GENDER: BEYOND THE BINARY – Reflecting data from Bigeye’s national study on gender, three members of the LGBTQIA+ community join us for a discussion about consumer products. We hear how brands are embracing nonbinary and unisex products, especially in fashion and beauty, and discuss Gillette’s controversial 2019 “The Best a Man Can Be” campaign. We also learn which consumers are most and least likely to think gendered products are different enough to warrant different versions for men and women.
Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of GENDER: BEYOND THE BINARY:
Mark Van Streefkerk: Girls around my age would be getting into things like very feminine clothing and I just felt like such an outsider.
Tisse Mallon: I hated those dresses. But let me tell you, I wore those pretty, pretty dresses because I saw how happy it made my mom.
Ari Dennis: I think that the patriarchy has a lot of rigidity for what is labeled masculine and a lot of social recourse for people that break out of that.
Michael Solomon: Whoever thought that men would be buying cosmetics, and yet there is a growing market for that.
Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to the third episode in a series of podcasts reflecting topics from Bigeye’s 2021 national study, GENDER: BEYOND THE BINARY. Hello. My name is Adrian Tennant. I’m VP of insights at Bigeye, a full-service, audience-focused, creative agency based in Orlando, Florida, serving clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Since we published the report back in February, it’s attracted coverage from media including Ad Age, Business Insider, CNN, MSN, Yahoo, The Advocate, and many others. This podcast is a way to provide context for the data and continue our conversation about how gender identity and expression influence consumer behaviors. One lens through which we can view consumer behavior is the concept of self. Consumer behavior, psychologist, marketing professor, and the author of The New Chameleons, Michael Solomon explains.
Michael Solomon: We really are like an animal that changes its colors very, very frequently. By color, I refer to our identities, our social identities, how we think about ourselves, the aspects of ourselves that we want people to know about. And sociologists have long talked about this notion of having multiple selves, you know, a different part of ourself, if you will comes out when you’re in a business environment, that’s one part. When you’re playing the role of devoted parent or child that’s another, and on and on. And much of consumer behavior is oriented around that. In other words, in every one of these identities, we have certain goals that we want to reach. And so the self is so central to all of this because we’re constantly trying to validate who we are, make sense of who we are, given the environment we’re in, and how good a job we’re doing in that environment.
Adrian Tennant: In our study, we asked a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults for their opinions about a range of topics relating to gender. We asked survey respondents how they thought other people would describe them based on their visual appearance and style of dress. For those identifying as male, 71 percent thought other people would describe them as very or somewhat masculine. Among respondents identifying as female, 76 percent selected very or somewhat feminine. These results echo what we saw elsewhere in the study: that those identifying as female have a slightly stronger feeling of femininity compared to the feeling of masculinity among male respondents. When it comes to their choice of clothing, over four-fifths of those identifying as male primarily wear clothes designed for men at 84 percent. Among respondents identifying as female, the comparative value is 15 points lower: 69 percent report primarily wearing clothes designed for women. But there are some differences by generation. Among respondents who identify as male, 99 percent of the oldest generation say they primarily wear clothes designed for men compared with the youngest cohort, Gen Z, of which 71 percent report doing so. Among respondents identifying as female, less than one-half of the Gen Z-ers report primarily wearing clothes designed for women. Over one-quarter of this cohort say that they wear clothes designed for women or men, depending on how they feel at 28 percent. For this podcast series, we spoke with people about their experiences growing up and how preferences for certain types of clothing, help them discover and define their gender identities. First, we hear from Ari Dennis, a consultant and educator working in LGBTQ+ cultural competency who identifies as nonbinary.
Ari Dennis: So my parents were actually really great about clothing. There’s four kids in the family and she just buy four of the same outfit, something like purple, elephant overalls, or whatever. And even though we had a mixed-gender family, we would all match. And that was just something that we kind of did for fun. And I was never told that I couldn’t shop in one section of the clothing store or another. So it was again, just really a lot of open encouragement to try things out. I remember the first time I got a pair of pants from like the boys section in fourth grade and I was like, “Am I going to get teased for this what’s going on?” And my mom was just like, “Try it out. If you don’t want it, we can go back to the other section. It’s all good.” So just always very supportive.
Adrian Tennant: Next we hear from Tisse Mallon, the founder of a school where they teach the science of connection. Tisse also identifies as nonbinary.
Tisse Mallon: As a child, I was absolutely a people pleaser. I wanted to please authority so much. My mom would put me in these dresses and I hated those dresses. But let me tell you, I wore those pretty, pretty dresses because I saw how happy it made my mom.
Adrian Tennant: Mark Van Streefkerk is a freelance writer, journalist, and social media manager – describing himself as a man of transgender experience.
Mark Van Streefkerk: So when I was growing up, I always dressed very much like the other boys that I knew. It was always shorts, or jeans and a tee-shirt. And I really didn’t have much of an interest in really going past that. And what was really, I would say confusing and puzzling to me as I started to, like progressing in school was I could see that girls around my age – they would be getting into things like very feminine clothing and they would start to talk about makeup and boys and I just felt like such an outsider. I felt like there was something that was wrong with me because I had absolutely no desire to do any of those things. And so for a really long time, what I told myself in my head was, “Well, if this is what it is to be a girl, I must be a different kind of girl, because I, I don’t feel like this.” So that’s kind of like what I told myself for a pretty long time growing up in my childhood.
Adrian Tennant: Ari explains how they approach choosing clothes for their child Sparrow with gender creative parenting.
Ari Dennis: So like with any kid, I think choosing clothes and getting to dress them up is one of the funnest parts of having children. So when they were little, we shopped from all over. Just every section of the store, every color, sometimes frilly, sometimes really athletic, sometimes able to be rough and tumble, you know, and in different prints. And we let them experiment with all of it. Different textures, cuts, et cetera, too, because a lot of times there’ll be people who say, “Oh, well, if my kid wants a dress, I’ll get them a dress.” But how does your kid know that they want to dress? If they’ve never worn one and known that they enjoyed it or didn’t find it comfortable? So in the early years, it was just letting them try things on periodically and also dressing for our own preferences. Now that they’re three, they are very self-determined in their wardrobe and you cannot put a three-year-old in something they do not want to wear, I’ll tell you that! So Sparrow, right now, loves dresses because they’re just super into the pull-on and go. Like they are just really kinesthetic with their body, so they want to be uninhibited. And I love that about that, that they’ve had the ability to, to make time to select. There’s actually another family that’s gender creative parenting as well and they’re on TikTok. And they actually have every day, they post a video of their kid, like rummaging through the clothes and picking that day’s outfit because they got so many comments that were being critical saying, “Oh, you must be forcing your kid to do this. And to dress this way.”
Adrian Tennant: Tisse sees benefits of gender creative parenting for all kids.
Tisse Mallon: To really provide that sense of freedom and freedom in areas that typically would be gendered, like getting to pick up your own toys from any aisle or getting to choose your clothing from any section of the department store, that sort of thing, that, that openness, that freedom to really allow your child to inform you how they’re choosing to express themselves because they are what they are. So it’s really more just about the expression of it.
Adrian Tennant: In stores, clothing is traditionally divided into men’s and women’s sections making it hard for some people to find clothes that match their identity.
Tisse Mallon: Even thrift stores, they have the men’s section and the women’s section. There is no middle ground and finding your style when there isn’t anything already to inspire you in that sense that has that neutral ground is challenging. Oh my goodness, not to mention the stress of going swimming, like swimsuits for women. Oh my goodness! Like, no, thank you. Really don’t want that. But you know, do I also want to resort to like a tank top and, swim trunks for men? Not really, not either, right? Like it’s not very appealing. So, swimming – as a child, I used to love going swimming. And now as an adult is something that I find stressful because I don’t want to wear what people would expect me to wear. And I know that if I wear what I’m choosing to wear like I feel a little bit more comfortable in I’m going to get questioned on and I’m going to have to give a report on why am I wearing this type of swimsuit? I hate it. think that the way that I dealt with it was to disconnect from fashion. I just think it sucks. It’s a waste of my time because there’s nothing out there for me. So I ended up with jeans and, you know, very neutral, tee-shirts: black, gray, and then sometimes a little pop of color. If I want to go crazy, you know, maybe a little yellow or like a red, but really the color of my tee-shirts that changes. And then if I’m going to be really fancy and there’s like a special event, a suit jacket on top of all of the rest, right. And maybe some fancy shoes. I found a really cute pair of these loafer-type shoes that I was very excited about finding, I think I found them at Banana Republic and that was thanks to my sister who took me shopping before I was about to give a big talk. And she picked my outfit for me because it was a source of stress for me.
Adrian Tennant: World Global Style Network is a trend forecasting company that analyzes consumer shopping behavior with a focus on fashion. In a June interview with NBC News, Nick Padgett, a senior analyst with the company, reported the products labeled as genderless, gender-neutral, and unisex have surged by 109percent year on year since October 2020. Padgett went on to say, “The notion that clothing as an expression of our personality belongs to one gender or another is the social construct that needs disassembling.” So will the future of fashion be androgynous? Michael offers his opinion.
Michael Solomon: Androgeny, which means a blending of the two genders, is certainly nothing new. You know, if you look just throughout our own immediate history, you see a lot of clothing of certain periods of time when clothing styles were relatively androgynous. And other times when they’re really sex-typed, in other words, clearly quote, male or female. And so, as with many other things in fashion, the pendulum swings back and forth. So the biggest mistake we can make is to assume that just because the pendulum is here, it’s not going to swing back to here. But having said that we’re seeing a resurgence right now in androgynous fashions. Before it was more like just a, maybe a cute fashion statement, but today it’s more fundamental where, for example, if you look at the fashion industry, You’ve got some of the leading design houses who are literally merging their men’s wear and women’s wear businesses. And literally having fashion shows when we’re able to attend them again, but who even before the pandemic started to have runway shows where both male and female models are coming down the runway
Adrian Tennant: A significant number of fashion designers and brands are following suit. Norma Kumail rebranded to Genderless in 2019. Last September, Marc Jacobs launched a capsule collection called Heaven, which is described as a line “For girls who are boys and boys who are girls and those who are neither.” Tommy Hilfiger in partnership with activist and actress, Indya Moore is also designing a new capsule collection called Tommy X, Indya, which promises to be clothing free from gender binaries. And Target debuted the gender-free clothing brand Phluid in all of its US stores to coincide with Pride Month. But inclusivity in fashion and clothing extends beyond gender. Sonia Thompson is an expert on inclusive marketing and the CEO of Thompson Media Group. I asked Sonia which brands she thinks are truly inclusive.
Sonia Thompson: You know, I spent a lot of time studying Savage X Fenty, and they are very clear that their lingerie line is for everyone to the point where they have lingerie for men. They have, if you look at their fashion shows, they’ve got women of all shapes and sizes. They’ve got people with disabilities. They’ve had pregnant women. They’ve had people who are transgender. They’ve had men, they’ve had the gamut in terms of people who are different for a variety of reasons. And even supermodels that people are normally used to seeing model lingerie. And they lean very heavily and are very serious into their mission of wanting everybody to feel sexy. And they’re very clear about saying that’s EVERY. BODY. Right? And so that means that there’s a great diversity in our bodies and what we need to feel sexy. Another brand that does a good job with inclusive marketing is David’s bridal. If you think about wedding dresses and wedding accessories there are a ton of people who need that. And if you were to go to David’s Bridals’ website, or if you were to go to their social media, you will see white women, black women, mixed-race couples, same-sex couples, people in wheelchairs, people who are tall, who are short, all over the world, all in different types of wedding dresses and accessories and telling their stories. So it’s not just about the advertising in the visual imagery. These are actual customers telling their story, their experiences, that people are able to see themselves reflected not just in some stock photography, but in the actual imagery and the people behind the stories. And I also think that Nike does a good job as well. In particular because, if you go back to their mission, it’s to inspire every athlete and they define an athlete as anybody with a body. So they have done a very good job as of late, in particular, if you go to their social media, you’ll see all different kinds of people, reflected in the imagery that they put forth. But even with the products that they have been releasing over the past couple of years. It is really starting to think about inclusivity more so, so an example of that is whenever they launched the Pro Hijab line of sportswear that would be accessible that women, who were Muslim and who wear a hijab could still participate in sports. And a hijab that is designed for sports, not these makeshift ones that they were having to make out of necessity. So just starting to think about who are all the people who are athletes. And what are the types of challenges that some of them might have, and then they’re actually building products by co-creating them with those communities to give them products that meet their needs.
Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.
Adrian Tennant: How do you identify?
Voices: Female, male, genderfluid, cisgender, genderqueer, nonbinary, transfeminine.
Adrian Tennant: Society is constantly changing and evolving. To understand how Americans feel about gender identity and expression, Bigeye undertook a national study involving over 2000 adult consumers. Over half of those aged 18 to 39 believe that traditional binary labels of male and female are outdated and instead see gender as a spectrum. Our exclusive report, Gender: Beyond The Binary reveals how beliefs across different generations influence the purchase of toys, clothes, and consumer packaged goods. To download the full report, go to bigeye.agency/gender.
Voices: Nonconforming, transgender, two-spirit, transmasculine, genderfluid.
Adrian Tennant: Gender: Beyond The Binary.
Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. Many consumer products are designed, packaged, and advertised to appeal to a particular gender. Research by the New York City department of consumer affairs found that overall, personal care products marketed toward women cost an average of 13 percent more than equivalent products for men. And that haircare products cost women 48 percent more than men. Introduced in 2020, a “pink tax” ban in the state of New York aims to curb this kind of gender-based price discrimination. For Bigeye’s 2021 study, we asked survey respondents if they consider products different enough to warrant versions for men and women. We listed 13 categories, including clothing, razors, shampoos, and conditioners, soap, and skincare products, among others. Across all respondents, a majority do consider gendered clothing beneficial, followed by perfumes and aftershaves. But interestingly, one-fifth of all respondents identifying as female believe that none of the consumer product categories benefit from being gendered – compared to just 11 percent of males. The oldest respondents with the most likely to be skeptical about gendered products with approaching one-quarter of all those in the Silent Generation seeing no benefit – at 23 percent. Identifying as nonbinary, Tisse explains how they navigate the selection of personal care items.
Tisse Mallon: I do feel that now we’re starting to see more products that are pretty neutral. So for example, especially having such short hair, I can get away with just one body wash. So I have one bottle sitting in my shower. I love minimalism. So I have my one bottle of body wash that’s tea tree oil, it’s organic and delightful. And then I have my body scrub, like loofa type thing. Actually, it’s not even a loofa. It’s like a strip, like a scarf, but it’s made out of the loofa material because, you know, again, like, I don’t want a pretty, pretty loofa either! Sometimes like I get into the ridiculousness of myself, right? Of like laughing at myself because I don’t want a pretty, pretty loofa and being very gung ho about that. But yeah, that’s all I have. I use Aveeno for my body lotion and that’s my one lotion that I have. So again, I think where I haven’t had options that resonated with me, I’ve just stripped it down to the bare basics and that’s it. My deodorant I get from Lush. It’s a powder deodorant, and it’s for both genders. So – or any gender, I guess more specifically, right? Man, see it just so quickly, you know, so quickly you go back to that binary!
Adrian Tennant: After clothing, cosmetics are probably the most visible way in which individuals can express their identities. So in our study, we asked respondents if they wear makeup. Overall, 78 percent of cisgender females report doing so, and so do 14 percent of cisgender males. Among LGBTQIA+ respondents, approaching one-quarter of those identifying as gay men wear makeup: 6 percent do so daily and 10 percent once a week. In contrast, those who identify as lesbian are more likely than other females never to wear makeup – at 57 percent. And of those that do, only 7 percent do so on a daily basis. I asked Tisse how they feel about makeup.
Tisse Mallon: I love makeup for performance, for the stage. I will never wear a drop of makeup outside of that context, right? And now we’re starting to see a little bit more play with that, a little bit more of personal expression coming through. And that’s exciting. In high school, I used to take a silver gel pen and draw kind of like this branching tree coming out from the corner of one of my eyes. And that was like my signature kind of look. So I think I’ve always been interested in this self-expression and I like doing it in ways that are not gendered
Adrian Tennant: The beauty and skincare industry has long been a pioneer in gender-neutral marketing. Rather than creating female or male products, innovative skincare brands position themselves with a skin-having audience who just need products that work. Among our qualitative study participants – who identify as nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and gender fluid – Rhianna’s Fenty products are the most commonly purchased. Sonia explains their inclusivity strategy.
Sonia Thompson: Whenever they launched, Fenty Beauty, they launched with 40 shades of foundation because there are people who wear makeup, who got different complexions. So they did it to accommodate people with different complexions all over the world.
Michael Solomon: You’re seeing a relaxation of what were these very strict boundaries and that leads to great opportunities for companies that can get in and realize that perhaps they’ve ignored half of the market, you know? So a great example of that would be jewelry and accessories and cosmetics for men. Whoever thought that men would be buying cosmetics? And yet there is a growing market for that, or manbags or bracelets, or what have you.
Adrian Tennant: The tampon brand Tampax, which is owned by Procter and Gamble, sparked a firestorm on social media in September 2020 after it tweeted “Fact: not all women have periods. Also a fact: not all people with periods are women. Let’s celebrate the diversity of all people who bleed.” The tweet prompted some women to call for a boycott of the brand. One critic wrote “This ad is misogynistic and advocates erasing women. So goodbye forever.” while others slammed the message as “anti-women”. But other people praised the company for being inclusive of the trans community and blasted those who took issue with the message. One supporter wrote: “Inclusivity hurts no one. If you’re mad about this, let’s talk”. While another person wrote: “Yes, trans men and nonbinary people get periods. How is that so hard to understand?” I asked Mark for his take.
Mark Van Streefkerk: At the particular place where I’m in my transition now I don’t necessarily experience that. However, a few years back when I still had to experience that monthly thing, I would say that going to the store to get pads or tampons that definitely did not feel good. And when you go in to buy those things, I think that you’re always thinking about what people are going to think of you as they see you with these things. And personally, I also just never liked how things that were branded towards feminine folks or towards women. I never liked how they were always branded in like pink and red and had like little flower flowers on them. I never liked that.
Adrian Tennant: Another P&G brand, Gillette also generated controversy early in 2019 with an advertisement for its shaving products designed for men. The ad changed Gillette’s tagline, “The best among can get” for the first time in three decades and addressed negative behavior among men, including bullying, sexism, and hyper-masculinity. The introductory short film for the campaign became one of the most disliked videos on YouTube. Ari Dennis offers their perspective on why the campaign might have been so polarizing.
Ari Dennis: I think that socially, men receive the greatest pressure to conform to gender norms. I think that the patriarchy has a lot of rigidity for what is labeled masculine and a lot of social recourse for people that break out of that, whereas because men are kind of the pinnacle gender in the highest game with the most powered it’s not as adverse when girls perhaps maybe imitate or replicate masculinity like oftentimes it can be dissuaded from it, but they’re not as harshly criticized for breaking gender norms. And in general, the childhood of LGBT people is often characterized by dissatisfaction with assigned expectations and the roles of gender from a very early age, whether it’s because they are trans or gay or lesbian, bisexual. A lot of times there is that unlabeled uneasiness with the script that a lot of people describe.
Adrian Tennant: In May 2019, Gillette released a video on Facebook and Instagram entitled “First Shave” as part of a follow-up campaign, #MyBestSelf, which features the story of a recently transitioned trans man learning to shave from his father.
Samson: Growing up, I was always trying to figure out what kind of man I wanted to become. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of man that I want to become. I always knew I was different. I didn’t know that there was a term for the type of person that I was. I went into my transition just wanting to be happy.
Father: Don’t be scared. Shaving is about being confident. You’re doing fine.
Samson: I’m at the point in my manhood where I’m actually happy. It’s not just myself transitioning. It’s everybody around me transitioning.
Adrian Tennant: The final caption reads: “Whenever, wherever, however it happens, your first shave is special. Gillette. The best a man can get.” The ad subverted the Gillette slogan, this time by making it inclusive of gender identity. Mark explains how seeing the ad made him feel.
Mark Van Streefkerk: That just really touched me. It was a really heartwarming ad and because I think it’s an experience that, so many trans men wish that they could have. It’s one that I certainly wish that I could have had, and I will buy to let razors for the rest of my life because of that ad. And I know the company also received a lot of pushback and, negative comments about that ad. But I think that general messaging that this is a razor, this is a product is inclusive of trans men. I think just sending that message it, and for many trans folks, just seeing themselves, seeing people who look like them in an ad is a huge thing because we don’t see that really.
Adrian Tennant: Mark’s comment highlights one of the key insights from the study. While well over one-half of cisgender respondents feel well-represented in advertising, people with different ethnic backgrounds and racial identities are much less likely. Less than one-half of LGBTQIA+ respondents feel well-represented. Asian Pacific Islander cisgender females are the most likely to feel poorly or underrepresented. It’s clear that there’s plenty of room for improvement in the depiction of gender roles that authentically reflect contemporary consumers’ lived experiences. Michael suggests why it’s hard to ditch stereotypical depictions in advertising.
Michael Solomon: These stereotypes are well-defined. By definition, because they’re stereotypes, they may not be accurate, but nonetheless, there are certain symbols that we learn to help us to put people into these categories. You know, a color palette that you use on your packaging, is it pastels? Is it bright colors? And in many things like that. And so, as you know, in advertising, first of all, there’s often a story that’s being told and the narrative is the most important part of the ad execution very often. And that story relies on shortcuts. You know, it relies on us to understand the context, or we’re going to find an existing context and attach our brand to it.
Adrian Tennant: It’s clear that people increasingly expect more of corporations and their products. We asked survey respondents what they most want consumer brands to do. Creating products that improve people’s lives is the top answer overall with 46 percent of all respondents selecting this. Among respondents identifying as female, more than one-half want brands to be socially responsible – at 51 percent. For respondents who identify as Black or African-American, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement is a priority, while almost half of LGBTQIA+ respondents want brands to be socially responsible at 49 percent and 48 percent want them to support diversity, equity, and inclusion. And for Gen Z, the youngest cohort, their top consideration is for brands to support diversity, equity, and inclusion at 40 percent, along with supporting charities and good causes at 38 percent. Perhaps the most significant sign that the ways in which Gen Z consumers identify and express their gender and willingness to shift to genderless fashion is TikTok on which, at the time I’m recording this in late July 2021, videos with #genderless have racked up over 50 million views. I asked Michael if we’re approaching a genderless society.
Michael Solomon: A majority of younger people agree that gender is not as important in defining a person as it used to be. So it’s not to say that gender has gone away, but it’s post-binary.
Adrian Tennant: You’ve been listening to GENDER: BEYOND THE BINARY. If you’d like to read the full report on which this podcast is based, please go to Bigeye.agency/gender. And here’s how to learn more about our guests. Michael Solomon, Ari, Dennis, Tissue Mallon, Sonia Thompson, and Mark Van Streefkerk.
Michael Solomon: Go to my website, which is MichaelSolomon.com. Or drop me an email. That’s very easy: Michael@MichaelSolomon.com
Ari Dennis: So I educate, on social media on Facebook AriNotSorry. And @AriNotSorryEd on Instagram and Twitter as well. And you can always find me at AriDennis.com
Tisse Mallon: For my fellow genderqueers or gender-questioning peeps, come visit our supportive gatherings at go.ElarInstitute.org/gq – “GQ” for genderqueer. And for anyone who would like to understand more about the human brain, how to nurture amazing relationships, or who is ready to experience more satisfaction in their lives, go to ElarInstitute.org.
Sonia Thompson: You can find everything at the hub at SoniaEThompson.com and you will find everything from there.
Mark Van Streefkerk: Find me at my website, which is MarkVanStreefkerk.com, or find me on Instagram @MarkTheWriter.
Adrian Tennant: Thank you for listening to GENDER: BEYOND THE BINARY, produced by Bigeye. You’ll find a transcript of this episode on our website at Bigeyeagency.com/insights. Just select podcast. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. We’ll be back with the first episode of a new season of IN CLEAR FOCUS next week. Until then, goodbye.