Reliance on gender in categorizing holiday gift suggestions is anything but merry or bright

Adhering to solely ‘male’ and ‘female’ gift options contributes to wrongful validation of the gender binary

For him? For her? How about not relying on gender stereotypes for once in your life. Screenshot courtesy of Urban Outfitters

by Juztin Bello, Copy Editor

When it comes time for consumers to begin their holiday shopping, retailers everywhere love crafting the perfect list to help shoppers with their needs. One of the most recurring ways you’ll see retailers sort gift suggestions are through some version of “Gifts for Him” or “Gifts for Her” categories. The problem with adhering to this type of retail advertising is that it complies with incorrectly assumed expectations about men’s and women’s interests and posits them as two separate, binary categories.

By doing this, retailers are relying solely on the gender binary, which ignores the existence of non-binary identities. While perhaps it is not their intention to contribute to this erasure, compliance with this practice still reaffirms biases about gender and shouldn’t be the norm.

For instance, you might see websites advertising products they assume men or women will exclusively want or need based solely on preconceived judgements. On Walmart’s website, categorized suggestions for men include “Video games,” “BBQs & outdoor cooking,” “Game room,” and “Gift sets for men” — the gift sets include male-targeted products by brands such as Axe, Dove Men, and Gilette. As a contrast, Walmart’s suggestions for “Gifts for Her” include categories of “Jewelry,” “Clothing,” “Beauty,” and “Small appliances.” The gift set options contain female-targeted products that have white, pink, or red packaging. 

Screenshot courtesy of Urban Outfitters

As apparent in this breakdown, retailers still rely on gendered stereotypes to advertise gifts to men and women respectively. The assumption, based off of Walmart, is that men prefer gifts that can be applied to a typical “male” lifestyle, and are intended for male-dominated spaces — away from women. This, of course, contrasts the perception that women only care about their own beauty, lavishness in the form of jewels and clothing, and products to assist them while in the kitchen.

This type of advertising is incredibly dated, and sticks to problematic assumptions about identity that are both stereotypical and non-inclusive to people who don’t identify with the gender binary. Moreover, it normalizes separating interests as either male-oriented or female-oriented, which reaffirms that duties, hobbies, and objects have a specified gender.

While I’m using Walmart as the primary example here, this type of advertising can be seen in other big-name retailers such as Amazon, Nordstrom, Sport Chek, Urban Outfitters, and basically any company that specializes in men’s and women’s clothing. 

One might look at the moves made by the retailer Indigo in adding a gender-neutral option. Despite still having gendered categories of “Gifts for Him” and “Gifts for Her,” Indigo is unique from the previously discussed retailers in that they have a section dedicated to “Gifts for Them,” — with “them” being aimed at non-cisgender identities.

However, assuming what can be categorized as solely “Gifts for Them” still has the capacity to demonstrate stereotyping. While it’s progressive that they claim to be “highlighting gift ideas for friends and loved ones of a variety of different gender expressions and identities,” it begs the question: how does a company look at products and know what non-binary or trans individuals should be gifted? It’s definitely a nice sentiment and much more than any other company that I’ve listed is doing. Though, this practice is no different than placing things into “for him” or “for her” categories. 

A viable solution to removing any of this stereotyping would be to use different measures for categorizing. Popular holiday retailers, like Best Buy and Purdys have done, could exclusively categorize presents based on dedicated hobbies, price ranges, or for certain goals like home renovation and fitness. By creating categories based on non-identity-defining traits, it becomes less reliant on gendered stereotypes. Plus, it may prove more helpful for shoppers as honing in on specific interests can help make a gift feel more personal — rather than just receiving a generalized gift from an overarching category of male or female. 

By no means am I insinuating that these categories are the end-all to issues of gender ideations in society. Moreover, I am not personally impacted by this as I identify as a cisgender man. But a problem like this cannot be ignored, and addressing these issues (whether we are directly affected or not) is the responsibility of people in the majority to confront.

Frankly, if someone needs to be looking up one of these gendered lists when buying a present, that probably means they don’t know the recipient well enough to come up with a gift idea on their own. So there’s really no point in wasting money on a gift these retailers think “hims” and “hers” will like.