The little girl looks winsomely into the middle distance, passive and unsmiling, presumably waiting for the next titbit of gossip to descend upon her kitten ears. The little boy grins and proudly shows off the image of Albert Einstein on his chest. “Your future starts here,” a new Gap advert tells him, which unfortunately is true. He is destined to be a “little scholar”. And the girl? A “social butterfly”, which isn’t even a job. Oh well, her chambray shirt (with pink logo, obviously) may not fast-track her into a science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem) subject but it will be “the talk of the playground”. And what more could a girl want?
Welcome to the world of everyday sexism in children’s advertising. Like advertising, and Gap, it is everywhere. Watch any TV advert aimed at children and you will see girls in shiny princess outfits emoting into microphones and boys dutifully pushing fire engines. Go to the children’s section of any clothes shop and you will encounter primary-coloured stripes for boys and pastel polka dots for girls. We are living in an age when even shapes are gendered. It is that ludicrous.
The Gap ad designates boys as brainy and girls as sociable – gender stereotypes that have been around much longer than pink Lego. But people are fed up with it.
People may well be fed up with it. People get fed up with all sorts of aspects of reality. Middle aged men have been known to ponder the point that now they actually know how to deploy a willy properly they’re unequipped to do so so often. The Deity Of Your Choice is laughing at that one.
However, gender neutrality as here is to make the tabula rasa mistake. If only we brought everyone up in an entirely neutral manner then boys and girls wouldn’t be different. Except for those plumbing bits where they really are different. But that’s not how human beings work. Sure, it’s entirely possible to be a bit too reliant upon nature as the cause of differences but it’s also entirely possible, as here, to go too far over into thinking nurture is the only thing. For human beings just don’t work that way.
We really are different in our inclinations, talents, interests, from in utero onwards. The range is such that any one “female” can be far off toward the outer edge of the “male” range and vice versa. But there is a difference in the average ranges all the same.
For as it turns out it’s not just the plumbing that differs. That seemingly one difference leads to very different organisms. In muscle mass, brain structure, the hormones that wash around, even the hormones that the body generally responds to.
Which is why we get this:
“girls in shiny princess outfits emoting into microphones and boys dutifully pushing fire engines.”
Advertisers are not stupid. They are, after all, spending their own money in pursuit of profit – that tends to concentrate the mind. And the reason they do this is because it works. Because humans are not blank slates which society writes upon that is.