Some of my very first memories include me playing with a Little Tikes beauty salon and my brother playing with a tool workshop. I played with Barbies and he played with G.I. Joes. At school if we did well on an assignment, the girls would get a flower sticker and the boys would get a car sticker. My mom would buy me princess gummy snacks and my brother would get a Spider Man pack. Was it her fault that she differentiated us at a very young age by gender? For many people, this issue flies under the radar because it is simply the way we have been socialized to think.
This gender binary is largely enforced by consumer culture. Some products are understandably gendered for presumed biologically practical reasons. The concerning issue is products that are gendered for no functional reason whatsoever. Just plainly speaking from my own experiences, why couldn’t my brother and I play with the same types of toys? Why couldn’t boys and girls get the same stickers as rewards in school? Why do the colors and shapes of the snacks we eat have to be different?
There are many products that are unnecessarily gendered. These differences can really invade all realms of life, including eating, working, school, and more. BiC sells pens “for her,” Kleenex produces tissues for men and Banana Boat sells different sunscreens for men and for women. Bounce offers dryer sheets for men, and there is even a new type of Greek yogurt called Powerful Yogurt that is marketing to men with its higher protein content. These differences serve no physical benefit and therefore force people into thinking that if you are a girl, you should like these things, and if you are a boy, you should like these other things. What seems absurd about some of these products is that the only difference between the product for girls and the product for boys is the packaging, and once you open it, the contents are exactly the same.
These products, as well as many other products like them, perpetuate the mindset of our society that gender and sex cannot be fluid. In some cases, this is not a result of purposefully close-minded thinking, but more just an inability to alter the way we have been programmed to think. In my Intro to Sociology class, we have recently been discussing the difference between gender and sex. From a sociological standpoint, gender is an imposed social construct, signifying rules and norms, and these are dictated by institutions like the media, schools, government and family. Yet though we largely acknowledge that gender is a social construct, we forget that sex can be too. Sex refers to biological differences that distinguish males from females. The most interesting point brought up in class was how sex is much more socially constructed than we realize. If at birth, a baby is born with indistinguishable genitalia, doctors and families can determine their sex with surgery. Parents often go along with the surgery because they think it is best for their child. In society, people are taught to think that what is best for their child is having a clear, known sex that they live as for the entirety of their life.
In some cases, gender distinctions are made as a result of prejudice and ingrained stereotypes, but a lot of the time, it is just a continuation of how we have been operating for hundreds of years. As unfortunate as it is to realize, much of our country is built off of the perceived differences between men and women. It took a few hundred years for most of our society to come to terms with the fact that women can work full-time instead of focusing solely on childbearing. Because we have only scratched the surface of establishing equality between men and women, I think it will be many more years until the uncalled for gender distinctions in our society begin to disappear. Once it is realized by all that men and women are perfectly equal, which I hope will be within my lifetime, I think it will be more possible for gendered products like the ones I’ve mentioned to die out.