Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Educator, Author

Raising peacemakers in a pink and blue world

Today I presented at the Peace Conference at Abilene Christian University. I got the chance to share some of the research that I’m conducting on how gendered marketing impacts children. Since the early 2000’s, marketing has become much more gendered. The question that I have is this: how does this impact children?




One of the things that I’ve been noticing as I talk with girls about gendered marketing is that they express a lot of gender salience. When something becomes the most salient part of our identity, it’s the main way we think of ourselves. Gender is a salient feature for someone when it becomes the primary way that someone identifies themselves.

As I’ve been talking with girls between 8-11 years old, many of them feel that gender is a primary way of identifying themselves.

So why does gender salience matter? It matters because research tells us that when children are exposed to high levels of gender salience, they tend to demonstrate (Hilliard & Liben, 2010):

  • Increased gender stereotypes
  • Fewer positive feelings about opposite-sex peers
  • Less play with opposite-sex peers

In fact, gender salience makes it more difficult to interact with those of the opposite gender. How can one learn to be a world changer, a peacemaker, a colleague, if one cannot get along with half of the population?

So what can parents and other caring adults do to help combat gender salience that may be triggered by the pink & blue avalanche of ads being directed at children? Here are a few ideas:

  • Avoid focusing on gender as one’s primary identity
  • Encourage individual interests rather than focusing on stereotypical interests
  • Provide opportunities to see adults with non-stereotypical interests/jobs
  • Encourage friendships with opposite-sex peers

Our goal is to provide children with the opportunity to become their best self, and that means removing limitations imposed by gender stereotypes. When we do this, we allow girls and boys to grow into people who embrace their strengths and make the world a better place.

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This entry was posted on March 4, 2014 by in Acting, Recognizing and tagged , , , , .
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