Sexist Lands End Ads?

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Alissa_Sal's picture
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Sexist Lands End Ads?

http://www.blogher.com/math-hard-lands-end-new-mattel

Twenty years after Mattel debuted the ill-fated Teen Talk Barbie, Lands' End continues to tell girls that math is hard... for girls.

Teen Talk Barbie, you may recall, is the talking Barbie who said, among other things, "Math class is tough!" Backlash led Mattel to essentially recall the dolls a mere four months after they hit the market.

In 2011, J.C. Penney came out with a shirt that said, "I'm too pretty to do homework, so my brother has to do it for me."

That same year, Forever 21 came out with a shirt that said, "Allergic to Algebra" (which they purportedly pulled from their site after Gawker ran a piece on it).

Why is this a problem?
From the AAUW Dialog blog of the American Association of University Women, an organization devoted to advancing "equity for woman and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research":
[INDENT]As AAUW?s research report Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics discusses, when men and women were told that men were better at a fictitious skill, women assessed their abilities at that skill lower than men did. In other words, the more we tell girls that they are bad at something, the more they believe it. That is why products like these shirts are so dangerous for girls? self-esteem and well-being.

[/INDENT] So why is Lands' End perpetuating the message to girls that math is hard?
In their latest Lands' End Kids catalog -- the back-to-school catalog -- there's a line of backpacks and messenger bags called FeatherLights. Like all kid stuff in this country, they're divided into boys' gear and girls' gear. The page of boys' FeatherLights bags has the headline: "super light, super hero tough." The headline on the girls' FeatherLights page? "light as a feather, tough as long division."

"Tough as long division?"

Though I did well in high school honors algebra and aced an accelerated calculus class in college, math has never been my strongest subject. I certainly don't think it's because I am female. I have women friends who are engineers and absolute math whizzes. I also have male friends who are beautifully poetic and great with cooking and houseplants but terrible when it comes to numbers.

But message such as these from Lands' End, Mattel, and other companies certainly don't help us get away from the stereotypes.

So why not send these "Allergic to Algebra" and "tough as long division" messages to both boys and girls? Or, you know, if you're going to make things pink to market them to girls, why not produce blue shirts for boys, with slogans such as "English Class is for Sissies" and "I don't need to be smart; I'm good at sports" or "Future Frat Boy"? Would those be acceptable?

Or -- better yet -- why not let go of these stereotypes entirely?

At least with Land's End the message is in the catalog, not on the products themselves, but still... it's like they're sending the message to parents. That's almost more insidious. I'm sure it was total oversight on the part of the copy team, instead of a deliberate message such as Mattel and the others were sending, but still.

I know I'm not alone in expecting better from Lands' End. How did such a headline get through their marketing team without a single person saying, "Hey, why are we saying "tough as long division" for the girls' backpacks?

So what do we think? Harmful and pervasive sexism, or lighten up, it's a cute ad?

mom3girls's picture
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I think the ad is cute, the colors of the items in the picture are feminine but the item itself comes in all colors.

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It actually does sound sexist to me. Not enough that I'm holding signs or writing the Land's End people or boycotting them, but I think it's obnoxious. There are female superheroes too....I hate that kind of stuff.

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This makes me mad! I have a degree in math and constantly hear other women comment on how women are not supposed to know math because it is too hard for us :censored: Without math you lose so many options in life and yet we are teaching girls that math and the sciences are "tough", hard, for the boys, etc. So not true.

We need to stop this sexism now. :violent2:

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I've never liked Land's End graphic Tee's because they have always played terribly into traditional stereo types of girls vs. boys, and honestly when it comes to tradition, i find what they label "girls interests and likes" to be overall very empty, pointless, narrow or just not very inspiring while the boys stuff was always cool and fun and things i would want my kids to actually be interested in.

I've been a fan of lands end on facebook for a while now because i like a lot of their other products and they would put out samples of their t's to their facebook fans and ask for opinions. Inevitably there was *always* a subset of customers who would complain about this very fact...but lands end never seemed to value that opinion.

I've seen boys stuff that emphasized camping, lots of physical activities, technology, international cities. The girls stuff was always things like fluffy white seals, cupcakes, puppies, butterflies, ponies and rainbows. When they did emphasize physical activity it was always things like horseback riding and figure skating. Great activities, sure but seriously, I think its time to broaden the horizons for girls t-shirts.

I'm not overly fond of the slogan. I think it could be worse though. I probably wouldn't have though so much of it if there was both a boys and girls version. Then i would think that someone just thought that elementary school kids often find long division to be complicated or 'tough'.

I probably will never buy a girls graphic t from lands end though, i just hate them.

Oops, I just re-read the article. I read it earlier in the day and while it said backpacks and adverts, in my head over the course of the evening i kept thinking 'graphic ts" probably because that it typically the problem *I* have with lands end. Looking at the article again, and seeing the actual images for the first time, it just seems like a different expression of the same type of thing.

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I think if it were just an isolated incident, like if no other clothing manufacturerers had made sexist girl clothes/accessories and gotten called on it, and if there weren't tons of studies about the effect of this very attitude on girls, I could believe that they were just coming up with some pithy slogans for each page and just happened to put the "long division" one on the girl page. But given how sort of...aware....of this issue that everyone has become, I actually find it kind of maddening that Lands End would continue to play into that stereotype. Like really, Lands End? You're like the last people in the US that haven't heard the bruhaha about sexist messages pointed towards girls? Or maybe you just think that your customers are?

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When I was at uni my one psychology professor went on about math being hard (saying it was hard for everyone) my one friend and I called him on it in front of 800 other students. He apologized for using the stereotype of math being hard.

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Yeah math is harder for me than other subjects but I don't think that is because I'm a girl. My husband sucks at math too Wink

If they had put that for both sexes I would think it was fine. For just girls....No.

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I am just of the attitude if you don't like something, don't buy it. If enough people don't like it and don't buy it and that starts hurting the pockets designers, manufacturers, and retailers then they'll go on to something else.

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"myyams" wrote:

I am just of the attitude if you don't like something, don't buy it. If enough people don't like it and don't buy it and that starts hurting the pockets designers, manufacturers, and retailers then they'll go on to something else.

Yes, of course. I dont think anyone here is saying "I don't like the products....oh geez but i can't help myself i'm just going to buy one!" We are discussing our reasons for feeling the way we do here...thats what the debate is about.

But on that note, i think its more difficult when it comes to an advertisement. The product itself isn't nec. sexist, its just this one page ad that is. Lands End makes good backpacks, and they also often have good deals going on so i can see people not wanting to just refuse to by the backpack because of a slogan that someone put on the catalog page.

I think its highly constructive actually for the media and consumers to bring that to the company's attention via letter, news article, whatever...instead of just refusing to buy the product associated with it.

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If they the reply from Lands End is correct, then I just can't see what the problem is.

http://www.blogher.com/math-hard-lands-end-new-mattel

Yesterday, I shared a link on Twitter and Facebook to Julia Magnusson's post about the latest Land's End catalog gaffe. And lo and behold! The power of social media! Land's End responded and asked if they could email me some background from their creative team. Sure! Please do explain why your catalog says math is hard on Chloe's backpack page and superheroes are tough on Matthew's! I'll bet that's some good reading!

To their credit, they immediately sent exactly what they promised. Here's the email in full.

First, thank you for reading! We realize how much information competes for your time.

When brainstorming the “tougher than long division” headline, our (coed) writing team asked themselves, What was tough when we were kids? Superheroes, sure. And homework. Especially math homework. And especially the long division part of math homework. That was the genesis of the headline.

We wrote the line on a page offering backpacks for boys and girls alike, thus weren’t thinking about gender. Indeed the merchandise V.P. behind this catalog is a woman, as are the catalog designer, the Creative Director, many of our backpack designers and most of our internal catalog reviewers. None questioned the line (and trust us, they question a lot of headlines!)

So we didn’t perceive a gender bias, but we’re sorry if some readers did. Absolutely no bias was intended, nor would any be tolerated around here.

On the subject of smart young men and women, have a look at the MadBox™ a group of teens recently invented for us: http://youtu.be/Afy7B0MVA00

Thanks once again for reading, and for joining the conversation. We will be sure to give consideration to your concern in future.

Your friends at Lands' End

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I don't think they did it on purpose but I'm still so surprised that their experienced, co-ed, skilled staff didn't think that this was or is an issue.

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"myyams" wrote:

If they the reply from Lands End is correct, then I just can't see what the problem is.

http://www.blogher.com/math-hard-lands-end-new-mattel

Right, and then they said "okay, which of those do we put on which ad page" and i imagine it goes something like this:

"well the superheroes phrase would probably make more sense on the boys backpack page"

Sorry, i dont have faith in Lands Ends ability to not gender stereotype. They've proven to me too many times that they think "Boys are like this, and girls are like that"

ETA: And i want to add that i do understand that all companies are going to do this to an extent, because its expected that a large amount of their consumer population will fall into those stereotype and actually want those products. But i think some companies are more extreme in this than others and I think Lands End is pretty bad.

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I would assume that the higher ups in marketing had a strong feeling about what their customers may like. Perhaps they felt like they were catering to the market. And if that is the case then why take that so personal. It doesn't mean you have to support it or like it. So for those who don't like it, just don't buy it and if it bothers you that much, take your business elsewhere. Sales will say what people like or don't like. And when a business takes a financial hit, I bet they get more sensitive.

QUOTE=KimPossible;8964436]Right, and then they said "okay, which of those do we put on which ad page" and i imagine it goes something like this:

"well the superheroes phrase would probably make more sense on the boys backpack page"

Sorry, i dont have faith in Lands Ends ability to not gender stereotype. They've proven to me too many times that they think "Boys are like this, and girls are like that"

ETA: And i want to add that i do understand that all companies are going to do this to an extent, because its expected that a large amount of their consumer population will fall into those stereotype and actually want those products. But i think some companies are more extreme in this than others and I think Lands End is pretty bad.[/QUOTE]

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"myyams" wrote:

I would assume that the higher ups in marketing had a strong feeling about what their customers may like. Perhaps they felt like they were catering to the market. And if that is the case then why take that so personal. It doesn't mean you have to support it or like it. So for those who don't like it, just don't buy it and if it bothers you that much, take your business elsewhere. Sales will say what people like or don't like. And when a business takes a financial hit, I bet they get more sensitive.

So. . .having an opinion about it is taking it personally? No one's starting petitions or waving signs or writing protest songs just yet.

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"freddieflounder101" wrote:

So. . .having an opinion about it is taking it personally? No one's starting petitions or waving signs or writing protest songs just yet.

In this thread there are different opinions: some feel no big deal, isolated event and others feel voices should be raised and some felt anger.

By taking it personal I mean the consumers. If they take it personally and feel offended, don't buy it. The thread was you as in general you not targeted.

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"myyams" wrote:

In this thread there are different opinions: some feel no big deal, isolated event and others feel voices should be raised and some felt anger.

By taking it personal I mean the consumers. If they take it personally and feel offended, don't buy it. The thread was you as in general you not targeted.

Ummm, i know what I CAN do if i don't like it. This is a debate thread about whether we think its sexist or not. "If you don't like it, don't buy it" is not a debate argument about if Lands Ends products or ads are sexist.

I'm well aware of the fact that i don't have to buy anything. I'm sharing my opinion because someone asked "What do you think? Is the ad sexist?"

I've always thought that was weird on these boards...it happens all the time. A debate topic comes up and people start debating the actual issue at hand and then inevitably someone says "Hey if you don't like it, don't buy it" or "If you don't like them, don't listen to their music"...or whatever else.

...its like, "well, yeah...of course, but thanks for the advice"

And I'm not taking it 'personally' LOL. I don't think they did this to *me*. I am observing what i see as sexist choices from a company. How does that mean I'm taking it personally. Do i have to say "Oh no thats not sexist" for me to not be taking it personally?

ETA: And you didn't say "if you take it personally, don't buy it" you said "And if that is the case then why take that so personal. "

As if the suggestion is that i was taking something personally (Which i wasn't) and shouldn't be.

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"myyams" wrote:

In this thread there are different opinions: some feel no big deal, isolated event and others feel voices should be raised and some felt anger.

By taking it personal I mean the consumers. If they take it personally and feel offended, don't buy it. The thread was you as in general you not targeted.

Kim pretty much summed it up, but I'll back her up. This is a debate board where opinions are discussed. Nobody's taking it personally and nobody feels forced to purchase these items. We're just giving our opinions. I'm not sure why you would discourage that by saying "then don't buy it". We can all state our opinions on it, that's why the topic is here.

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Yes, I agree with Kim and Laurie. The debate question wasn't "Should Land's End be allowed to use sexist advertising?" It was simply "Is this sexist?" That's the debate question, and everyone should feel free to weigh in on whether or not they feel it's sexist. The whole "If you don't like it, don't buy it" thing is kind of a given.

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Sexist, yes, but still cute. Long division *is* hard when you're a kid, until you figure it out. I don't like that that was the one assigned to girls and the super heroes was assigned to the boys, but I don't dislike it enough to do anything more than reply on a debate board.