ADVERTISING AND THE GENDER SPECTRUM

Yes, that’s right. I’m back with ANOTHER rambling ‘thinkpiece’.

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We were playing around with a version of the Roy Morgan database in class today, and when it came to breaking down the data by ‘sex’, I realised that the industry is still very much subscribing to the gender binary.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, there are two commonly accepted methods of defining one’s gender in today’s society. I’m not an expert on this topic by any means, so please bare with me (and let me know!) if some of this isn’t completely correct. The first, and most well-known, is the gender binary. In this case, you’re either male or female based on your sex organs. Occasionally, there’s a third ‘other’ option included, but generally one is lumped into either of these two camps. The second, more progressive method is the gender spectrum. Notably, this method recognises the disconnect and the difference between the sex a person is assigned at birth and their gender identity.

The gender spectrum allows a trans*, intersex or genderqueer individual to better express themselves without feeling confined to an identity that does not necessarily represent them. Much like the Kinsey scale of sexuality, it seeks to challenge the idea that “you’re either one or the other”. Given its complex nature, it can admittedly be difficult for quantitative programs to properly represent the spectrum. Facebook alone allows for people to choose from around 58 different gender identities. But most organisations around the world don’t even try.

At IKEA, I work with programs which force me to gender people based on perceived sex every day. I can choose to identify someone as a doctor, but outside of that I still have to assign someone a gender based on how they present themselves. Customers looking to purchase a kitchen or sign up to our loyalty program often must assign themselves a gender before they can even begin to shop. I think of my trans* friends having this experience, or what it would be like to be forced to assign them a gender which is incorrect, and it is disheartening. It bothers me that, in 2016, this is still such a common issue – gender binary rears its head in many every day experiences; from shopping to gaming and, it seems, to advertising.

Recently, we were given the option to submit ideas for advertising campaigns focused on gender equality. Reading through the briefs, I quickly got the sense that for all their talk of equality, they were talking to a very specific woman – white and cisgender. Many of the briefs mentioned statistics on the wage gap between males and females which left out the high rates of difference between white women and black women, or white women and trans women. I wanted to submit something to the competition addressing this, but after much thought, I decided not to participate. If I had been selected, and my idea taken and used by the organisation, I feared the true intent of the idea – equality for ALL women – would be lost along the way.

Circling back to my original point: in an ever-changing world, why do we as advertisers cling to so many outdated methods? Is this another case of advertising being a white (cis)mans game? And for those of us who are more progressive thinkers, how can we hope to better represent minorities if the programs and data we use to help make our decisions every day do not give us the option? As advertisers, we are expected to be ahead of technological change and advancement. In the same way, it is my belief that we ought to be at the forefront of social change. Instead of just hawking the umpteeth iteration of ‘Big New Product Wow!!!!’, we could also be using our powers of persuasion to say ‘Maybe Don’t Hurt Trans People So Much!’

Maybe I’m too social-justice minded for advertising, after all. Or maybe, if I stick at it, I can find like-minded people within the industry, and together we can work towards a more inclusive, progressive environment for ourselves, our ads, and our society. Maybe…

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