30 APRIL 2019

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  • 6 in 10 parents say product marketing “reinforces stereotypes about what girls and boys can do”
  • David Lammy MP and Professor Becky Francis to Co-Chair Fawcett Commission to challenge gender stereotypes

New polling by campaigning charity the Fawcett Society has uncovered widespread concern about ‘pink for girls, blue for boys’ advertising by manufacturers and retailers. Mothers (63%) and fathers (60%) were equally likely to agree that product marketing reinforces gender stereotypes. But this is not limited to parents, as over half of men and women who do not have children also agreed.

The new research comes as Fawcett launches an expert Commission on Gender Stereotypes in Early Childhood, headed up by Director of the UCL Institute of Education, Professor Becky Francis and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood, Rt Hon David Lammy MP.

To coincide with the Commission launch, Fawcett have released an animation voiced by actor Ophelia Lovibond. Animation credit: Mel Lou

This issue doesn’t just affect girls. Six in ten (59%) people polled agree that it is more acceptable for a girl to be a ‘tomboy’ than it is for a boy to be ‘feminine’. This finding was consistent across women and men, and across ages. Feeding in to the debate about ‘toxic masculinity’ in the light of the #metoo movement, 69% of men aged under 35 said that stereotypes had a damaging effect on perceptions of what it means to be a man or a woman.

The Commission on Gender Stereotypes in Early Childhood will run until 2020. It will gather evidence and promote practical solutions to change childhood and change lives, and explore how gender stereotypes interact with other norms including race and class.

Rt Hon David Lammy, MP for Tottenham and Co-Chair of the Commission, said:

“Unjust stereotypes are massively detrimental to our society. As well as holding back women and girls, they send damaging messages to boys about what it means to be a man – like whether it’s okay to show emotion, or to have an equal role in parenting. Unravelling gender stereotypes is a social justice issue – this is about creating a fairer society where no child is limited just because of their sex, race, disability, or any other characteristic”.

Professor Becky Francis, Director of the UCL Institute of Education and Co-Chair of the Commission, said:

“I am delighted to be co-chairing this commission. The messages we give to children, at home, at school and as a society, has a huge bearing on the choices they feel are open to them, the skills and interests they develop, and on their futures. As my own research has shown, the marketing of toys has a significant role in reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes about what is ‘appropriate’ for girls and for boys, which will feed into children’s later choices about which subjects to study at school and which career paths to consider. We need to open up those choices for our children rather than narrowing them down. I very much look forward to working with David Lammy and the commission team to investigate these vital issues.”

The 25 members of the Commission include experts in parenting, education, and the commercial sector, as well as campaigners who are committed to tackling gender stereotypes. They include the National Education Union, National Childbirth Trust, Mumsnet, Usborne Books, Muslim Women’s Network, the Fatherhood Institute and Let Toys Be Toys. View the full Commission here.

Over the course of the year the Commission will host evidence sessions, and will be seeking input from the public, including the views of parents and teachers on the gender stereotypes they see affecting children. Open the consultation here. 

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society Chief Executive, said:

“Gender stereotypes are at the root of the persistent inequalities we see throughout our society. They are damaging for girls and boys, harming their self-esteem, segregating their career and life choices, conditioning their expectations. Evidence shows that there is no such thing as a female or a male brain but retailers persist in creating and perpetuating gender differences just to sell products. “Our new Commission will examine the way we raise and educate our children, proposing practical changes to support parents and teachers. We will evidence the harms that gender stereotypes cause and we will be challenging retailers and manufacturers to drop the lazy stereotypes and use their power responsibly.”

Key findings

  • Six in ten (61%) parents (63% of mothers and 60% of fathers) agreed that “The way that retailers and manufacturers market products for children reinforces stereotypes about what girls and boys can do”, compared with 11% who disagreed, 24% who neither agreed nor disagreed, and 3% who didn’t know.
  • Six in ten (59%) people polled agreed that ‘it is more acceptable for a girl to be a ‘tomboy’ than for a boy to be ‘feminine’, compared to just 11% who disagreed/ 25% neither agreed or disagreed and 4% didn’t know.
  • 69% of men aged 18-35 said that “stereotypes about what girls and boys can or should do have a negative effect on people’s perceptions of what it means to be a man or a woman”.
Download the full Gender Stereotypes survey data here

Download the full press release here

Read about our Commission on Gender Stereotypes in Early Childhood here

For more information or interviews contact: 

Abby Richardson – [email protected] / 07876 378 733  
Nathalie Golden – [email protected] / 07769 66 66 27