dramatically different from boys–sparkling princesses versus powerful fighters. And she linked back to my post from last year to offer context, showing that Stride Right’s hyper-gendered marketing is business as usual for the brand.
Her blog post about it struck quite the chord: The Daily Mail, the Huffington Post, and Jezebel all picked up the story, quoting Margot and myself on the topic. Margot also was interviewed by Fox and Friends.
As Margot put it on Fox and Friends: “Feet are not that different. Boys and girls, especially four-year-olds, have basically the same shoes and basically the same feet.” So why such a strong and stereotypical gender segregation?
The Daily Mail connected Stride Rite’s marketing to broader trends; for example, they cited research by Elizabeth Sweet, a doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of California, whose research suggests that gender segregating and stereotyping of toys is becoming worse with time–so much so that “the world of toys looks a lot more like 1952 than 2012.”
Meanwhile, Jezebel offered a characteristically entertaining approach to the subject, writing:
This just in: being a child and taking steps to propel you from one area to another is a gendered act. Boys walk; girls sparkle and twirl and make princess wishes. Boys also crouch and pretend to shoot webs out of their hands, because that sort of thing is fun when you are a boy. (The only time that girls crouch is when they are picking up face-up pennies in their never ending quest to make a lot of wishes.)
On the other hand, the Huffington Post coverage offered a fairly straightforward summary of our blog posts, but the comment thread was often infuriating:
- Some commenters were defensive, arguing that there’s nothing wrong with being a girly-girl who likes princess products. This is true, but the argument misses the point: The problem is when girls are ONLY offered girly-girl/princess items. There are so many ways to be a girl, and marketing like Stride Rite’s reduces girls to ONE form of girlishness only.
- Other commenters defended corporations like Stride Rite and blamed parents for the gender stereotyping of childhood, claiming it is the parents’ job to raise their children properly. This, too, is true, but also misses the point: even the most devoted parents are hard-pressed to fight back against the billion-dollar marketing machine that is so invested in separating the boys from the girls. (After all, fostering a separation between the sexes is a great way to sell twice as many products.)
Inspired by that comment thread, Lori Day of the Huffington Post wrote a terrific piece about the media’s shameless peddling of gender stereotypes to children. Answering the question of why this kind pf marketing persists, she explains:
A lot of adults are laughing all the way to the bank as our kids pass under the bus. The strategy is simple: convince kids of both genders that they are very different from each other and that they need completely different products with different colors and different labels, and they will naturally only want what they’ve been told is “for” them and what has been spoon fed to them since birth. Parents will then dole out double the money buying separate products for their sons and daughters, ensuring that the retailers and marketers double their profits and double down on the stereotyped messaging. And why wouldn’t they? It’s brilliant. It’s lucrative. It’s also a breathtaking act of psychological vandalism against our children. Media shapes perception, and perception becomes reality.
This point about the psychological effects of stereotyped marketing is important. There’s only so much we as parents can do to counteract the sea of stereotypes in which our children are swimming. How can we call for change in the way marketers and media approach our children? What can we do to say, “Enough”?
Well, the Brave Girls Alliance (I’m on their advisory board) plans to speak back to marketers by taking out a billboard in Times Square:
On that billboard, we will broadcast messages about what we want for our children for marketers and media execs to see. Those who donate will be able to include their own messages.
You can support the campaign and talk back about gender stereotypes and other issues by visiting the Brave Girls Want Indiegogo page.
Rebecca Hains is a professor at Salem State University. Follow her on Facebook and twitter.
As a new mother of an 8 month old girl, I applaud this! I asked for NO pink clothes, and of course my daughter’s wardrobe is 80% pink anyway, because that is what is out there unless I bought her monster truck clothing… I deliberately painted her room blue 🙂 I don’t want her to be “gender confused” but I want her to know that NOTHING she is interested in is off-limits.
Thanks–and good for you! Keeping kids’ options open is one of the best things we can do for them. 🙂
Everything is gendered now. I wonder if food will be gendered. Shoe shopping is a nightmare for my mother. (I am 11 and female.) Most of the selections are pink and sparkly. It takes forever to find a shoe that I like.
Thanks for your comment! Any tips on where to find good shoes? Where have you been successful in the past?
I used to shop at places like Stride Rite, actually. Children’s shoes no longer fit me so it is mostly not an issue anymore.