Explosions of pink or bursts of blue — those are the only options. Girls play with Barbie and boys play with G.I. Joe. Gender is something that has been put into boxes whether the world has noticed it or not. Terry Sullivan, advertising and marketing communications professor, feels that keeping gender separated is ridiculous and should be changed.
“The ‘boxes’ are limiting and cast shadows on people unnecessarily,” Sullivan says. “I believe it can only change when collectively, we change our minds.”
Andrea Miller, behavioral and social sciences professor, believes gender is a social construction — society has made up the categories, and there really is no biological basis for labeling someone as man or woman. According to Miller, gender is characteristics, such as the way someone looks, acts, behaves and dresses. Miller feels the two “boxes” don’t make sense because people dabble in different interests.
“We could make six or seven boxes, or even zero — but we as a society feel really comfortable in [them],” Miller says. “I’m not trying to destroy the box, my idea is to add more stuff to it.”
With the idea that consumers themselves must change their minds, Megan Price, marketing and economics student, believes there is yet another group of people who must consider taking action. That group is manufacturers, advertisers and people in business who are socially conscious and ethical. She feels that there is absolutely no purpose to require strict roles and norms on individuals since it takes away their ability to be who they are.
Both genders have been taught early on that society expects them to be a certain way. Men are supposed to be strong and unemotional. This idea is portrayed in many different ways such as in movies, commercials and everyday “traditional” society. Sullivan recalls a time when something as small as a balloon color was part of this problem. His son, around five years old at the time, asked for a pink balloon but got the response, ‘boys don’t have pink balloons.’ Sullivan points out that this kind of thinking encourages the separation. Boys are taught to like or dislike certain things early on in life.
“These expectations are to become men who hide their feelings and emotions because showing weakness or vulnerability is not what men are supposed to do — those are considered [feminine] characteristics,” Sullivan says. “Basically, that is teaching them to not be human.”
Miller believes that putting men up to certain standards is very toxic, especially when the stress rates for boys and men are already high. Miller also mentions that people assume if boys aren’t interested in sports, then they better be interested in business or technology. This creates unneeded pressure. Scott Lunte, political science major, also feels that these standards stifle emotional expression. He feels that everyone is different and it’s impossible for everyone to feel the same.
“Men have to deal with an internal struggle,” Lunte says. “That ‘I’m feeling these emotions, but society won’t let me accept that I’m feeling that way’.”
A confining gender issue on the women’s side is how they are judged by their morals. Lunte expresses that women are looked at from two different stereotypes: women who are “the saint,” innocent ones who are pure and should stay that way, and “the temptress,” meaning women lacking self-esteem with loose morals. He believes this causes women to be crammed into the box, thus limiting them from being an individual in society. Price believes women are shown as bossy if they possess an opinion, and even unintelligent if they are pretty. Especially in business, women are often looked at as “too emotional” when showing concern or taking risks.
“These glorified business traits associated with men hurt women’s ability to advance in leadership even though it is clear that a team comprised of diverse and respected traits constantly leads to the best results,” Price says.
In addition to these stereotypes, women have the Pink Tax. It refers to the additional amount that women are charged for personal care products such as razors and deodorant, clothes, children’s toys, accessories and even dry cleaning. Sullivan also notices the struggle women face to have the same rights as men. He feels the whole act is very ridiculous and even a travesty.
“I didn’t realize until recently how much women still have to fight to be ‘equal’ to men,” Sullivan says. “It’s sickening.”
Though the Pink Tax is something that women have to deal with, they can step out of the “box” in different ways. Sally Howald, professor of advertising and marketing communications, explains that a woman being interested in masculine activities is celebrated rather than looked down upon in this generation.
“It gets a lot of attention when women are in a more masculine role because it is new and breaks a boundary,” Howald says. “The old ways are discouraged and the new things by nature are encouraged.”
Though both genders face their own sets of problems, advertising is something that Howald feels isn’t good or bad. Howald believes that advertisers aren’t necessarily putting anyone in boxes, and they are actually pushing beyond putting their consumers into separate categories. She grew up taking ballet lessons, but has noticed that girls nowadays are more involved in team sports and are more likely to partake in what are considered traditionally masculine activities.
On the other hand, Howald doesn’t feel that it’s necessarily a bad thing if people want to stick to their norm rather than break out of it. She feels as though women are sometimes being steered away from playing a feminine role, when there’s really nothing to steer them away from. Howald believes that it is okay for people to stick with the cliché if they are comfortable with it.
“Is there really anything wrong with it just because it’s a traditional role?” Howald says. “Is there anything wrong with it just because that’s the way it’s always been? If there is a commercial of somebody in a traditional role such as a girl with a baby doll, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Not when there are other choices presented.”
This idea starts young. Price points out that it is somewhat alarming that children learn these types of feelings very early on. She recalls owning an Easy Bake Oven, which she feels put little girls and boys into a box before they even realize it.
“The fact that we start doing this as early as kids pick up a toy makes it something that will be very hard to change,” Price says. “But nonetheless, it shouldn’t be deemed impossible.”
Whether it is in advertising, product packaging, society or even taxes, gender division is evident. Jared Campbell, theatre studies & dramaturgy and advertising & marketing communication major, believes that in order for the country to be progressive, people must change the idea of masculinity and femininity. He feels that though there are these boxes, it is okay to push past that idea and support others if they don’t want to conform to the stereotype. For Campbell, he notes that this generation has heard nothing but, ‘this is this, and that is that.’
“It closes so many people off from feeling that they can express themselves in a way that feels most comfortable to them,” Campbell says. “People need to be more empathetic of other people’s lifestyles and choices because it’s not for us to judge.”
Story by Meg Illig
Photos by Crystal French