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Ikea and Argos Catalogues

Posted by PoliticsWTF on April 5, 2008

Ikea 2008 catalogue – valid until July 27, 2008
Argos Home Spring/ Summer 2008

So, this is just a brief commentary on these two catalogues and how they reinforce traditional gender roles. Of course not many people will be thinking of this when they pick up these catalogues, but it’s just an example of the limited, intrinsic gender roles within the media. We have to remember that when we are being sold a product such as a kitchen or a bed for a bedroom we are being sold a lifestyle. But what lifestyle is being sold?

Firstly, it’s worth mentioning that in March 2005, Ikea was accused of flatpack sexism and reinforcing the view that the only person who should be wielding a screwdriver in an attempt to put together some flatpack furniture from Ikea was a man. The Norwegian Prime Minister pointed out that it was only men who were depicted putting together flatpack furniture in the instructions. The company said this was due to the fact that it can be offensive in Muslim countries to see women doing these activities. Mr. Fredrik Wahrolén, Ikea’s Swedish information chief said that while women could be seen putting together a Värde kitchen shelf and a Husar cabinet, but this spread would have to become more equal. Of course, the Norweigian Prime Minister makes a good point, Ikea should not be reinforcing this traditional role of the man as the strong builder.

In Ikea catalogue on page 92, a scene is depicted of three people in a kitchen; one is a woman, two are men. The woman is looking in a drawer, one man is reaching for bowls and the other man is at the cooker wearing an apron. In some ways this is a very positive image as it breaks down the stereotype of women being stuck in the kitchen. However, it’s true that not many people believe in this stereotype anymore. On the other hand, it could be seen that the lifestyle being sold with this product is one that suggests ‘this kitchen will make your husband/boyfriend cook more’. Since women are still the people who do the majority of the cooking in the household kitchen, it could be seen that this idea is being exploited to sell more kitchens.

Children’s Ikea (page 175): Ikea states that “Playing isn‘t just loads of fun. It‘s loads of learning. It‘s how children grow their minds and bodies.” This is a good point Ikea – but the question is what are they learning? Well, many of the rooms are seen to be in ‘gender neutral’ colours such as green, white and orange. However, the blue room has boys playing in it and the pink room has a picture of a girl in it. Also in the pink room, there are dresses hanging on the wardrobe door. In a double page spread showing some of the toys available at Ikea, there are 5 children; three girls and two boys. The girls are doing quite passive activities, drawing and sitting, while the boys are looking through binoculars and the other is on a rocker toy. All the three girls are wearing skirts. Also, the MAMMUT range available comes in two colours blue and pink. While there are no hints as to which is appropriate to which gender, it seems like the inference is that it comes in ’girl colour’ and ’boy colour’.

However, at Argos, there is no inferring!!! Nope…none…they just come right out and say it! The range ‘Bailee’ comes in ’Bailee girl’(in pink/purple) and ’Bailee boy’ (in blue). The sexism is clear when we look at the rooms (see rooms at bottom of page). In the ‘girls’ bedroom, there is a book and a couple of photo frames…thrilling. In the ‘boys’ room, we can see a car toy, a skateboard, a globe and a computer. Why does Argos (and pretty much a lot of the media) feel the need to sell everything along stereotypical gender lines? Of course in the rest of the pink rooms we only see girls playing and boys in the blue rooms playing. The blue rooms are the ones in which there are tennis rackets, globes (don‘t girls like the World???), drum kits, guitars, telescopes, car and aeroplane toys. Perhaps the most offensive thing (maybe just for me) is I see is a poster on the wall from Nuts magazine called ‘Nuts Top Tens – Most Popular James Bond Cars’. Okay its not a naked girl but I sure hate Nuts and what it‘s associated with.

I hate the fact that it’s pink for girl and blue for boys. Why do we still feel the need to separate everyone depending on where they are male or female from the moment they are born? From a quick Wikipedia search:

In Western culture, the practice of assigning pink to an individual gender began in the 1920s. From then until the 1940s, pink was considered appropriate for boys because it was the more masculine and decided colour while blue was considered appropriate for girls because it was the more delicate and dainty colour. Since the 1940s, the societal norm apparently inverted so that pink became appropriate for girls and blue appropriate for boys, a practice that has continued into the 21st century.

Colour, to gender has no meaning – we can’t even decide which colour fits which gender best!

So, in both the seemingly innocent Argos and Ikea catalogues, there are strong examples of sexism supporting a more traditionally active role for boys and traditionally passive role for girls. I think example of sexism related to products for children can be particularly dangerous in reinforcing traditional gender roles. Perhaps it is worth making an effort to look for these examples in the world around us as they can go unnoticed. However, if we are aware of this sexism, we can try our best to fight it.


Bailee Boys

Bailee Girls



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