From the language we use to the clothing we wear; gender has long been a built-in feature of countless aspects of society. Today we have begun to challenge the institutions that dictate gender norms and re-evaluate our understanding of it in a myriad of ways. While there is still much ground left for us to cover, it is hard to ignore the gender revolution that continues to build up momentum.
Last week, Apple launched dozens of new gender-neutral emojis for iOS, in the name of inclusivity. Activist and Netflix star, Johnathan Van Ness performed to two sold-out audiences in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre last month. Celebrated for his charisma and unashamedly feminine fashion choices, Van Ness revealed that he identifies his gender as non-binary. Earlier this year, British singer Sam Smith asked to be called by ‘they/them’ pronouns. “I’m not male or female, I think I flow somewhere in between. It’s all on the spectrum,” they said in an interview. And of course, who could forget, Billy Porter’s showstopping 2019 Oscar gown which instantly seised the attention of the fashion world.
These kinds of cultural moments keep us engaged in an ongoing dialogue about gender. Generation Z, people aged 13-21, are especially carrying the mantle. According to a survey by Pew Research Centre, almost 60% of Generation Z feel people should be given additional options outside just “man” or “woman” when filling out forms, with 35% of those surveyed saying that they personally know someone who uses gender neutral pronouns such as ‘they/them.’
ASOS’s Collusion describes itself as a fashion brand for the ‘coming age’ and most of their clothing line is unisex. This summer, Sephora reaffirmed its commitment to inclusive self-expression with their ‘We Belong to Something Beautiful’ Manifesto and continues to offer free ‘Classes for Confidence’, which provide transgender people a safe environment to upskill their makeup techniques. Mattel, the toy brand who gave us the iconic gendered Barbie Doll and G.I. Joe, made history by announcing its first ever line of gender-neutral dolls in September. The Creatable World range, developed alongside research with hundreds of children and parents, is ‘designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in.’
The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK has also started to ban ads which portray ‘harmful gender stereotypes.’ With any luck this can be the push all brands need to ensure they are not relying on outdated tropes in their comms. Historically brands have amplified many traditional and restricting displays of gender, but now they have a role to play in dismantling them. Consider this is an opportunity to connect with people in an empathetic and uplifting way. Consumers’ understanding of gender is evolving and it is important that, as an industry, we be good listeners and reflect that reality back to the people to earn their business.