Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Starter Sets in sexism at the Early Learning Centre

Starter Sets in sexism at the Early Learning Centre

Gender stereotyping in local shops

A few weeks ago, HOT journalist Esme Needham went round most of the big supermarkets from Hastings to Hollington, taking photos of baby clothes, toys, childrens’ items, even yoghurts. She explains why in this article.

Why did I do this? Because a few days before, I had seen in the window of the Early Learning Centre in Priory Meadow a Playmobil advert which showed two distinctly male figurines as a racing driver and a gladiator, and two female ones as a bride and a person holding a basket of apples. That’s when it hit me: when it comes to gender stereotyping, there’s pink and blue, but it’s not just that. It’s things like that advert- which is telling boys to aspire to being strong and powerful, and girls to being, well, married (and picking apples?)- that affect how children growing up amidst all this sexist clutter will see the world and their peers when they are older.

T-shirts from Morrisons

T-shirts from Morrisons

I started this harrowing task at Morrisons, where I found T-shirts for girls and boys emblazoned, respectively, with the slogans ‘pretty little me’ and ‘mummy’s knight in shining armour’. There were also Marvel comics and Disney princess water bottles, which, bafflingly, had the capacity to hold very different amounts of water (do boys need more?) At ESK, girls were assigned makeup and handbags and boys tanks and guns, and at Asda boys were dudes and girls were flowers. I imagine most of these supermarkets would argue that children of any gender can wear these clothes, although when it comes to a T-shirt with tractors on it saying ‘little man at work’, it’s difficult to see how they could uphold that argument.

More sexism in Asda

More sexism in Asda

Often, the slogans on the clothes aimed at girls were frankly disturbing: a good example would be the flower-print shirt which shouted to the world ‘smile and be happy’. I’m sure almost every woman has, at some point, had a random man in the street tell her to smile, it might never happen. It’s not the end of the world- cheer up! Be happy, love! But this slogan was telling girls, before they were even old enough to choose their own clothes, that they should be constantly smiling. Many women have speculated that this is because a smiling woman is, in the view of many men, the least threatening kind of woman, but this shirt was made for perhaps a child of three or under. Threatening? I don’t think so.

Asda thinks little girls should be sweet as cupcakes

Asda thinks little girls should be sweet as cupcakes

More gender stereotyping from Asda

More gender stereotyping from Asda

Another thing I noticed was that these items, besides affecting the aspirations of the children they were bought for, also painted the boys’ clothes with a weird sense of entitlement; just compare ‘my mummy thinks I’m the sweetest’ with ‘I drive mummy round the bend’. Whoever designed these T-shirts seemed to consider it endearing for boys to be irritating, but necessary for girls to be ‘sweet’. Why? Because, again, it’s unthreatening.


Multi-grain Rice Krispies Shapes for girls, Ricicles for boys!

Even food wasn’t safe: yoghurts with pictures of popular children’s TV show characters rarely had more than one female character (yoghurts are no longer providing girls with sufficient role models!) And don’t even get me started on the cereals – boy versions and girl versions of Weetabix? Someone out there has too much time on their hands. ‘Girl’ cereals have a thin, passive princess on them, ‘boy’ cereals have an astronaut boy with an enormous head shooting through space.

These dolls from Sainsbury's show that gender stereotyping is not confined to T-shirts

These dolls from Sainsbury’s show that gender stereotyping is not confined to T-shirts

After taking all the photos, I emailed all the supermarkets the pictures I had taken in their respective stores, and explained my concerns about the messages the items were sending. Many never got back to me, but of those that did, their response was less than satisfactory: some outright denied that there were any gender stereotyped items in their shop, whether the stereotyping was implicit or explicit. I was sent assurances that ‘there was no intention to cause offence’ and that the clothes were ‘intended to be loved by all’. Some of the supermarkets seemed genuinely confused as to what could possibly have annoyed me about the things they were selling.

00DelusionsofGenderIn her book Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, Cordelia Fine references a study where scientists recorded the interests of very small children in various toys over the course of a few months. She says that “At seventeen months, boys and girls were equally interested in the doll, tea set, brush and comb set and blocks, although girls spent less time playing with the truck. But four months later, girls had increased their doll play and boys had decreased it. A closer look at this shift revealed that gender labelling was associated with more gender-stereotypical play.” In other words, the children in the study changed the toys they played with in just a few months, to correspond more with the toys gender stereotyping was telling them they should. This gender stereotyping, of course, can include children’s items like the ones I saw in the supermarkets, and I guarantee that in any supermarket you go in you will see the same messages being broadcast to the world.

But I’ll stay optimistic – maybe the supermarkets don’t currently understand what’s wrong with their children’s items (or maybe they do, but won’t admit it), but with modern feminism and the women’s movement growing and coming more into the public eye, perhaps some day they will.

Posted 17:35 Wednesday, Oct 4, 2017 In: Shops & Things

Also in: Shops & Things

More HOT Stuff

    HOT is run by volunteers but has overheads for hosting and web development. Support HOT!


    Advertise your business or your event on HOT for as little as £20 per month
    Find out more…


    If you like HOT and want to keep it sustainable, please Donate via PayPal, it’s easy!


    Do you want to write, proofread, edit listings or help sell advertising? then contact us

  • Subscribe to HOT