Media on a Mission: Beyond gender stereotypes of glitter and bubbles

March 23, 2020
SCMP Insights
Be honest: have you ever been guilty of “genderising” products? Have you reached for pink things when shopping for girls? Do you – consciously or subconsciously – think of whisky as a male drink and bubbly as a female drink? Do you assume men care more about sports and fast cars and women care more about fashion and jewellery?

You wouldn’t be altogether wrong. These assumptions are a result of years of conditioning, from a combination of culture, marketing and simple supply and demand. As an editor, it’s a constant struggle to balance what our readers are accustomed to with the “right” thing to do, given our current understanding of gender and reading habits.

What do the numbers say?
We did a quick dive into a handful of our recent articles on whisky, cars, watches, fashion and K-pop and K-drama. Keeping in mind that the sample size was extremely small, we nevertheless saw some interesting results when it came to the gender split.

Our stories on whisky and fashion showed the most predictable split: we saw a 92.2 per cent male readership with our Whisky Debates columns, which looked at the best entry-level single malt to choose and whether collectors should invest in Scotch or Japanese whisky. Meanwhile, the story on spring/summer fashion trends saw an 85.1 per cent female readership.

With luxury car content, what one might consider a conventionally male topic, we still managed to attract an audience that was 24.5 per cent female; while a story on K-pop (screaming fangirls might come to mind) still pulled in a 20.6 per cent male readership.

What was most surprising, however, was when we looked at watches and timepieces. Not too long ago, watches were the go-to for Father’s Day or groom’s gifts; or, speaking from an editorial perspective, one for the “For Him” product page. Yet what we saw was a 57.2 per cent skew towards women. Whether it is about the most expensive watches we can buy online, or a celebrity craze for motorsports-inspired timepieces, it seems our female readers want to know.

What to do and what to avoid
Please, for the love of all things sacred, let’s do away with the “For Him” and “For Her” gift ideas. Women know how to use tech gadgets, too, men are allowed to use skincare or cosmetics, and everyone likes jewellery.

It has been an uphill battle scrubbing copy of words like “feminine” for anything pink or soft, or “manly” for anything black or unnecessarily heavy. It’s lazy, it perpetuates misguided beliefs, and the last thing we want is to make a new generation of children feel pressured into liking or disliking anything.

What is just as simple to do is to categorise content by interest: “For wanderlusters”, “For eco-friendly shoppers”, “For people who can never have too many bags and want one for every day of the year”.

We can support and promote brands that come out with unisex products, or even those that try to create a “stepping stone” measure, such as when Chanel and Tom Ford launched male skincare and cosmetics with packaging in black (this in itself gets a bit messy with the need for “male” packaging, but let’s just say we appreciate the intention).

There are a dozen more things I could list here, but I’m sure you have better things to do than to read them. The message is clear: both the data and our understanding of gender show that we simply can’t pigeonhole content into a male and female binary any more.

As a media publication, we owe it to our readers to respect their interests and preferences regardless of gender, and hopefully by eradicating genderised language and content we will contribute in a small way towards a more open, accepting world.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a K-drama episode and single malt Scotch that I need to get to.

‘Til next time,