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The Differences Between Men and Women--Part II: Stereotyping and Its Effects on Product Perception

Guy Lewis, PhD February 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine

Young children are very impressionable to the world around them, and they absorb information from their environment more profoundly and deeply than imagined. They pick up incoming information that either is sent directly to them or which they vicariously sense.

The development of sex role stereotyping begins early in young children. They also learn from environmental indicators how they are expected to act and react in light of incoming information. Although the multidimensionality of gender roles has been well-established, few researchers have investigated male and female roles individually.There is a significant difference in the way male and female roles are portrayed in our culture, and therefore boys and girls may think and learn about these roles differently.

The male role is defined more clearly, more highly valued, and more salient than the female role; thus, children’s cognitions about these two roles may be expected to differ. A study showed that at 36 months, boys were less able to label gender and less knowledgeable about gender roles than were girls. Boys knew more about male stereotypes than female stereotypes, whereas girls knew considerably more than boys about the female role and as much as boys about the male role. Boys and girls were found to be similar in gender schematicity.

Gender roles

It’s recently fashionable for books and articles to enlist neuroscience in support of the view that men and women are essentially and unavoidably different, not just in size and shape, but also in just about every aspect of the way they see, hear, feel, talk, listen and think. These works tend to confirm culture’s current stereotypes and prejudices, and the science they cite often is overinterpreted, and sometimes seems simply to have been made up.

An example: Women are qualitative; men are quantitative. Parents have lower expectations for girls in math and science. Some educators use the math gene as an excuse for their own gender-biased classroom behaviors. Research also has shown that biology is used to justify the smaller number of girls on math and science teams, and the smaller number receiving math and science awards.

It is a common belief that because men are the principal producers in modern society that this always has been the case. In fact in earlier times when women were the main food-gatherers and producers, there were matriarchal societies where women had high status, were preeminent as cultivators and were glorified as goddesses. As late as the second century BC, the major deities in European culture were women. Researchers also used women’s reproductive capacity to conclude their intellectual inferiority, and then turned around and concluded that using the intellect would destroy reproductive capacity.

At times in history it has been said that women are better than men. At other times it has been said that men are better than women. Both are wrong, as social science research is based on a search for differences. Since similarities are not sought, they are not found and thus the perpetuation of an overemphasis on the differences between girls and boys. Differences are at the basis of research design and theory. Differences can be proved while similarities cannot. The concept of “statistically significant differences” is widely accepted and used. There is no general concept of statistically significant similarities. Thus in a research study, if you find differences, you have something. Research is more likely to be seen as meaningful, and it is more likely to be published than it would be if the study didn’t find differences.


A stereotype ascribes characteristics to an individual based solely on group membership. For example, it is a stereotype to assume a tall, thin young African-American male is a basketball player, or that an Asian student is good in math. And it’s probably a stereotype if it describes how girls and boys are “supposed” to be. For example, the statement that “Susie will be better than Ed at babysitting because she is a girl” is a stereotype. It’s probably a stereotype if a book, toy or tool is described or pictured as “for boys” or “for girls.” For example, a chemistry set that only pictures boys is stereotypic. A book about growing up that is listed as “for boys” is not necessarily stereotypic although it may have stereotypes in it.

Internet shopping, or e-shopping, is emerging as a shopping mode and with its requirement of computer access and use; it is interesting to find out whether consumers associate e-shoppers with any gender-specific stereotypes. These finding add support for what has long been found in consumer sex role research. Such stereotypes may be expected because shopping is considered a female type of activity, whereas technology is considered to be in the male domain. A recent study in sex role identification and consumerism showed stereotypes reverse when the product purchased is technical and expensive—such as a DVD player. In terms of personality attributions, the female shopper is seen to be less technical, less spontaneous and more reliable, and attributions regarding personal characteristics are not influenced significantly by product type, outlet type or purchase purpose. In terms of personality attributions, the female shopper is seen to be less technical, less spontaneous and more reliable, and attributions regarding personal characteristics are not influenced significantly by product type, outlet type or purchase purpose.

In the industrial and post-industrial economies of the West, sex and gender developed such that feminine, or female, was the consumer: located in the home, the private domain. Masculine, or male, was the producer: located in the workplace, the factories, the offices, the political arena, the public domain. As a result, the woman has become the primary shopper for the household and shopping is categorized as a female-typed chore. Another recent study found that women in an average household are responsible for more than 80% of purchasing decisions. In that light, social researchers have started to suggest systematic differences in how men and women enact their consumer roles. Davies and Bell, in a 1991 study, found gender differences in the number of items bought, amount of expenditure and time spent in supermarkets.

Recent evidence on types of online shoppers suggest women dominate the “click and mortar” types who shop online but buy offline while male shoppers dominate the “hooked” and “hunter-gatherer” types who use online shopping the most.1 While women have come to dominate household roles as shoppers, they also are under increasing pressure from role overload.2 Evidence shows that even when market wages increase—for example, in dual-career professional families—household tasks do not shift significantly.3 Actual disparities in husbands and wives’ participation in household work indicate normative constraints such as male and female stereotypes.4

Berk also found that when the product is relatively more expensive, technical or new, such as a DVD player, the gender association reverses itself. More males are associated with the purchase of DVD players while more females are associated with the purchase of music CDs, which are relatively less expensive and less technical. Outlet type was less important as the difference was marginally significant. Purchase reason—for self or as a gift—did not appear to make a difference on the gender stereotypes. The overriding factor influencing attribution of personal characteristics is the gender stereotype held by the respondent. The male buyer is seen to be more technical, more spontaneous and less reliable. Both male and female respondents make similar attributions, particularly when the respondent’s gender matches the reported gender of the diarist.

So, what indeed does all this information reveal? A common assertion in the field of social sex role psychology is that these stereotypic messages tend to be fostered and and held to be a reliable source of information.

Defining men

The trend in the spa industry has borne witness to the large growth of male clients who are visiting spas for the first time. Knowing that recent research supports the notion of stereotypic consumer trends, it is important to remember that little boys who received consistent message about their sex role grow up to be consumers who are driven by the well-founded schema of these stereotypes:

A man is the strong, silent type, who doesn’t ask for directions and is hesitant to appear in “image-reducing roles.” He has strong need for the appearance of being correct and won’t show defeat, for real men can take anything. Men, as compared to women, are slow to show emotions and don’t express emotional needs; they are uncomfortable being doted on by women around other men. Thus, men won’t express discomfort, and are less likely to return to an uncomfortable environment.

Men exhibit take-charge vs. take-care behaviors. They generally are more comfortable with the lead position and are uncomfortable with being taken care of, especially in settings where they either feel vulnerable or appear to be in a vulnerable situation.

A man also is content-oriented vs. process-oriented. As a rule, men often are more interested in the outcome or content of a task rather than the process of being in the task. Genetic encoding is to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Vulnerability as perceived in an unfamiliar out of hands-on control process creates anxiety, and anxiety is perceived as pain.

Men, based on the developmental processes that have been discussed in this series, are practical vs. indulgent. Men are less prone to engage themselves in behaviors perceived as indulgent, and are motivated by perceived practical outcomes.

By understanding the developmental issues involved in what makes a man tick, wellness center owners can utilize well-proven techniques that will be discussed in Part III of this series to capitalize on this growing trend in wellness and create an environment that is perceptually, sensually and cognitively comfortable and trustworthy.


1. What kind of dot-shopper are you?” (Accessed Oct.17, 2006)

2. M D, Reilly, Working wives and convenience consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 8, 407–18 (March 1982)

3. S F, Berk, The Gender Factory: The Apportionment of Work in American Households, Plenum Press, New York (1985)

4. R A, Berk, The new home economics: An agenda for sociological research. Women and Household Labor, 113–148 (1980)

General References

D J Abernathy, Second and fourth rocks from the sun. Training and Development, 18 (1999)., “Are you an online window shopper—Or an actual buyer?” (Accessed Oct. 17, 2006)

M Behrooz, Gender relations in agriculture: women in Turkey. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 40 (3), 567-586 (1992)

J Bristor and E Fischer, Feminist thought: implications for consumer research. Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (March), 518–537 (1993)

C Brunner and D Bennett, Technology perceptions by gender. TheEducation Digest, 56–58 (1998)

G Davies and J Bell, The grocery shopper—Is he different? International Journal of Retail and Distribution Management, 19 (January/February), 25–28 (1991)

R Dholakia, Feminism and the new home economics: What do they mean for marketing? Philosophical and Radical Thought in Marketing, 341–357 (1987)

R Dholakia, Going shopping: key determinants of shopping behaviors and motivations. International Journal of Retail and Distribution Management, 27 (4), 154–165 (1999)

N Donthu and A Garcia, The Internet shopper. Journal of Advertising Research, (May/June), 52–58 (1999)

A Firat, The making of the consumer. Internet and Web use in the U.S. Communications of the ACM, 39 (12), 36–46 (1998)

D Mackie, D Hamilton, J Susskind and F Rosselli, Social psychological foundations of stereotype formation. Stereotypes and Stereotyping, 41–78 (1996)

J Moran, Web users are finally sold on shopping via the Internet. Providence Journal Bulletin, E1, E3 (April 15, 1998)

A Oakley, The Sociology of Housework. Pantheon Books, New York (1974), “Women online: statistics on likes, dislikes from Unilever (2001)” (Accessed Oct.17, 2006)