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

By: Guy Lewis, PhD
Posted: June 6, 2008, from the February 2007 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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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.

Stereotypes

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.