A Yonder Whitepaper series


Play nicely

The chronic underrepresentation of women is evident, but where does this issue begin? Yonder identified the first signs of gender imbalance as beginning long before a child even sets foot on the playing field.

Embedded within a range of core sectors such as clothing, toys and gaming, children are steered into different modes of action through messages fed to them in their everyday lives. These messages, albeit subtle, lend an early advantage to men.

At the weekend, girls will go with mum to the shops, boys will go with dad to the rugby… how do we change that?

Sports expert (Rugby)

Women point towards nuanced terminology which shapes the attitudes of girls before having had the chance to establish themselves as able athletes. When approaching a new sport or activity, girls, for instance, may be more prone to hearing cautions such as “Don’t get dirty, don’t get messy, be careful”. Boys, meanwhile, were seen as less likely to receive warnings around injury and uncleanliness, and are sprung into the sporting scene with fewer mental hurdles in their gameplay. In the same vein, young boys will typically receive greater exposure to sports through parental interaction. Boys might be taken to view a weekend league match with their father; girls accompanying the mother in alternative activities or tasks.

Even in basic things like clothing, if you see a boy’s T-Shirt, it will have sports on it, if you see a girl’s T-Shirt, it will have princesses … and I think there are parents who don’t realise they’re unconsciously driving boys towards sports and girls towards non-sports. The root cause is in education and in disrupting biases, but obviously, that’s incredibly difficult.

Sports expert (Football)

In 2021 a British supermarket came under fire for selling clothes which reinforced gendered tropes. The children’s range comprised boyswear brandishing the words ‘Unstoppable’, ‘Unlimited’, and ‘Let’s go on a wild adventure’. These words all connote traits which are conducive to excelling in sports: the ability to be daring, for instance, and the ability to take risks. The equivalent girls’ options read ‘Be kind’, ‘Smile’, and ‘Let’s stay home’; messages which endorse passivity, docility, and domesticity: traits which are not typical of girls and have no place in the sporting world. Brands, from across all corners of industry, are continuing to isolate their marketing towards outdated gender profiles, and excluding key audiences as a result.       

In the children’s toys sector and the marketing of these products, we see similar messages at play. ‘Boy toys’ encourage action, physicality and competition; ‘girl toys’ encourage socialising, domesticity and concern with appearance.” This is manifest in Good Housekeeping’s lists of ‘Best Toys and Gifts’ for six-year-old children in 2023. Publishing separate lists for each gender, the girls’ top ten list promoted a DIY jewellery set, floral hair adornments and unicorn nail stickers. The top ten boys’ products include a miniature skate park, a ‘slap ninja game’, and a racing track construction game. With these all-surrounding associations among young girls comes the mental hurdles that we see in women today: that many a sport just ‘isn’t meant for them’.

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