Gifts for Her

It's not only children's gifts that are a problem at Christmas. As Emma Hadfield explains, the options presented as 'gifts for him' and 'gifts for her' are laughably old-fashioned, enforcing traditional roles for women and men. Can't we have gift ideas aimed at individuals with different interests rather two-dimensional stereotypes?

Emma Hadfield, 16 December 2006

As Christmas is fast approaching I started flicking through the numerous gift catalogues on offer from various supermarkets and other stores. However, instead of getting any ideas for presents I found myself getting more and more annoyed at how women are still being boxed into categories of housewife, mother, etc.

One well known supermarket's catalogue was the first to get my back up. The page entitled 'Gifts for Her' offered a celebrity chef's cook book, when over the page on 'Gifts for Him' was a portable camping stove - and here was me thinking we were past the cave people idea of 'man make fire, woman cook food'. I often wonder if we have even progressed at all.

Another popular and longstanding department store's Christmas gift catalogue made just as good reading. 'Gifts for Her' were orientated around beauty products and things for the home and best of all, a 'knit your own cardigan kit'. The 'Gifts for Him' were very different and typically included tools, gadgets, sports and car accessories. Correct me if I'm wrong, but do women today really spend all day sitting at home beautifying themselves, making their house pretty and knitting cardigans? And correct me once again, but I think I can safely say that most women drive cars and play sports as well as men. These gift ideas are so archaic it is almost unbelievable. Yet society as a whole today doesn't seem to notice and just accepts this as the norm. Mst women do not question as to why it is that they only ever receive pointless draw liners, photo frames and hot water bottle covers as gifts.

man make fire - woman cook food

When I look around at my coupled up friends, it's quite bizarre how women have automatically taken on their stereotypical role without even putting up a fight. The man who was once independant when living alone, suddenly becomes completely incapable of finding the ironing board or the cleaning products when living with a woman - and yet the women allow them to be like this. One friend actually stated that she didn't mind tidying up after her partner as she liked looking after him. I mean seriously, he is a grown man, is he not capable of looking after himself?

I do believe that the 'gift ideas for her' has a lot to answer for, and I would suggest that it is the years of practice that women have had in this role, starting when they were children playing in their pretend kitchens, that is at the root of this, despite the advancements we have made with respect to equal rights.

Turning to the children's gift section of the catalogue proves my point. Gifts for young girls include (as it has for many years) a toy oven, ironing board and the ever present doll, highly resembling a new born baby. Is this the message young girls really need to be receiving, that their role in life is plain and simple - they are to be cook, cleaner and mother and that they should not aspire to be anything more.

There is really no wonder that there are still men and women alike out there that are still under the assumption that women must marry, stay at home, have children and more importantly turn into their partner's mother replacements.

a toy oven, ironing board and the ever present doll

After seeing how girls were still being so blatently stereotyped through the gifts aimed at them, I commented to some friends that if I were to have children I would not allow them to be boxed into such defined categories. If a girl wanted to play with cars and not dolls and a boy dolls and not cars, then so be it. I would like to give my children the choice to be who they want to be and not to have their role dictated to them through society's narrow mindedness.

The response I received from my friends did not really surprise me. They were horrified and asserted that I couldn't possibly be so cruel, as imagine the grief my children would receive at school and so on. And in a way they are right. No young boy would survive his way through school playing in his wendy house with his dolls, i.e., practising his role as father and househusband for future life. Although isn't that what young girls are actually doing when they are presented with a toy doll? It infuriates me that this is the case. I can only hope that each generation will improve further, whereby women are stereotyped less and less

Television adverts are just as bad. Take a well known cleaning product. The advert displays a man attempting to cook, using every pot, pan and utensil in the kitchen, making the kitchen into an unsightly mess. Next we see a woman happily cleaning up the mess and her wedding ring is clearly visible on the hand that she is using to clean away the grease and grime. I mean, what is that all about really? Pat on the back, well done to the man, he tried his best to cook, but oh bless what a mess he made. Not to worry though the woman will get right on and clean it up without breathing a word of complaint.

whoever writes these gift catalogues needs to join the 21st century

Whoever writes these adverts and puts together the gift sections of catalogues and magazines really needs to jump into the 21st century. I think they will find that men often beautify themselves as much as women and men cook and clean, are house husbands and take care of their own children. Women on the other hand no longer lead a life that solely involves looking pretty whilst being chained to the kitchen sink, tidying the house and being a constant baby making machine. Women actually have a life outside the confines of the home and are no longer ruled by the dictations of men.

So maybe one day the gift catalogues and adverts will reflect this, but for this Christmas women will just have to grin and bear it once again as they receive yet another set of stereotypically female gifts and hope that in the future they might receive something that actually reflects who they are as an indivudual.

About the author

Emma Hadfield

Emma Hadfield, 28, has recently completed an English with Journalism degree at Huddersfield University. She can't understand why her feminist rants have caused all her friends to invest in a strong pair of ear plugs and wants all women to stop accepting the labels and stereotypes placed upon them.

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