Recently, gender neutrality has been a hot topic in the news, causing a large amount of controversy and criticism. Gender neutrality is defined as the idea that policies, language and other social institutions should avoid distinguishing roles according to an individual’s sex or gender, to prevent discrimination arising from the impression that there are social roles for which one gender is more suited than another.
The Movement (Progress?) is Already Beginning:
John Lewis has scrapped separate labels for boys and girls and sections within their children’s clothing ranges to avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes. This isn’t full gender neutrality, as the company is still separating genders, but it is nevertheless a sign of things to come, as it allows children to make their own decisions about what they wear, rather than narrowing their choices.
Clarks is also responding to customer feedback by introducing a gender-neutral ethos and a unisex school shoes range. Clarks were criticised for their ‘sexist’ shoes and aggressive marketing aimed at boys and girls separately. This has led to the creation of the hashtag #letshoesbeshoes. The claims of sexism have come about due to differences in the names of styles of Clarks’s shoes. For example, girls’ shoes are less sturdy, indicating that girls should sacrifice comfort for style, and should not be able to play as freely as the boys. Additionally, girls’ shoes have been given names such as ‘Dolly Babe’, whereas boys’ shoes have been named ‘Leader’.
Ipswich High School for Girls in Woolverstone has been an independent school for 139 years, but it has recently been announced that it is set to become co-educational, admitting boys to the junior school and sixth form from September 2018. This has led to the school being renamed Ipswich High School. It has not been fully stated why the school has decided to make this change, but it could be presumed that it is due to the fact gender neutrality and equality is an ever-growing concern in the press. The decision has resulted in a plethora of reactions, spanning from utter devastation, to the recognition that continuing to run a girls-only school is unsustainable. Read more on the story via the Ipswich Star’s article – http://www.ipswichstar.co.uk/news/heartbroken-parents-react-to-ipswich-high-school-losing-all-girls-status-and-admitting-boys-1-5192084
Additionally, a school in Lewes near Brighton has banned students from wearing skirts; the exception being ‘skorts’ (a pair of shorts with a flat across the front), but only during a heatwave. This is an attempt to adopt a gender-neutral uniform policy and cater for transgender pupils. But it could be argued that it also constrains the children’s individuality. It has been identified that 150 schools have now introduced gender-neutral uniforms so that pupils can have the choice as to whether they would like to wear either skirts or trousers.
Overall, it is evident there is a strong movement towards gender neutrality among companies and institutions, but could it result in further problems, such as actually constraining individuality? How do you think gender should be approached from a marketing perspective? It’s certainly a contentious subject, and we’d love to hear your thoughts.