Shopping and Stereotypes
Posted on September 27, 2012
I watched or read something not so long ago (I can’t remember which now) where a family in Australia decided to have a neutral child. By that, I mean that they were challenging the gender stereotypes we put on our children at birth. The idea is that boys only like things such as Bob the Builder, Action Man and bedrooms featuring all things blue, because we give them no choice. The same rule applies with girls who are given princess toys and all things pink. I am not sure what the outcome of this experiment was but in a modern society driven by stereotypical advertising in the children’s toy and clothing market, a young boy playing Aussie rules football in a pink fairy outfit is, in my opinion, a recipe for disaster, particularly in Australia, a country that as I understand it, is still quite macho in many states. Anyway, is there actually anything actually wrong with retail stereotyping?
The reason this experiment sprung to the front of my mind again was because earlier this evening when I was on my latest wine gum avoidance trip in Sainsburys, I bumped in to an old friend I last saw about five years ago and before that, as far back as 1992. As we went through all the obligatory tales of marriage, divorce, kids and so on, I couldn’t help noticing that he was scanning me and my basket with apparent suspicion. Then it suddenly dawned on me what was driving his curiosity… I was wearing a pink shirt and in my basket there was some moisturiser, a bunch of flowers for my kitchen and and apple patterned oven glove; all that was missing was a box of Kleenex tissues and a Dale Winton calendar. He had of course become suspicious that because I now lived alone, I had turned gay, and I have to say the evidence in my basket was stacked heavily against me. I was being retail stereotyped!
Had he seen me ten minutes earlier trying on several different oven gloves (there really is almost too much choice) his homophobic fears about my sexuality would have almost certainly reached toxic levels of suspicion, because in his mind, real men don’t buy flowers, face cream and oven gloves. I am not gay of course, but since I started living independently over four years ago, my shopping habits have become more and more what could be regarded as feminine or should we say neutral or even metrosexual? It has been a slow process but there is no denying that I now shop like a woman, its got that bad that I had to have stern word with myself the other day for checking the texture and depth of kitchen towels. What a desperate individual I have become.
This has all happened because when I was married I was happily stereotyped in a different way, and that was as the bread winner, whilst my ex wife was stereotyped as the home maker. In married households, roles seem to evolve naturally and generally drift in to stereotypical compartments, he cuts the grass, she does the washing, he puts the bins out, she hoovers, he decorates, she shops, she cooks and so does he, at least from his mid thirties onwards when he starts fancying outgunning his wife in the kitchen off the back of reading several Jamie Oliver “Makes it a Piece of Piss” books . Of course these roles are occasionally reversed when the woman is the higher earner but as far as I know, no one organises these tasks on a spreadsheet pre-marriage, they just seem to evolve from from the moment the registers are signed.
So speaking from a male point of view, when you become single again, as a man you have no choice but learn the roles you have previously not cared a jot about but are now vital to your survival, unless of course, you want to live in a hovel with drawn curtains, a staple diet of pork pies and McCain’s oven chips and a life expectancy of 42. That said, I must admit I never thought I would see the day when I bought flowers for the house and had a private debates with myself in a supermarket about the differing qualities of an oven gloves and kitchen towels. To my friends who are married this may seem a shocking revelation but it just happens, shopping is like everything, if you do it enough, you get good at it and all the while that women are the masters of this art, who better is there than to mimic and aspire to?
So, my answer to what I personally regard as a rather cruel experiment played out on an innocent new born child is that of course there is sexual stereotyping with products that appear in the mass consumer market, I am walking proof of that. So If anyone wanted to do an experiment about it, rather than wreck the life of a child, they should pick out a newly divorced man or indeed a woman as an experiment and see how their spending habits change over a period time. That would be pretty harmless and funny stuff, but interesting all the same, because as I am buying my moisturiser and flowers their is a woman in her 40’s in a B&Q somewhere buying her first ever Black & Decker hammer drill.
I have now adapted my habits to such an extent that my shopping trolley could now be mistaken for one belonging to that of a well drilled house wife, when just a few years ago it was so chaotic I could have easily been mistaken for someone sectioned under the mental health act…No longer am I ashamed to try on an new oven glove, because I have learnt that the makeshift effort of a tea towel folded over three times is a recipe for disaster, I have the scars to prove it.
Right, I had better go, I have no kids tonight so I am going to curl up on the sofa with a box of chocolates and glass of wine while I watch Bridget Jones Diary.