Self-Check Your Visual Choices To Make Sure You’re Not Overly Reliant On Gender Stereotypes

gender symbols drawn on eggs

By Claudia Marks, Senior Art Director, iStock

Mother’s Day is nearly here and Father’s Day will soon follow, which means it’s the perfect time to remind businesses of all sizes that relying on old-fashioned (dare I say, harmful) gender stereotypes is far from the right approach when it comes to breaking through and grasping customer attention. We get it, pandemic life has impacted everything and made remote work and virtual school the norm, and you’re trying to show you’re listening by updating your imagery choices—but moms aren’t the only ones helping out with the kids and school while balancing their own workload. Dads, grandparents and siblings have all taken charge… so show that.

Data from iStock shows that over the last year, customers in the U.S. downloaded visuals showing mothers or women home-schooling children 2.5 times more than visuals of fathers or men doing the same. Among the top 10 sellers are images of moms, children of various ages and a female teacher star—and a lone dad who’s working on his laptop while a mom provides schooling support.

Gender stereotypes become problematic when you rely on them to push your narrative forward, simultaneously reinforcing them and giving them credence. Hint: When you do that, you make the very people you’re trying to court feel “unseen.”

Data gathered for Visual GPS, an in-house iStock research initiative, confirms the impact of misrepresentation in visual communications on people. In fact, 46% of U.S. women surveyed said they have been personally affected by gender bias. The data also shows the impacts of misrepresentation, with only 11% of women and 14% of men in the U.S. reporting they feel well represented in advertising—in other words, that they feel “seen.” Furthermore, only 12% of women and 13% of men consider themselves well represented in communications from the very companies they do business with—makes you wonder when their feelings of being “unseen” will sway them elsewhere.

Child-rearing and caregiving aren’t exclusively “women’s work.” Instead, businesses must endeavor to support gender equality across the board—whether that’s in the workplace, the home, or the board room.

Here are a series of tips and questions you can keep on hand to check your visuals moving forward and make sure you’re choosing visuals that demonstrate the value you and your business place on inclusivity and authenticity, especially as it pertains to gender:

Proactively counteract gender stereotypes—Take proactive steps to debunk gender stereotypes, and choose visuals that represent the varied realities of people everywhere. You should consider whether the roles depicted in the imagery you choose are equally attributable to women and men. Ask yourself: Are you authentically representing the many different people who take on the role of caregiver? Is there an equal division of perceived “power” in the imagery you’re choosing?

Draw inspiration from real-life—Show real people, living full lives to forge greater connections with your audience. Ask yourself: Are you using stereotypes to represent women of nonwhite ethnicities? Are you showing women over 50 (and up to 100!) as active and fulfilled? Are you including women with larger bodies, shorter bodies, or women with physical disabilities?

Authentically represent all families—When visualizing families, make sure that you are inclusive of the full spectrum of what families look like today, intentionally representing people across ethnicities, ages, gender identities, sexual orientation, and more. Ask yourself: Are you representing modern notions of intersectionality? Are you inclusive of LGBTQ+ families and those with parents across age groups? Have you considered including family members with disabilities? Are you selecting imagery that represents a range of cultures and settings?

*Photo by Dainis Graveris on SexualAlpha