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In case you missed it, we ended our summer at YouthBeat with a look at boys, girls and “Navigating the Murky Waters of Gender Right Now.” Based on YouthBeat research, an academic and media audit and our “Boy-Girl Poll” (fielded in August of this year with our KidzEyes and TeensEyes panels), we identified four rules for re-thinking gender and its relationship to your brand or business right now…

  1. gender symbols

    Don’t blend; EXTEND! Much has been made of this cohort’s attitudes towards gender – they don’t see it, they don’t care…Well, we think that’s only half of the story. This generation of youth (like every generation before them!) certainly cares about and recognizes gender and gender differences. Instead of trying to show gender neutral or non-stereotypical depictions of girls and boys, or trying to create offerings that live “in the middle” of gender (what’s often been called “gender blending”), we advocate “extending” your offerings. Don’t try to make one size fit all…In your “girly” shows, make sure you reflect the wide range of being a girl that your audience would expect to see in their everyday lives. The same for boys – make sure masculinity isn’t defined one way. Instead, show them multiple ways to be comfortable in whatever skin they’re in.
  2. Don’t ignore; DECIDE! Many brands must make a call regarding gender – and if you don’t think you do, then you might be missing something…When it comes to gender, there’s no point in ignoring the girl-boy question in your creative briefs, in your research designs or in your products. Just as age matters to most youth propositions, so does gender. Seek to be deliberate about the decisions you’re making  egarding gender rather than assuming it simply doesn’t matter.
  3. Don’t battle; EMBRACE! This cohort might occasionally find themselves in a gender debate, but for the most part, today’s youth believe that gender shouldn’t be a limitation. It doesn’t mean that lines aren’t drawn in all kinds of complicated ways when it comes to gender roles and expectations. But it does mean that brands that pit one gender against another risk being deemed out of touch, and worse, insensitive. Feel free to celebrate girls or bolster boys, but don’t position gender empowerment as a zero-sum game. U.K. Toys R Us stores are taking a cue from this rule, refusing to label toy aisles by gender… We’ll see if they’re decision actually changes children’s preferences (we’re not so sure), but we think they’re making the right statement about making everyone feel welcome to tinker with the toys of their choosing.
  4. Don’t assume; UNDERSTAND! Does all of this sound slightly confusing? Sometimes it is! Gender norms are constantly being negotiated in society at large, and of course, in youth culture. Before setting your strategy, make sure you’re plugged into the conversation surrounding gender in your category. And that means researching your topic or your offering with both boys and girls so you know how your audience members or consumers differ from each other, and, importantly, where they find their common ground.