Is gender driving a wedge between you and your audiences?
Is gender driving a wedge between you and your audiences?

By on in Advertising

Is gender driving a wedge between you and your audiences?

The two men in this house recently needed new toothbrushes. We’re partial to the Philips Sonicare brand, so seeing a two-pack for a good price, I jumped. Hilarity ensued when the adult and the teenager had to decide who would spend the next few years attached to a pink toothbrush while the other got the “cool” black one. (The adult lost.) Truth be told, I wouldn’t want the pink one, either, in spite of my two X chromosomes.

From LEGO to laxatives and now dental care, why do brands seem to think that men aspire to be Darth Vader while all women are unicorn-loving tweens? (Not to mention that, why are colors like black considered masculine and unisex and cool for everyone, but pink is both only for woman and uncool?)

Philips Sonicare - Toothbrush promotional pack

As women increasingly stand up to gendered stereotypes and discrimination, businesses continue to step in the proverbial pile. Are you guilty? Let’s find out.

As women keep standing up to gendered stereotypes and discrimination, businesses continue to step in the proverbial pile—in spite of evidence that it tends to backfire. Are you guilty? Let’s find out.


How intrusive are your forms?

Last month, I uploaded files to a national office supply chain website. I just needed a few prints. Not only was I required to select one of two genders before placing the order, I also had to declare my marital status (in the form of a required title field). The only way to get around their spinster-seeking question was to earn a PhD so I could select “Doctor.” Yes, they could have included “Ms.” but what does my gender identity, or my relationship status, have to do with my need for copies?

At FATFREE, we’ve broached this issue with some of our own clients, and we recognize that it’s not as easy to fix as it may sound. Moving away from gender requires a big shift in mindset as well as changing the way you collect data—something a company may have been doing for a very long time. Customer support teams need to get comfortable with how they address people on the phone. But it’s worth the effort—you don’t want to greet a customer as “Mr. Smith” if their preferred pronouns are they and them.


What colors do you use?

Human eyes can distinguish about 10 million colors, giving you millions of options for your charts and graphs that are not pink and blue. Sure, these colors may communicate at a glance, but it doesn’t matter if the cohort represented by pink is too annoyed to read further.

A few years ago, ran a poll to see who was most likely to use pink and blue to represent genders. You already know the answer. (Note that we’re using these hues to refer to actual colors, not genders. Different.)

Who uses pink and blue to represent women and men?

Chart: Who uses pink and blue to represent women and men?

This issue goes beyond charts and graphs. Look at your page backgrounds. Packaging. Text. And while we’re on the subject, women aren’t specifically drawn to script-y fonts. It’s time to abandon these ideas.


Are you stuck on pronouns?

“You” should be any marketer’s preferred pronoun. Sometimes, however, we need to refer to someone else.

Now, we each had a sixth-grade English teacher who tried to convince us that “he” stood for all of us. They were wrong. See what I did there? I just used “they” as a third-person singular pronoun and nothing terrible happened. You knew what I meant. And you didn’t care whether my sixth-grade teacher was a man or woman (although you probably assumed they were a she). APA got on board with “they” in 2019, but other manuals, the New York Times and many publishers were using it long before (some as early as the 14th century, so this is not new). Employing “they” is a lot easier than alternating between she and he, or trying to use “he or she” or “s/he” in an actual sentence. Give it a go and it’ll be natural in no time.


What are the women doing?

Finally, how are you representing the women in your workplace, partnerships and audiences? Turn a critical eye toward your stock photos. Do the doctors tend to be male? Are all the parents female (and all the females parents)? Are the women taking notes for a creepy, leering man?

What about video—are two thirds of the actors or participants male (as is the case for commercials in general)? It’s time to question everything, make some changes and, if you’re lucky, invite some positive attention.

If women can carry blockbuster movies in the Star Wars and Marvel franchises, Mattel can market a gender-fluid doll, and even the Potato Head family is inching slowly toward life without labels, your business can thrive by treating everyone equally—generally by staying away from gender altogether.