From a Strategic Angle: Blurring the gender borders – identities, stereotypes and advertising
Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body: Trust me, I'm telling you stories. ... I can change the story. I am the story
Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
By: Marija Stošić, Senior Creative Planner, McCann Beograd
So writes Jeanette Winterson in her complex novel Written on the Body, published back in 1992. A lot of things are exceptional in this literary work – its poetic expression and the story itself … but nothing so much as the skill of the author not to unveil the gender of the hero (or heroine) in a novel written in the first person. The narrator is painted through what he/she feels, thinks, does, without the help of gender stereotypes. While the reader reflexively begins the story, trying to discover if the main character is male or female, the story leads them to the understanding that this, in fact, doesn’t matter.
What, then, is gender blurring, and why are we even talking about it?
Gender blurring is the erasing, or softening of borders of gender identities. This, according to Euromonitor International, is one of the ten most important trends in 2016. Although gender blurring is very topical in some global markets, for us here it’s a good reason to talk about the global versus the local, or to ask ourselves a few questions. Is any trend applicable to us here? How do you even apply such a trend? Could it be that such a large, global trend belongs to some niche in our region for the time being, and that’s ok because not everyone speaks to everyone, and for every brand there is a place under the sun? But first things first.
Artists, philosophers, revolutionaries and evolutionists have been dealing with the differences between sex and gender, and gender as a social construct for a long time. Simone de Beauvoir, for example, believes that a person is not born a woman, but becomes a woman. Today there is much talk about the fluidity of gender, and so we can ask ourselves what the words femininity and masculinity even mean, and how much sense it makes to endlessly repeat gender stereotypes both in the creation of products and in advertising. The time we live in tells us that our consumers are not sets of gender hearsay, but people with complex identities who expect brands to recognize them as such.
And they’d better do so. Just ask the representatives of the manufacturers of the famous toys and other Star Wars paraphernalia how they fared when they missed the opportunity to include the wonderful, strong Rey, the main character of the new chapter of this space saga, among their products. If you don’t get an answer to this question – and you probably won’t – just google Where is Rey and you will come across an international rebellion of geeks who don’t understand what problem the industry of geek toys has with female characters. Just as geeks of all ages are willing to buy Rey as a figurine, so many girls really like to play with cars. Some toy manufacturers fortunately recognize this, so today many toys and products are marketed as gender-neutral.
We can go on about stereotypes and pop culture. As the star of the movie Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds, explained it, “Women love f*cking superhero movies!” And no, it’s not necessary to insert a romantic angle or triangle for a woman to watch Captain America: Civil War, so please, don’t.
Many industries and brands understand the gender blurring trend and are giving up stereotypes, even though they might seem like the fastest solution. Thus, mobile phones and computers long ago stopped being pink for ladies and black for gentlemen, or thinner and more delicate for women and bulkier for men. As far as the fashion industry is concerned, it’s clear that high fashion brands have been pioneers in this trend. What is, however, interesting is that mass brands are also joining them, so in early March 2016 Zara launched its first unisex collection. Also, it’s been a while since we saw a TVC from the automotive industry in which a woman chooses the color of the car, leaving the rest to her alpha savior, or a case similar to the (in)famous Bic pens – especially for women (I strongly recommend the ‘reviews’ section).
Examples that show the relevance of the trend are numerous, but there are equally abundant questions of what to do with this trend in our market. We give you here just one detail from a study of young people in Serbia prepared by McCann Truth Central: Only 53% of young people fully agree that a woman has the right to decide whether to be a housewife or to build a career. It seems that we as a society are still far from the gender-blurring trend as such, which doesn’t mean that there’s no place for it at all – at least in the communication of brands who seek the more progressive, or in the first steps of a future state of affairs, because things will change, sooner or later.