We all had a gendered childhood…
Last week, a colleague came to the office with a chocolate egg. Each single elements, from the design of the packaging to the game inside of it, was showing a gendered based communication and marketing, which reinforced stereotypes about boys and girls at an early age. The «Lucky egg for a girl» is pink with a beautiful female figure and a unicorn. It contains some mini tools for the kitchen, plastic vegetables and fruits, and a pink card. By researching online what could be the male version of the egg, I found an egg with strong and muscular figures or monsters, and colors considered more virile, like blue or dark red. The surprise game is apparently a figurine or a mini car.
That is one example of how children can be manipulated, formatted and educated to be what society is waiting for them to be. We associate them with colors, with images, with figures, games, maybe even sound, based on their gender. The school, the teachers, the parents, the media and the publicity, are a reference for a child because they are considered as a safe environment. That is why children use to believe these persons or institutions. But it can be very dangerous for them, and for society if the included values are against the principles of diversity, openness and tolerance. By being formatted at an early youngest age, children lose the critical thinking they were born with. This is particularly observed in terms of gendered behaviors and activity.
One of the activities we all may have done as a child is watching animation movies, before or after school. This is a very nice and relaxing entertainment and children like to identify himself with heroes. They do not really realize that this representation is gendered and some animation is directed to boys more than to girls or conversely. Most of the time the role of the heroine in «girl movies», is played by a female figure, which is often a sexualized representation of the female gender, beautiful, with long hairs, make up and other items considered as girly, half covered with feminine clothes, like dress or skirts and bras. These heroines may be surrounded by boys and pay attention to them. On the contrary, the male heroes are represented more strong and violent, and often do not care that much for the girls around them.
Is there really a rule saying that this person shouldn’t wear this color because it is for the opposite gender? Over the centuries, the «rules» changed. Blue was actually the color of the divinity during the Antiquity. Thereby, associated with virility, so to boys and men. In the Middle Ages, the use of this very color changed and was considered as feminine because it was Virgin Mary’s color, so a color of purity. From the 19th century, people reappropriated the antic values, and blue became a virile color and symbol again.
Regarding pink, it is quite the same journey: In the Middle Ages, it was considered a light red, red existing as a symbol of aggressivity. It was by this way reserved to men, and even to knights. It is actually in the 50’s that the destiny of this colors changed, when the American actress Grace Kelly decided to dress her newborn daughter only pink, from head to toe. The 70’s is marked by the apparition of ultrasounds, which enable to predict the sex of the future human being. Big brands made use of this new discovery in order to create a gendered marketing to sell clothes and items for the newborn: «blue for boys, and pink for girls».
So, I have explained, how children are influenced by the activities offered or created for the place they occupy in the society: the movies they watch and the games they play. Not only the social media, the movies, or the marketing is formatting them, but also the mentality of the society in general, even of the closest family and friends, who are trying, unconsciously to label them according to their gender. Even in the public spaces and in the school, we see some visual or some elements who counter a peaceful and fair development for a child. In some countries where uniforms are still obligatory in school, girls are still forced to wear skirts and boys trousers. But if my daughter does not want to wear a skirt? If she also wants to play football, like other kid, without being disturbed by a skirt and tights? And if my son feels more himself wearing a skirt? Why should we make a differentiation and increase the gap between genders? Certainly, uniforms exist to inculcate values of equality and respect in terms of comparisons we automatically make regarding the brands and prices of clothes today. But in this case, the principle of equality should be dug deeper with the gender issue. By the way, it is basically the same problem as the symbols on the bathroom doors. Why more than half of the bathrooms doors in the world is categorizing women as wearing dresses? When the two characters are next to each other, why do we automatically make the connection «skirt = girl, trousers = boy»?
There are some symbols in the everyday life that we do not even notice, which are reinforcing the gender stereotypes. If we try to avoid this from the very beginning of a child’s existence, everyone will be able to develop him or herself naturally, but with all the pre-existent societal principles, which sometimes go against the liberty of one being. And no it is not only about women. With more equality, we could achieve more rights for both men and women. The problem of gender equality is not solved yet, there is no need to dramatize it, but step by step, we could change things.
By Elise Giroud